CPJ concerned by jail sentence against two U.S. reporters

New York, September 22, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned that a U.S. District Court judge has imposed jail sentences against two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who refused to reveal the source or sources of secret grand jury testimony about alleged steroid use by professional athletes. The judge, ruling on Thursday, stayed the sentence pending the outcome of the journalists’ appeal.

Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada obtained grand jury testimony given by baseball stars Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and other elite athletes during a criminal investigation into alleged steroid distribution by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. The journalists wrote a series of articles and a book that quoted the leaked grand jury testimony.

The reporters’ coverage of the steroid scandal drew national attention to the use of performance-enhancing drugs among professional athletes, helping spawn Congressional hearings and sweeping drug-testing changes by Major League Baseball. Bonds has been closing in on baseball’s all-time home run record.

Prosecutors say they want to charge whoever unlawfully leaked the transcripts to the reporters. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White had ordered the Chronicle reporters to testify, but the pair said they would not divulge any confidential sources.

In sentencing the reporters, White cited a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognized neither a First Amendment nor a common law privilege for journalists seeking to protect sources during criminal investigations. Prosecutors asked the judge to send the reporters to prison for up to 18 months—the maximum allowed by federal law—or until they agreed to testify.

The journalists told reporters after the ruling that they plan to appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 9th Circuit Court recently ruled against freelance journalist Josh Wolf, who refused to hand over a videotape in a separate, criminal investigation. Wolf was ordered to prison this week.

“We’re concerned that Thursday’s ruling could result in the incarceration of two respected journalists at a time when one is already in jail in the United States,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said.