PtG Article 22.12.2006

States and news organisations support Balco reporters in court

High level support is pouring in to Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the two American sports journalists who are facing jail for up to 18 months because they refuse to say who leaked them confidential grand jury testimonies from athletes questioned in the Balco doping case.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that 24 American states, legal scholars and 36 news organisations have filed so-called court briefs to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to convince the judges to overturn the decision to send the reporters to prison unless they talk.

The problem for Fainaru-Wada and Williams is that they are facing a federal court. Whilst many American states have laws that protect reporters from revealing their sources, such a law does not yet exist at the federal level.

But, the 24 states argue in their brief, such state laws will be meaningless if there is a lesser standard at federal level than at state level.

The 36 news organisations which include the big broadcasting companies, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and journalism and industry groups, compare the investigations into athletes’ use of doping to Watergate.

”The investigation by the San Francisco Chronicle’s reporters into steroid use by professional athletes involved many of the same methods used by Woodward and Bernstein to investigate the Watergate break-in.”

“Both investigations revolved around federal grand jury probes into technically minor crimes that implicated misconduct with far broader significance to the public. Journalism based on ”so-called leaks” of information from confidential sources has produced some of the most important and celebrated news reporting in American history,” the news organisations argue.

Fainaru-Wada and Williams currently remain free while the appeals court considers the case. A hearing in their case is scheduled for 12 February 2007.

Learn more at the San Francisco Chronicle’s webpage for the Balco case