Court to Rule on News Source Anonymity

THE Supreme Court has entered the private world of journalists and their news sources, agreeing to decide whether a swap of secret information for a pledge of anonymity is a legally binding agreement. The court will determine if Minnesota's two largest newspapers, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis and the St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch, are liable for damages for reneging on a 1982 agreement made with a source not to publish his name.

Jane Kirtley, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, says the court appears ready to ``in my view drastically reduce the protection that the First Amendment has given to journalists ... the right to make your own news judgments.''

If the court rules that reporter-source agreements are legally binding, it could unintentionally help journalists who face contempt of court for refusing to reveal their sources. But Ms. Kirtley calls that ``a very high price to pay to get very little.''

The court's decision is expected next year.

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