Journalists should not have to disclose sources

In a March 8 article in The New York Times, the Associated Press exposed an important controversy in journalism: the issue of what to do when journalists withhold sources on a sensitive topic, particularly those of national security. The article details a recent issue in which a former USA Today reporter, Toni Locy, is being fined for refusing to disclose her sources for several stories on the 2001 anthrax scare. In light of this, we ask, is there still freedom of the press in this age of terrorism and biological warfare?

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled that Locy must pay fines of up to $5000 a day from early March until her April 3 appearance before the judge. Walton is seemingly bankrupting Locy as punishment for not disclosing her sources, many of which were about former army scientist Steven J. Hatfill, who was a Justice Dept. “person of interest” in the anthrax attacks. For not explaining where she got her information, Locy bears the weight of all reporters that divulge sensitive material to the public — that of being trapped between doing a service to their readership and playing by the rules of political correctness.

Good journalism communicates real-life issues to the people. As an in-the-trenches reporter, Locy got the word out on an important issue, and for that we commend her. Yet tackling security issues should not become a ruinous career decision. The media needs to be able to report on issues based on government policy without being persecuted, or else they could become no more than a propaganda machine. If a journalist must withhold a source’s information to be able to acquire the most knowledge on the subject from that source, then she or he should be respected for doing her or his work in a professional manner, not singled out and humiliated.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Reg Henry echoed these thoughts at an opinion writers panel last Wednesday in the Adamson Wing, reminding us that journalism is a difficult and respectable trade. In reporting on the anthrax attacks and not divulging her sources, Locy took a stand and defiantly stood up for the freedom of the press. She should not be bankrupted for communicating the word to the people.