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Reporters Committee warns criminal contempt threat will harm the public interest

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Investigative reporter Jim Taricani with WJAR-TV in Providence, R.I., has until Nov. 18 to reveal a confidential source or face…

Investigative reporter Jim Taricani with WJAR-TV in Providence, R.I., has until Nov. 18 to reveal a confidential source or face criminal contempt of court charges and up to six months in prison, a federal judge ordered Thursday.

“Jim Taricani is only the first of several journalists likely to go to jail in the near future to protect his sources,” said Lucy Dalglish, Executive Director of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Taricani pledged that he will go to jail instead of disclosing who gave him videotaped evidence in an FBI corruption case involving former Providence Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr.

“I’ve always said if I have to go to prison, I’ll go to prison, and I stand by that,” Taricani told reporters after the hearing.

“The Reporters Committee strongly supports Mr. Taricani’s decision to protect his sources, and pledges to continue working on his behalf,” Dalglish said. “If Jim Taricani was forced to reveal his confidential sources, it is the public that would ultimately suffer. Only if journalists can operate independently, and not be viewed as an agent of the government, can the public have confidence in what they watch and read,” she added.

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. It is believed that the fines, which have topped $75,000, are being paid by a third party.

U.S. District Court Judge Ernest C. Torres stayed the fines Thursday and gave Taricani two weeks 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 was subpoenaed by special prosecutor Marc DeSisto in an investigation into who leaked videotaped evidence in the FBI corruption case. In February 2001, WJAR-TV aired a portion of the videotape Taricani obtained showing Providence city official Frank E. Corrente accepting a bribe from an undercover FBI informant. Both Cianci and Corrente were later convicted.

For more information please visit the Reporters Committee Web site at www.rcfp.org