PtG Article 29.09.2006

Judge rules Balco reporters must talk or go to jail

Talk or go to jail! A federal judge in California has issued a ruling which sends two investigative sports journalists, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, to prison for up to 18 months because they refuse to reveal who leaked them confidential grand jury testimonies from athletes investigated in connection with the Balco case.

At issue are testimonies by athletes including Jason Giambo of the New York Yankees, sprinter Tim Montgomery and Barry Bonds of the Giants who had been supplied with steroids from BALCO. These testimonies were leaked to the reporters who reported on them in 2004.

Now federal prosecutors want to know who the source of the leak is and argue that the only way to find out is for the journalists to reveal their source. Which they refuse to do.

This week U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White has ruled that Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams should either talk or go to jail for up to 18 months – possibly even longer.

However, for the time being the reporters are still free. The judge accepted to delay imprisonment until a panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco decides whether the journalists have a right to conceal their sources.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle a hearing in the case is unlikely before early 2007.

”We are hopeful that the Ninth Circuit will see the case for what it is, which is important, truthful investigative reporting that should be protected,” laywer Eve Burton said to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Sportswriters for Freedom of the Press

Sports journalists from the US have turned out in support for Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. Many were present outside the courthouse at the latest hearing in the case brandishing t-shirt with the text: Sportswriters for Freedom of the Press.

One of the organisers is columnist Rick Telander from the Chicago Sun-Times.  He has collected hundreds of signatures for petition which says: ”I am opposed to the subpoena of Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams demanding them to reveal their private sources, and I support their right, and the right of all journalists, to be fully protected by the First Amendment and its clear provision for freedom of the press.”

In a column in the Chicago Sun-Times, Rick Telander says that time shas come for sports journalists to be pushed no further:

”As American sportswriters, we cannot stand idly by and watch brethren railroaded by a government investigative group that has admitted it subpoenaed Fainaru-Wada and Williams because it’s too inept to figure out where the leaks came from on its own.