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Journalist sources deserve to stay anonymous

Andrew Campnell, Opinion Writer
September 19, 2013
Filed under Opinion

Illinois crime reporter Joe Hosey is being threatened with jail time after refusing to divulge the sources who gave him classified reports of a double murder that occurred last January in Joliet, Ill., according to Fox News writer Perry Chiaramonte.

More than 500 signed affidavits, or signed statements of fact, were obtained from various law agencies around the area stating they were not responsible for the leak, said editor Nick Swedberg of patch.com, the same news site Hosey wrote for.

The leaked reports revealed Terrance Rankins and Eric Glover, both 22, were lured to the home of 19-year-old Alisa Massaro.

When they arrived, Adam Landerman, 20 and Joshua Miner, 25, strangled the two men, Swedberg said.

Landerman, Miner, Massaro and their 19-year-old accomplice Bethany McKee were charged with the murders, Swedberg said.

The county judge Gerald Kinney has said Hosey’s refusal to disclose the sources who leaked the police report is not protected by the state’s shield law, and he could face indefinite jail time, Chiaramonte said. So far, Hosey refuses to comply.

Shield Laws are created in order to protect reporters’ privileges as stated in the Bill of Rights.

“I know I’m doing the right thing, and that’s helped me with my decisions,” Hosey told FoxNews.com. “That’s the reason I’m doing this–on principle.”

It’s strange Kinney said Hosey is not protected by Illinois’ Shield Law. According to the Digital Media Law Project, you need to qualify as a reporter and a news medium and both Hosey and his website qualify.

It varies state-to-state, but according to the DMLP, Illinois’ shield law defines a reporter as any person engaged in the collecting, writing or editing news for publication through a news medium on a part-time or full-time basis.

News media can either refer to electronic or printed news publication. According to the DMLP and Illinois’ Shield Law, Hosey and patch.com should qualify.

It’s a journalist’s duty to report the news, regardless of the consequences. In a journalist’s world, there is one word that binds us with the stories we write — integrity.

Integrity is what keeps a journalist going even when he or she has doubts about a story.

Unfortunately, there is also a fine line when using and protecting anonymous sources. The duty to report the news is on one side and what’s legally sound is on the other.

With anonymous sources, one can find themselves in a Catch-22. If a reporter uses these sources, he or she will most likely be questioned on the validity of his or her information.

If reporters don’t use them, their stories can sometimes come out as unclear and not helpful to the situation.

This seems to be more evident in crime reporting. This is because the journalist is dealing with an ongoing investigation and has to be careful of who he or she uses for sources.

In this case, Hosey expressed no doubts his sources were legitimate or honest. Since the details he received were from police reports, there should be no question that his information was as accurate as it could be.

Hosey knew his sources identities had to be kept secret for their own protection. He couldn’t reveal these sources, otherwise he would have been putting them in a tight situation as well as himself.

Hosey is not the only one getting in trouble for using anonymous sources. FoxNews.com reporter Jana Winter was subpoenaed for her reporting on the 2012 Aurora, Colo. movie theater shooting.

Her notes accused gunman James Holmes of being sent to a psychiatrist before killing 12 people and injuring 72 others in the shooting, Chiaramonte said.

She is also under the threat of indefinite jail time.

What is the state of journalism in the world of crime and law? There are so many restrictions on what to write and how to get information. Where is the breathing room for a writer?

When a reporter like Hosey or Winter gets information like this, it’s likely not due to some elaborate news heist.

This is about concerned citizens looking to get information out there by passing it along to a journalist.

What does this say about the perception of journalism today or the right to information and freedom of the press?

This isn’t a dictatorship where the press is controlled by the State and has no freedom whatsoever. This is a free country and our media enjoys a considerable amount of freedom.

The news medium needs a little more respect from the State. If a journalist uses an anonymous source, the editor permits the source and the information is true, there shouldn’t be any legal trouble for the journalist or editor.

 

“This action causes serious harm to journalists everywhere, and not just reporters, but for the public to get the information it needs to self-govern,” said David Cuillier, president of the Society of Professional Journalist and director for the University of Arizona’s journalism.

Binding news media not only threatens journalism, but also the citizens who consume it.

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