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Reporters Committee supports Taricani after criminal contempt conviction

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The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press expressed its support of Providence, R.I., television reporter Jim Taricani, who was…

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press expressed its support of Providence, R.I., television reporter Jim Taricani, who was convicted this morning for doing his job.

“Jim Taricani is a very well-respected, experienced television reporter,” said Lucy Dalglish, the Executive Director of the Reporters Committee. “We know this has been a difficult decision for him, and we respect his determination to uphold a fundamental principle of journalism.”

Taricani has refused to disclose the name of the confidential source who gave him an FBI videotape in 2001 from a corruption probe involving the administration of Providence Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr. The tape shows an undercover FBI informant giving an envelope full of cash to a Cianci aid.

Imposing a criminal sentence on a reporter for aggressively pursuing a story about public corruption is an affront to the First Amendment protections that allow the news media to act as a watchdog on those who wield power, Dalglish said.

“If journalists are not able to protect their sources, the public will ultimately suffer because fewer people will be willing to come forward with information about public affairs out of fear of retailiation,” Dalglish added.

Taricani has been subject to an order for civil contempt – holding a reporter in custody or imposing a daily fine until he is coerced to testify – but the judge today issued an order of criminal contempt – a fixed penalty for failing to comply with a court order.

Taricani was held in civil contempt March 16. After a failed appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston (1st Cir.), Taricani began paying a $1,000-a-day fine Aug. 12.

U.S. District Court Judge Ernest C. Torres stayed the fines two weeks ago and gave Taricani until today to reveal his source or face the criminal charges. Torres rejected a move by prosecutors to double the fine, saying it had not successfully compelled Taricani to testify, WJAR-TV reported.

Taricani faces a sentence of up to six months, and will be sentenced on Dec. 9.