Unided States

UNITED STATES The Clinton administration has struck a blow for freedom of information. The new policy announced by Attorney General Janet Reno in October reverses that of past administrations by placing the emphasis on openness in responding to requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Now, in the words of President Bill Clinton, "Federal departments and agencies should handle requests for information in a customer-friendly manner." The new policy reverses a federal rule in force for the past 12 years that called for the withholding of information when there was "a substantial legal basis" for such action. Federal bureaucrats must now act on a presumption of disclosure. Withholding information is only acceptable if it is "reasonably foreseeable that disclosure would be harmful." Jane Kirtley of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press hailed the move as long overdue: "For years the government has been hiding behind the 1981 directive to delay, to withhold and to obfuscate. " Kirtley continues to be concerned about court rulings ostensibly meant to protect privacy but which 'limit press freedom; an increased number of gag orders issued by judges in criminal cases; and restrictions on press access to juries. Ms. Kirtley also noted that in three recent rulings by federal U.S. Circuit judges, two of them took a very limited view of privilege under the First Amendment. A case in point was the October decision of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reject the argument of a scholar involved in research work who claimed he should have the same First Amendment privilege as a reporter. James R. Scarce, a Washington State University doctoral student, spent five months in jail because he refused to disclose his sources. He had been called before a grand jury investigating theft and damage caused at an animal research laboratory. He argued that the information he acqUired from suspects in the case while writing a book and a number of articles about a radical animal rights group was confidential. The Ninth U.S. Circuit, however, upheld the First Amendment privilege of author Ronald Watkins, who refused to hand over tapes of interviews he conducted while writing a book about the Shoen family of Arizona. The tapes were sought by the plaintiffs in a libel action stemming from a family feud. The ruling widens First Amendment privilege to investigative book authors as well as journalists and also protects nonconfidential as well as confidential sources. In an August 9 opinion, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a journalist could be sued for breach of promise for failing to hide the identity of a source. Jill Ruzicka claimed that an article in Glamor magazine, written by Claudia Dreifus, contained descriptive information that allowed Ms. Ruzicka, who is a Minnesota lawyer, to be identified as the victim of incest and sexual exploitation. Ms. Ruzicka claimed that Ms. Dreifus had promised that she would write about her in a way that would not lead to her identification. Also in October, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the First Amendment privilege of reporters when it refused to order a group of reporters to reveal their sources. However, the court instructed reporters to turn over to lawyer Bruce Cutler notes that will allow him to defend himself. Cutler is accused of violating a court order when he made statements to the press about a case involving his client, Mafia boss John Gotti. Ten reporters from The New York Times, Daily News, New York Post and New York Newsday must now decide whether to make their notes available and testify about interviews with Cutler or face contempt charges and six-month jail terms. The case of Susan Smallheer of The Rutland Daily Herald, who faced the prospect of a jail sentence and fines when cited for contempt of court because she refused to testify about telephone interviews with a prisoner who was a suspect in a murder case, has been resolved. The prosecutor in the case decided her testimony was not necessary. Smallheer hopes the Vermont Supreme Court will hear the case and rule to uphold the right of journalists not to testify when such an action violates journalistic ethics. December 1992: Herral Long, a photographer for The Blade, Toledo, Ohio, was arrested and handcuffed by police at the scene of an auto accident and charged with unlawful conduct. The case against him was later dropped. December 19, 1992: Talk show host Howard Stern was fined $600,000 by the Federal Communications Commission for obscenity. Stern has gained notoriety through intentional sexual vulgarity. The penalty has been appealed on the grounds that Stern's freedom of expression has been violated. February 1993: Eric Rottenberg, a student photographer at San Francisco State University, had his film confiscated when covering a demonstration. He has filed a legal complaint. April 1993: Tim Roche was released after completing 18 days of a 30-day sentence imposed for rejecting a judge's order to name a source. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Roche, who refused clemency, was a reporter for The Stuart News, Florida, at the time. He is now with The St. Petersburg Times, Florida. June 1, 1993: The Minnesota News Council voted 15-2 to censure KARE-TVfor chartering a plane to escort a murder suspect from Chicago to Minneapolis. The council, which the TV station refuses to recognize, said that KARE-TV crossed the line from being a reporter of the news to becoming a maker of the news. In the same month, in St. Louis, a group of auto dealers withdrew all advertising from KMOV-TVbecause the television station arranged a meeting at a hotel between a male prostitute and a priest. June 13, 1993: A bomb exploded outside the home of Kenneth H. Brief, executive editor of The Greenwich Times and The Advocate of Stamford, Connecticut. The newspapers' staffs were unable to determine whether the bomb was in retaliation for the publication of a controversial story. June 17, 1993: Patrica Bowman, who accused William Kennedy Smith of raping her in 1991, reached an out-of-court agreement with freelance photographer Robert Calvert. Bowman, who said Calvert was stalking her, sought a restraining order against him. Under the agreement, Calvert agreed not to photograph Bowman unless she again became prominent in the news. August 5, 1993: The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws approved the proposed Uniform Correction Act, which seeks to resolve potential libel actions through the publication of a prompt and full correction. September 30, 1993: The Treasury Department charged that "the media's conduct (at the time of the raid on the Branch Davidian complex near Waco, Texas) posed a substantial danger not only to the security of (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) operation but also to the lives of agents and civilians alike .... the media should further examine its conduct near Waco on February 28." The report also criticized the ATF raid commanders for "being less than completely candid in their public utterances." October 20, 1993: Attorney General Janet Reno called on Congress to pass legislation aimed at reducing violence depicted on television if the industry fails to regulate itself. There are three bills before Congress to regulate, rate and label programs according to their content. October 24, 1993: Haitian journalist Dona St. Plite, a commentator for Radio WKAT of Miami, was assassinated while attending a benefit for the family of Fritz Dor, another Haitian journalist murdered in March, 1991. He is the third pro-Aristide journalist murdered in Miami since 1991. Glossy Bruce Joseph was arrested in May 1991 in connection with the murders of Dor and of Jean-Claude Olivier, who was shot dead in April, 1991. Police say that both men were killed with the same gun. October 26,1993: Three Colombians pleaded guilty and admitted their roles in the March, 1992, assassination of Hispanic journalist Manuel de Dios Unanue. New York police say the killing was ordered by Jose Santa Cruz Londono, reputed boss of the Cali drug cartel. A fourth man, Wilson Alejandro Mejia Velez, has been charged with the actual shooting. Unanue, a crusading journalist who exposed drug trafficking and corruption, was shot twice in the head as he sat in a Queens, New York, restaurant.