A federal judge has sentenced two SF Chronicle reporters to 18 months in prison for refusing to betray sources in their coverage of the BALCO case. Lance William’s statement to the court is worth reading. Excerpt:
They demand that I give up my career and my livelihood — for if I betray my sources, I cannot work any longer in investigative journalism, work that requires above all the ability to keep confidences. … And now we have reached a time in our country when the prosecutors say they have the power whenever they choose to subpoena reporters and make them government witnesses, and that they are going to exercise that power. Judge, I despair for our Free Press if we go very far down this road. Whistleblowers won’t come forward. Injustices will never see the light of day. Our people will be less informed and worse off.
At the end of the day, a judge has to weigh the benefits to the public of gaining critical evidence for a particular case on one hand and of upholding values that are critical to a free society on the other. We allow hate groups to assemble because the right to assemble and speek freely is a paramount concern, and this case weighs a similar tension. But I think this judge is failing to clearly see the far-reaching consequences of his decision. Open this door and you’ve removed a brick from the wall of free press.