Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Court Case Could Diminish What You Read in This Paper

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Court Case Could Diminish What You Read in This Paper

Article excerpt

Byline: Wayne Ezell

A Supreme Court ruling last week, which compelled Time magazine to abandon a reporter's promise of confidentiality and hand over his notes to the government, is likely to impact what you can read -- and cannot read -- in this newspaper.

The issue is whether journalists can keep secret the names of people who give them confidential information, as has been the practice for decades. The court declined to hear an appeal by Time magazine and The New York Times, after their reporters had been held in contempt and threatened with imprisonment for refusing to reveal their sources in an investigation into who leaked the name of a CIA operative.

These events -- including possible imprisonment of reporters and exposure of a source who may now face serious consequences -- will have a chilling effect on journalists and those who talk to them in confidence, including whistleblowers.

If the free flow of information is essential to democracy, as Thomas Jefferson counseled, then it is also essential for journalists to occasionaly publish information from confidential sources. Most newspaper readers believe using confidential sources is appropriate under the right circumstances, according to a recent survey.

While 44 percent of readers said they would be less likely to believe a story based on anonymous sources, a large majority said news organizations should be able to use them, according to the survey conducted by the Associated Press Managing Editors with the help of 35 news organizations, including the Times-Union.

Only about 20 percent of readers said newspapers should never use anonymous sources. The unscientific survey utilized more than 1,600 responses, including some from members of the Times-Union's E-mail Interactive Group.

"Careful use of anonymous sources means a more effective media," Anita Dunford of Jacksonville said in response to the survey. "And it would be a crying shame had we never known the truth about Watergate/Nixon. …

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