New York, June 27, 2005 -- The American Society of Journalists and Authors today presented Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) with its Open Book Award for introducing the Free Speech Protection Act (S. 3020), a bill that would establish a federal shield to protect reporters who decline to reveal their sources in federal court proceedings.
The Open Book is given to individuals and organizations who have taken a courageous and public stand on behalf of the First Amendment, the freedom of speech and of the press. ASJA's First Amendment Committee nominates recipients.
In accepting his award, Sen. Dodd told Claire Safran, chair of the First Amendment Committee, that he introduced the bill "not on behalf of you journalists" but "on behalf of our readers and their need to know."
At present, 31 states and the District of Columbia have reporters' shield laws, but no federal law exists to protect reporters who decline to reveal their sources in federal cases. This past year, a record number of journalists faced the threat of jail, the most notable of them being Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine in the case of Valerie Plame, a CIA undercover operative whose identity was leaked to the press after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, publicly challenged President Bush's assertion that Iraq bought "yellowcake" uranium for nuclear weapons from Niger.
"Recently, with the revelation of the identity of Deep Throat, an important source of information in the Watergate case, we were reminded of how important it is for sources within government and industry to be able to reveal wrongdoing to the press and feel safe from retribution and secure from being identified publicly. Without this protection the American people will be deprived of important information," said Safran.
In explaining the need for a federal shield law, Sen. Dodd has said that the "possibility of reporters being sent to jail for refusing to reveal confidential sources is not merely an issue of concern to journalists, it should send shivers down the spine of every American."
A federal shield law "benefits both journalists and the public by encouraging whistleblowers who want to report wrongdoing to come forward, without fear of reprisal," said ASJA President Lisa Collier Cool.
Past recipients of the Open Book Award include Viking Press for publishing Salmon Rushdie s work in the face of death threats; the New York Shakespeare Festival; the late George Plimpton of the Paris Review and the University of Iowa Press.