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TV reporter found in contempt for refusing to disclose source

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    News Media Update         RHODE ISLAND         Confidentiality/Privilege    

TV reporter found in contempt for refusing to disclose source

  • A federal judge found reporter Jim Taricani in contempt of court yesterday for failing to reveal the name of the person who gave WJAR-TV a videotape of an FBI sting operation.

March 17, 2004 — A federal judge in Providence, R.I., yesterday found a local TV reporter in contempt of court for refusing to name the person who supplied him with a videotape of an undercover FBI investigation.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Ernest C. Torres ordered WJAR-TV reporter Jim Taricani to reveal the source of the videotape by noon today, or face fines of $1,000 per day. Taricani immediately asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston (1st Cir.) to stay the order. The First Circuit granted a temporary stay, pending receipt of a response to Taricani’s appeal from the special prosecutor in the case.

The videotape, aired by WJAR in February 2001, shows a former Providence City Hall official taking a bribe from an undercover FBI informant in a sting dubbed “Operation Plunder Dome.” Former Providence Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr. was later convicted on corruption charges and is currently serving a five-year, three-month sentence in federal prison.

A special prosecutor, Marc DeSisto, was appointed to investigate the leaking of the tape. A protective order issued by Senior U.S. Judge Ronald R. Lagueux had barred the attorneys, investigators and defendants involved in the FBI investigation from releasing any of the videotapes.

Taricani told The Providence Journal yesterday that he will not reveal the name of the person who gave him the videotape. Taricani said he has a First Amendment right to protect his confidential source. “I do believe what I did was what I should’ve done as a journalist,” he told the Journal.

Torres, in an October 2003 decision, held that the special prosecutor’s need for the name of the source outweighed any harm to the free flow of information that might be caused by compelled disclosure.

(In re special proceedings; Media Counsel: William P. Robinson III, Edwards & Angell, Providence, R.I.) KM

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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