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Reporter convicted of criminal contempt

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Reporter convicted of criminal contempt

  • A federal judge has held investigative reporter Jim Taricani in criminal contempt of court for refusing to disclose a confidential source.

Nov. 22, 2004 — Investigative reporter Jim Taricani of NBC affiliate WJAR television in Providence, R.I., was held in criminal contempt of court Thursday for refusing to reveal the identity of a confidential source who provided Taricani with videotaped evidence of corruption among Providence officials. No evidence was introduced in the 45-minute trial, which was based entirely on Taricani’s previous appeal of civil contempt charges.

Taricani, who received a heart transplant in 1996 and must adhere to a strict medication regimen to control his immune system, is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 9 and could receive up to six months in prison.

“When I became a reporter 30 years ago, I never imagined that I would be put on trial and face the prospect of going to jail simply for doing my job,” Taricani said in a statement.

“This assault on journalistic freedom exacts a high price by stifling the flow of newsworthy information to reporters and to the public. I wish all of my sources could be on the record, but when people are afraid, a promise of confidentiality may be the only way to get the information to the public, and in some cases, to protect the well-being of the source,” he added.

Taricani was subpoenaed by special prosecutor Marc DeSisto after WJAR in February 2001 aired a portion of a videotape showing Providence city official Frank E. Corrente accepting a bribe from an undercover FBI informant. The tape was sealed evidence in an FBI investigation into corruption by Providence officials, including former Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, Jr. Both Cianci and Corrente were later convicted.

Taricani refused to reveal his source, and was held in civil contempt by U.S. District Judge Ernest C. Torres on March 16. After a failed appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston (1st Cir.), Tariciani began paying a $1,000-a-day fine Aug. 12. The fines, which were payed by NBC, reached $85,000.

On Nov. 4, Torres stayed the fines because they were failing to coerce Taricani to testify, and gave him two weeks to reveal his source or face criminal contempt charges. Taricani refused and was tried and convicted Nov. 18.

“NBC Universal stands by Jim Taricani and vigorously supports his decision not to reveal the identity of a confidential source,” it said in a statement. “Jim did exactly what an investigative reporter should do: he informed the public about corrupt political officials who were tried, convicted and incarcerated for their crimes.”

Spurred in part by Taricani’s case, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) introduced a federal reporters’ shield law in Congress Friday. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have laws that protect journalists from revealing their sources in state courts, but no such law exists for the federal courts. Congress’ current session will end before the bill can be acted on, so it will have to reintroduced in the 109th Congress, which convenes in January.

(In re special proceedings; Media Counsel: Jonathan Albano, Boston, Mass.) GP

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© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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