- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2006

NEW YORK — Weighing in to a growing battle between governments and news organizations, a leading guardian of Western democratic values has asked its 55 member nations to reconsider the balance between national security and the public’s right to know.

“Recently journalists have come under increased pressure on account of investigative pieces that used confidential information, or for not revealing their sources,” said a letter sent Monday to governments in Europe, North America and western Asia from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

“That trend threatens to weaken the media’s ability to uncover corruption and inform about wrongdoings,” said the letter, signed by Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE representative for freedom of the media.

Mr. Haraszti, a Hungarian, requested that each member government, including the United States, fill out a detailed survey designed to assess whether “sufficient protection is granted to journalists” in the line of duty.

Security procedures have been heightened in both the United States and Europe, and the letter appears to rebuke the Bush administration’s position that reporters might be prosecuted for publishing classified information. But a U.S. representative to the Vienna, Austria-based OSCE told the Washington Times Tuesday that Washington has no problem with the survey and intends to comply with the Oct. 1 deadline.

“They are simply compiling rules and regulations,” said Kyle Scott, deputy chief of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE. “All the questions are valid.

“It’s one way to look at the issue of freedom of the media,” he said, “but only one way. We put stronger emphasis on [those governments] shutting down media, journalists being killed, governments with total control [over content].”

Investigative reporting into the Bush administration’s war on terror, based in part on leaked information, won two Pulitzer Prizes this year.

Administration officials have fired the senior CIA analyst thought to be the source of information about the rendition of terrorist suspects. They also have threatened to prosecute news outlets for revealing the warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens.

“We have an obligation to ensure that our national security is protected,” Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told ABC News two weeks ago.

Additionally, an independent U.S. federal prosecutor has summoned reporters to a grand jury proceeding and ordered one jailed for failing to reveal the source who exposed CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose husband is retired Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a prominent administration critic.

Reporters have long said that they need a federal shield law to complement the 49 state laws to protect their sources of information.

Mr. Haraszti agrees. In 2004, he sent a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft to suggest the creation of a federal shield law, but was told that was not feasible.

“All states need to differentiate between official holders of secrets who took an oath, and other categories of citizens, including journalists, … for publishing secrets,” he said.

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