Thursday, August 31, 2006

Protecting the rights and work of journalists

A colleague of mine, Scott Reinardy at Ball State, sent me the following letter from Rick Telander, a senior sports columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. The investigative work of sports journalists is too critical not to protect.

Dear fellow sportswriters, sports columnists, sports editors:
I think you all know the situation that San Francisco Chronicle sportswriters (or writers in the sports venue) Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams find themselves in—that is, they will go to jail if they do not reveal private sources to a grand jury. They have a chance of winning on appeal, or, possibly, the case might move to the Supreme Court for a ruling.
But the threat to freedom of the press and the basis of investigative reporting is very real, not to mention the threat of jail time for those two men.
We as sportswriters have a unique chance to show we care about this situation and about our colleagues, who—even if you disagree with their premise in ``Game of Shadows'' or other writings—are men of integrity and diligence and conscience, working under the long-established foundation of American journalism and the freedom the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution so clearly provides to the press.
No, we cannot have our grand juries constantly undermined by leaks.
And yes, there is room for interpretation here, for courts to look at each case individually.
But journalists cannot be agents of government at any level, nor of governmental law enforcement agencies, and sportswriters—any journalists—cannot be afraid that their promises of anonymity to informants will be undermined by subpoenas to tell all.
On Wednesday, Sept. 6, I and as many sports guys and gals as possible will meet in Washington, DC before the shield law hearings—a journalism protection bill proposed by bipartisan U.S. Representatives and Senators—to show our support for Fainaru-Wada and Williams and, by extension, the free press we so enjoy but often take for granted. Williams will be voluntarily testifying Fainaru-Wada hopes to be there, too), but he and Mark have nothing to do with this show of support. Indeed, I barely know either man.
More details will be coming, but, by God, if you can come and be counted on the steps of the Capitol, it will be a wonderful thing. The more columns, debate, passion, spirit we bring to this, the better. All ideas are welcome. Please stay in touch.
This has absolutely no political overtones whatsoever, no further implication than the belief that making a stand on freedom of the press is not only an American duty, but a joy. And for us sports people it is a rare chance to show we stand for something other than paychecks, free food, and crabbiness.
If you agree with this premise, but cannot come to DC for whatever reason—Dig deep, brothers! Don't count on editorial funds!—consider signing your agreement (via email or fax or passed-along paper) with the following statement and get it to me or somebody else who will be there on Sept. 6:

I am opposed to the subpoena of Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams to reveal their private sources, and I support their right, and the right of all journalists, to be fully protected by the First Amendment and its clear provision for freedom of the press.

Your name, signature, affiliation, and date underneath.

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