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Illinois Reporter Wins Press Freedom Award

From the National Press Club:

   An Illinois reporter fighting prosecutorial pressure to disclose the identity of a confidential source is the US winner of the National Press Club's 2014 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award.
Joseph Hosey, a Patch.com reporter in Illinois, was held in contempt of court last year by a judge in Will County, who fined Hosey $1,000, plus $300 a day for every day he does not disclose a source's name.
If Hosey loses the appeal, which is now pending, he faces indefinite jail time if he does not divulge the source. The fines have been stayed while the appeal is ongoing.
   Hosey's supposed offense is refusing to disclose who provided him with police reports about a grisly double murder in Joliet. He used the reports to produce stories for Patch.com, a network of U.S. news sites that cover local events.
   Illinois has a shield law meant to protect journalists from having to divulge confidential sources. But it is a qualified shield, not an absolute one. The trial judge found that the identity of the source was relevant, that alternative sources had been exhausted, and that the information was essential to protect the public interest. Much of that finding hinged on the fact that the court made 500 law enforcement officials swear that they were not the source--and thus finding out if one of them was lying was called "relevant" to the proceedings.
   A coalition of media organizations, including the National Press Club, found this to be circular logic and filed a friend of the court brief in Hosey's case. Learning the identity of Hosey's source would have no bearing on the guilt or innocence of the alleged murderers, but it could adversely affect press freedom, the organizations contended.
   "There is no interest here that overrides the public's right to a free flow of information, and that is predicated to a large degree on the ability of sources to maintain anonymity in divulging important information to the press," said NPC President Myron Belkind. "Hosey is to be commended for courageously standing up for that principle in the face of judicial pressure."

   Each year, the club honors two recipients, one foreign and one domestic, who have demonstrated through their work the principles of press freedom and open government. The award is named after the late John Aubuchon, a former NPC president who championed press freedom.