I’m Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.
New York Times reporter Judith Miller went to jail this week after she refused to say who told her the name of a C.I.A. officer. A federal judge said Miz Miller was violating the law, although she is not charged with a crime.
Miz Miller told the judge that if reporters cannot be trusted to protect the names of sources, then a free press does not exist.
In two thousand three, a number of reporters were told that a woman named Valerie Plame worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. She is married to a former ambassador, Joseph Wilson.
One of those given the information, Robert Novak, wrote about Miz Plame. His story appeared eight days after The New York Times published an opinion article written by Mister Wilson. In it, he accused the Bush administration of giving false reasons to go to war in Iraq. Joseph Wilson suggests that his wife’s name was leaked to the media to punish him.
It is a crime to knowingly identify a secret agent. No one has yet been charged.
Investigators studied government telephone records to learn which reporters had spoken to officials in the Bush administration. Among them were Judith Miller and Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper. But they refused to say who provided the information.
Last week, the Supreme Court refused to consider appeals by the two reporters. After that, Time surrendered Mister Cooper's notes and e-mail messages, over his objections. But Mister Cooper is not going to jail. On Wednesday he said the person he promised to protect had spoken to him again and released him from that promise.
The New York Times says naming sources may make it difficult to get information about illegal activities in government or business. Federal officials say no reporter is above the law.
The idea that government should not restrict the media is based on a few words in the First Amendment to the Constitution. It says: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."
Other reporters over the years have refused to cooperate with investigators and have gone to jail. Today almost all states, but not the federal government, have what are called shield laws. Reporters can keep some information secret in the interest of public trust. Yet, these days, public opinion research shows that the public does not seem to trust the media very much.
Matt Cooper says it a sad day when reporters are threatened with jail for just doing their jobs.
Unlike Mister Cooper, Judith Miller never wrote a story about the information she received. She is to remain in jail until she cooperates or until October. That is when the term of the grand jury investigating the case ends. It is unclear why Robert Novak is not in the same situation. He will not say if he has spoken to investigators.
IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Nancy Steinbach. Our reports are on the Web at voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Steve Ember.