NJSPJ voices support for NYT

The New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists recently passed a motion denouncing the government’s verbal attack on and calls for an investigation of the New York Times after the news organization published an article on June 23‚ 2006 illuminating the government’s bank monitoring program used to track terrorists.

“As journalists we believe strongly in the letter and spirit of the First Amendment‚” said David Levitt‚ past president of the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. “While we respect the rights of those who question the Times’ decision to publish this and other articles‚ we draw the line at those in government who would use threats of prosecution to chill the press’s right to conduct independent and critical inquiry into government actions.”

The motion calls the verbal attack on the New York Times and the government’s want to investigate and prosecute the newspaper “appalling‚”‚ “uncalled for‚” and “outrageous.”

“For government officials to say the New York Times should be charged with treason is outrageous‚” the motion partially reads. “A continuation along this path will inevitably lead to a chilling of voices independent of government authority and a de-facto repeal of the First Amendment – leaving us minus the precious freedom millions have fought for‚ and restoring a piece of the tyranny we overthrew 230 years ago.”

The motion also notes the chapter’s support of the decision of the New York Times and other news organizations to publish stories about the monitoring program.

Below is a full copy of the NJSPJ motion:

New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists

Motion addressing the chapter’s position on the recent government attacks on the New
York Times following an article it published exposing the government’s bank-monitoring
program:

Whereas the Society of Professional Journalists advocates and defends freedom of the
press and the rights of journalists across the world.

Whereas on June 23, 2006, The New York Times, as well as other newspapers published
articles exposing a government program that monitors financial transactions as a way to
track potential terrorists and those with ties to terrorist organizations. The Times story, by
Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, was headlined “Bank Data Sifted in Secret by U.S. to
Block Terror.”

Immediately after the published articles appeared, verbal attacks began on the New York
Times, criticizing their decision to expose the program. Government officials called for
an investigation into and prosecution of the New York Times for allegedly committing
various crimes by publishing the article, including treason. On June 29, the House of
Representatives passed a resolution that, without mentioning any news organization by
name, condemned the disclosure and publication of classified information “that impairs
the international fight against terrorism.”

The executive board of the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists believes the
attack on the New York Times is appalling and uncalled for. As a news organization
operating independently of the United States government and working on behalf of the
public, the Times and all other news media have a right to objectively seek and report on
information of national and international interest.

Verbal attacks by government and elected officials on this newspaper steers perilously
close to a violation Bill of Rights and the freedom of speech it provides. For government
officials to say the New York Times should be charged with treason is outrageous.

While reasonable people may disagree about the content, fairness and accuracy of the
reporting by the Times and other media, as well as the Times’s decision to publish the
story over administration objections, use of words like “treason” and threatening a
newspaper with prosecution represent a dangerous escalation in the necessary tension
between press and government. A continuation along this path will inevitably lead to a
chilling of voices independent of government authority and a de-facto repeal of the First
Amendment — leaving us minus the precious freedom millions have fought for, and
restoring a piece of the tyranny we overthrew 230 years ago.

As the Wall Street Journal put it, in a June 30 editorial which otherwise condemned the
Times’ publication of the story, “Once a government starts indicting reporters for
publishing stories, there will be no drawing any lines against such prosecutions, and wewill be well down the road to an Official Secrets Act that will let government dictate
coverage.”

The Journal, along with the Los Angeles Times, ran stories about the bank
monitoring program the same day as the New York Times.

NJSPJ fully recognizes the press’s responsibility to withhold information which might
directly put soldiers and citizens’ lives at risk, such as specific advance word on troop
movements or the breaking of codes used by enemies in combat. Neither the New York
Times’ nor the other stories in question came close to this level of disclosure.

As a result, the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists throws their
full support behind the New York’s Times, as well as other news organizations’, decision
to publish the article.

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