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On a list of shame: U.S. has a reporter behind bars

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Posted: Friday, July 22, 2005 10:00 pm

103.

That's the number of journalists imprisoned worldwide, according to the group Reporters Without Borders, which tracks such incarcerations.

Of the countries with reporters behind bars, China leads with 32, followed by Cuba with 21.

Also on the list are Burma, Iraq, Rwanda and North Korea.

Oh, now another country can be added to the list of nations where reporters are locked up for doing their jobs:

The United States of America.

As we've mentioned in earlier installments here, Judith Miller of the New York Times sits in a jail because she refuses to give up a source.

Judith Miller, journalist, author, Pulitzer Prize-winner, wife, graduate of Barnard and Princeton.

Judith Miller, inmate.

Her confinement is an outrage, an ugly irony in our land of the free. As we push and spend and bleed to extend democracy elsewhere, are we neglecting our own liberties?

The world is watching this case. As The Guardian in London wrote, "The American Constitution no longer protects the unfettered freedom of the press. That is the only conclusion that can be drawn from the remarkable case of the New York Times journalist Judith Miller."

True freedom of the press is the freedom to report critically and independently -- without undue meddling from a government whose imperfections the press is Constitutionally empowered to reveal.

High-stakes reporting often relies on anonymous sources. The San Francisco Chronicle's recent expose on steroid abuse did. A series by Long Beach Independent Press Telegram on patient dumping did, and a project by the Orange County Register on fertility fraud did as well.

Contacting representatives

We urge readers to contact their federal representatives and urge support the Free Flow of Information Act.

Here is contact information for them:

Sen. Barbara Boxer
Phone: (202) 224-3553

Fax: (202) 228-2382

Sen. Dianne Feinstein
Phone (202) 224-3841

Fax: (202) 228-3954

Rep. Richard Pombo
Phone (202) 225-1947

Fax: (202) 226-0861

Nearly all states recognize that and have passed so-called shield laws. These laws, essentially, put up a shield between the journalist and the prosecutors and plaintiffs who would seek their sources or unpublished materials.

Now it is time for a federal shield law so reporters like Miller can perform their vital work without worry of being handcuffed for it. Such a law is slowly working its way forward. It is known as the "Free Flow of Information Act" and has bipartisan sponsors.

The act would bring federal law in step with state law and provide legal consistency. A key point: It would include exceptions in cases that might involve national security.

This should be a no-brainer. Yet the Bush Administration announced this week that it is opposing the act, contending it is too broad and could endanger national security.

No doubt the act can and will be tweaked. However, we find the administration's chilly view of this proposed law, the very least, troubling.

Our president and some members of Congress seem to be missing this:

Without our liberties, our national security is meaningless.

That's right, meaningless.

Just ask Patrick Henry, who cried out, "Give me liberty -- or give me death!"

Or Thomas Jefferson, who said, "The only security of all is in a free press."

Or just ask the people in Cuba, Iran or North Korea.

In this nation of the free, Judith Miller must be released.

A federal shield law affirming our liberties must be embraced, and without delay.

Lodi News-Sentinel

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