COLUMBIA — A journalist who was fined for not revealing a source was one of the people on a panel held Tuesday about "The Erosion of Press Freedom in North America."
Panelist Toni Locy, a former USA Today reporter, was charged in 2008 with contempt of court for not disclosing the identity of a source during the 2001 anthrax investigation. She is currently a Donald W. Reynolds Professor of Legal Reporting at Washington and Lee University in Virginia.
A panel held Tuesday to discuss press freedoms included:
- Philip Gailey, retired editor of editorials, St. Petersburg Times
- Stuart Loory, Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies at the MU School of Journalism
- Toni Locy, a former USA Today reporter
- Charles Davis, executive director, National Freedom of Information Coalition
- Milton Coleman, senior editor, The Washington Post (via Skype).
In 2005, Locy refused to give the name of a source during the government's investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks. Former U.S. Army bioweapons scientist Steven Hatfill was said his privacy rights were violated by a story that named him a "person of interest" and sued the newspaper.
"My stories were fair," Locy said. "I was never told which word, sentence or paragraph violated Hatfill's privacy rights," Locy said.
The case eventually was dismissed on appeal.
The panel, held at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at MU, discussed confidentiality of sources and access to politicians and journalists' privacy on social networks.
"People don't understand how dangerous the world is for a journalist," said panelist Philip Gailey, who worked for nearly 44 years as a newspaper journalist.
"A threat to free press anywhere is a threat to free press everywhere," said Alison Bethel, director of the International Press Institute , on a memorial slide show about dead journalists worldwide, invoking a quote about justice from Martin Luther King Jr.
One concern is how the news is manipulated by government officials. During presidential press conferences, journalists are put on a list of who the president will call on for questions. If a journalist is not on the list, it becomes very difficult for journalists to ask the questions.
Another concern for journalists is the confidentiality of sources is becoming more limited. "The public is concerned for their privacy," said Charles Davis, associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism.
Some have discussed the possibility of a federal shield law, which would give journalists immunity from testifying in such cases. The panelists believe the threat of national security is a big reason for the standstill. The government does not want to seem "soft on terrorism," Locy said.
In order to be a watchdog of the government, journalists need to have the reassurance they will be protected, panelists said. "Be aggressive. Challenge authority, everywhere you see it," Locy said.
The protection of those who use blogs, Twitter and Facebook were also discussed at the event.
"The Internet is changing the definition of privacy," Locy said. "Things you put on Facebook are not private."