WASHINGTON, June 3 (RIA Novosti), Lyudmila Chernova - Non-profit organization Reporters Without Borders is deeply worried by the United States Supreme Court’s rejection of an appeal from New York Times reporter James Risen who is facing a jail term for refusing to identify a source, Camille Soulier, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas desk, told RIA Novosti Tuesday.
“If Risen is forced to testify, then this case can be used again as an example against other journalists in similar situations, who in turn would be forced to reveal their sources,” she said.
Soulier stressed that forcing Risen to testify would constitute a serious violation to the confidentiality of sources.
“A journalist has the right to keep the identities of the people he gets information from a secret, which is very important for journalism, because if sources had to disclose their identities, then most of them would not go to journalists in the first place since they would be worried about reprisals,” she explained.
“If potential whistleblowers see that a journalist can be forced to reveal their identities in court, then how can they trust that this won't happen to them?” Soulier added.
“If Jeffrey Sterling is indeed the source, he can be charged under the Espionage Act for having leaked confidential information. And if he isn't the source, James Risen might be forced to say who it was anyway,” Soulier added.
The head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas desk emphasized that the jail sentence could have a chilling effect on reporting on national security issues.
“If prison is a possibility, who will continue risking their freedom, and how will the public have access to information on such matters?” she said.
“That is why Reporters Without Borders asks the United States government to implement a comprehensive shield law to protect journalists from abuses,” she concluded.
Risen was subpoenaed to testify about a confidential source that the NYT Journalist used for his 2006 book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. The prosecutors want his testimony at the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer suspected to have leaked classified information to the author.
In 1972, the US Supreme Court ruled in Branzburg v. Hayes that the First Amendment does not protect reporters against subpoenas by a grand jury.
The United States is ranked at the 46th position in the Reporters Without Borders 2014 World Press Freedom Index. It fell 13 places in comparison with 2013.