Saturday, January 27, 2007

Libby trial:stands to promote and curtail powers of the press

The Lewis "Scooter" Libby trial began this week, highlighting just how potent courts can be toward the press, politics and an ever-blurring link between the two. We're in for what could be a string of firsts:

- For the first time, bloggers are considered formal members of the press and were invited to attend court proceedings and sit in the same area as major TV, print and radio journalists. (see Washington post article:

- For the first time, a Vice-President could testify in a criminal trial

- For the not-so-first time: Reporters will not only think at least twice before pledging anonymity in return for a story as TD discusses in her blog, but the very relationship between reporter, source and government access could be at stake.

The sight of reporters for major news organizations testifying for the prosecution in a criminal trial will take a major blow at all news agencies--at the credibility of news, and at the question of who really owns rights to a story and even more specifically...story notes. The Washington post article and other reporters have insinuated that of all the reporters, freelance bloggers will sit most comfortably...knowing that maybe their freedom of access might change but because their sites are still considered by most--an open, non-reliable round table for opinion--they can say what they want and not face legal ramifications. I say...don't get too cozy...opening the doors of media doesn't mean the law won't grow longer arms. The robed oldies are getting hip to the ins and outs of the web a quick LexisNexis search, keyword: blog. A few thousand suits will pop up--most in 2006. The courts are making new precedent in the midst of new media--even bloggers have to play by the rules.

Which brings us to the question of regulation of voice and who really has control over our words--written, spoken, printed and encoded on the internet.

This past week we were informed by our editors that our stories don't belong to us; our footage, our notes, our edited packages--none of it is ours to keep and none of it is ours to give.

Given the ramifications of the Libby trial, press members' prerogative to remain silent, to keep secret sources or even to use the term "anonymity" or "sources" without naming names--could be at stake.

But, so what? Will the courts change the face of media that much? Will reporters really be afraid to take the tougher stories, politically driven or otherwise, because they know they too risk the chance to end up in court? Maybe so, but I say-probably not...not if they're committed to the craft. But, will politicians be more wary of what they say and who they say it to? Maybe so, but again, I'd say--probably not...not if they, too, are committed to their profession in serving the people and providing leadership for the greater good and not protection of a polluted, privileged few.

The courts will likely consider the testimony of three reporters-–Matthew Cooper, (Time) and Judith Miller (The New York Times) and Tim Russert (NBC) to determine both Libby's fate and the fate of media as we know it. I'm enjoying reading the papers, watching the news and especially--looking out for blogs capturing the daily court events.

Bloggers, having now been welcomed into the VIP (very important press) circle, are making history and bearing witness to it. As the power of the press and the true freedom of speech (or not to speak) comes before the courts, the Libby trial could stand to change the face of media forever.



At Saturday, January 27, 2007, Anonymous cy said...

i think cathie martin's story is a reminder to journalists that not everyone who wants to help you has good intentions. although i would want to qualify that. as journalists, we are responsible for being a bit skeptical. that doesn't mean we can't believe anything anyone says. it just means we need to tread carefully and realize when we are being used.

indeed, i think some journalists take their jobs very seriously, and the same goes for politicians. both professions get a lot of criticism for being corrupt or biased. we all tend to find ourselves in difficult positions at times, but the key is to try to do our jobs to the best of our capabilities despite the "loyalties" we have.

journalists have a responsibility to society. yes, it would be nice to maintain good relationships with our sources by being able to keep our promises of anonymity. but we also have a duty to justice. we may be able to honor our promises of anonymity for stories but once a legal issue arises and requires a reporter to name names, he or she should probably contact their sources and re-negotiate terms to demonstrate their sincerity in wishing they could keep said promise. it's a difficult issue and has no happy resolution.

At Sunday, January 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

CY, I get what you're saying. In some cases I think journalists should give up their sources if the safety of others is concerned. But, we also don't want to become an arm of the law. They don't have to do any investigation, just contact the journalists and get their sources. It's a fine line...



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