National Press Club Announces Winners of Annual Press Freedom Award
June 12, 2014 | By John M. Donnelly | firstname.lastname@example.org
An Illinois reporter fighting prosecutorial pressure to disclose the identity of a confidential source and a Bahraini photographer sentenced to a decade in jail effectively because he did his job--these are the winners of the National Press Club's 2014 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award.
Each year, the club honors two recipients of the award, 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.
For 2014, the Club has selected Joseph Hosey, a Patch.com reporter in Illinois, as the U.S. winner; and Ahmed Humaidan, a Bahraini freelance photographer, as the foreign winner.
Joseph Hosey was held in contempt of court last year by a judge in Will County, Ill., who fined Hosey $1,000, plus $300 a day for every day Hosey 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, Ill.--reports that he used to produce stories on the incident 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."
In Bahrain, meanwhile, Ahmed Humaidan has been in jail since 2012 and was sentenced last month to 10 more years in jail. Humaidan has told his family and his lawyer that his interrogators subjected him to psychological torture and threatened to kill him.
Humaidan's ostensible offense was attacking a police station. But, in the view of most independent observers, his only crime was cataloguing in photographs a violent regime crackdown on demonstrators in the country's more than three years of civil conflict.
Human rights organizations have found the Bahraini authorities have engaged in a bloody crackdown since February 2011 that has included the "beating, arrest and torture" of journalists, according to Freedom House. The United States is a close ally of Bahrain, not least because U.S. naval forces in the region--the Fifth Fleet--are headquartered in that country. Washington has reacted in a comparatively muted way to repression in Bahrain, in contrast to its strong denunciation of similar acts elsewhere in the Mideast.
"Violating the basic rights of reporters to cover the news is the same no matter where it occurs," said the NPC's Belkind. "Ahmed Humaidan is a photojournalist, not a criminal. The authorities in Bahrain need to free him and the other reporters who have been jailed there for the 'crime' of doing their jobs."
The Press Freedom honors will be presented at the club's annual awards dinner on July 30, when winners in numerous journalism categories will be recognized.
The National Press Club, founded in 1908, is the world's leading professional organization for journalists. Through its Press Freedom Committee, the club defends the rights of reporters and fights for transparency worldwide.