Journalists discuss concerns over press freedoms

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 | 7:45 p.m. CST; updated 10:36 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 9, 2010

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.

Free press panelists

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."

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Gloria Poole February 9, 2010 | 8:40 p.m.

I know for certain from first-person experience,that any one in the US who tries to present the prolife point of view is censored, harassed, computer locked down by ????.
Journalists, whether citizen-journalists, or professional journalists, in every nation of the world, are at risk for pointing out to any society what is going on. The status quo in governments, especially centralized governments, do not like the idea of the public knowing what 'deals' they make on any topic. That is one reason that Obama recently wanted to hold the hearings on the health care bill at the White House instead of the floor of the houses of Congress. I am opposed to that bill as are all prolifers because it is not about health care at all, but about legalizing medical killing in the womb and other forms. If you don't think so, remember Micheal Jackson, who was killed with presecription drugs.
If you read the news, you will be shocked at how many journalists around the world have been killed in the past few years for reporting on topics that make someone somewhere a lot of money, like drug companies for instance. Journalism is a very dangerous profession. Almost as dangerous as combat. Those who read the news whether on line or in print, should be grateful, and pray for those who make it their duty/task to report on any subject.
(s) Gloria Poole;Missouri

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