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A press that is free in discharging its duties depends on the free flow of information both from the media to the people and from the people to the media. Throughout the world, journalists depend on non-journalists who supply them with information on public interest issues. Many individuals usually come forward with sensitive or secret information, trusting that the reporter will convey it to an international, national or regional audience with the believe that the information will get publicity and therefore stimulate public debate. In most cases the precondition for these sources to convey such information to a reporter is anonymity. This is usually motivated by the fear of repercussions that may affect their job security or physical safety. This and many other reasons have prompted journalist to argue that they should be allowed to refuse disclosing their sources. They argue that without means to guard the confidential sources then their ability to lay bare societal misnomers will be impaired seriously. This essay is going to address the question as to whether news reporters should disclose their sources or not (Brady, 2004)
Although it may seem right for reporters to reveal their sources, it will be prudent for one to consider the wellbeing of the reporter and the source before deciding to do so. Many reporters have lost their lives or jailed for revealing or refusing to reveal their sources. There have been many instances that show how far a reporter can go to protect his or her source of information and the consequences that come with it. For instance, the 2007 sentencing of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a man who was convicted for obstructing and lying about an investigation into the actions of the Bush administration that lead to the war in Iraq, the jailing of Judith Miller, a New York Times reporter for refusing to give evidence in a jury that was investigating the disclosure of the identity of an undercover CIA operation, and many other cases (Pinguelo, 2007)
Miller's imprisonment come after there were news reports questioning the governments involvement in the Iraq war. This had prompted an investigation where a special prosecutor was appointed to look into the allegation that government officials had unlawfully disclosed the identity of a covert agent. Although Miller had not written about Plame, it was claimed that she was in possession of relevant evidence to the investigation. At first the reporters who were asked refused to disclose their sources citing the first amendment and the federal common law that protects communication from confidential sources. This saw Miller put into jail for 85 days, but was later released after Lewis allowed her to disclose the source (Pinguelo, 2007)
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It can therefore be argued that Miller paid for her silence with imprisonment. This posse an important question: what circumstances should a reporter be in order to legally withhold the identity of his source? Generally reporters can withhold the identity of their sources without fear. But this can change especially in a criminal context. From a reporter's point of view, crucial information often come from confidential sources, information that may be necessary in exposing illegalities and social ills in the society. A good example is the Watergate scandal, a story that has been making media highlights because the identity of the source was revealed. Protection from disclosure will enable reporters to get information from knowledgeable but reluctant sources of information that is sensitive. This will see them come forward and give reporters information without fear of embarrassment or retaliation. (Pinguelo, 2007)
As it was stated earlier, citizens in a self governing society need to be informed about public affairs, and this can only be done with the help of a free press. In the US, the First Amendment gives the press the right to publish almost anything, without government restraint. But gathering news has not been that easier. There are many ways of getting information, but if any of these ways violates the law, then no one including the media will be exempted from the law. It is known that all citizens have a legal obligation to give evidence if called upon by the law, but journalist always demand a special exemption form this. It is argued that if compelled to testify in a court, then they will have a harder time getting information in future, something that I completely agree with. This therefore calls for the enactment of a federal statute that will create a journalist-source privilege. There are many privileges in the existing law; the attorney-client privilege, doctor-patient, priest-patient, to name but a few. The main purpose of all this privileges is to encourage clients to speak openly to whoever they involved with. Where these privileges exist, a court of law or a grand jury cannot ordinarily force any party to information to disclose its contents. The reason for this is that preservation of confidentiality in any relationship is more vital to a society than availing the contents to a court of law, even if it means a guilty person goes free, or an innocent one goes to jail. If the legal system is willing to do exempt other relationships, why can't it do it for journalist-source relationship? (Brady, 2004)
No matter the implications, reporters should not be compelled to disclose their sources. This issue needs a careful balance that is necessary in the protection of a free press and therefore the fundamental democratic right, an individual's right to the freedom of expression.