fifty years ago September 29, 1971 Archives

From the Archives (September 29, 1971): Newsmen’s right not to disclose source

The right of newsmen not to disclose confidential sources is a “precondition of the unfettered dissemination of news,” Senator James Pearson said to-day [Washington, September 28] as a Senate Sub-Committee opened hearings on freedom of the press. “It is axiomatic,” he said in a testimony prepared for the sub-committee on constitutional rights, “that there can be no dissemination of information without collection of information. Therefore, unreasonable governmental interference with the collection of newsworthy information is inimical to a free press.” Mr. Pearson said the U.S. Supreme Court had never held that newsmen had a right to protect confidential sources. But he said 17 States have adopted laws protecting their right to do so. “In those States where the privilege has been effective for a number of years,” he said, “there is no evidence to indicate that law enforcement officials and prosecutors have been hamstrung in ferreting out crime. The press cannot serve as an investigative organisation for two masters: the government and the public.” Mr. Pearson and one other Senator are sponsoring legislation to establish by law the right of newsmen to refuse to disclose confidential sources of information.

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