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Saturday, March 12, 2005

Broadcast Journalists Fire Back

Broadcasting & Cable Reports : Broadcast Journalists Fire Back

Excerpt - The White House, the courts and the Federal Communications Commission all took hits from broadcast journalists Thursday night, who said they were feeling under fire from a manipulative and even malicious government.

NBC News President Neal Shapiro set the tone, telling a roomful of top journalists gathered for the Radio-Television News Directors Foundation awards dinner in D.C. that the press is under attack as never before from the executive and judicial branches, which he says are pursuing journalists with "actual malice" just for doing their jobs.

It's time to "sound the alarm," he said. That call was picked up by other speakers and punctuated with applause from the crowd.

Shapiro cited Jim Taricani, the reporter for NBC-owned WJAR Providence, R.I., who was convicted of contempt by a federal judge for failing to reveal a source. Only a heart condition kept him out of prison, said Shapiro. Taricani is on six months house arrest.

"This is what reporters do," Taricani told Shapiro after the conviction. But facing arrest should not be part of the job description, said Shapiro, who took the opportunity to push for a federal shield law, which the Radio-Television News Directors Association and several legislators are championing on Capitol hill.

Shapiro attributed some of the repressive climate to frustrated governmnent officials who, having failed to please their superiors, take it out on journalists. But he also cited "a handful of scandals" that have tarred the broadcast industry and a post-9/11 climate that contributed to the crackdown. He advised journalists to do a better job of showing themselves as reporters, rather than entertainers.

ABC's Sam Donaldson, master of ceremonies, said he had never seen such "vitriolic animus" toward journalists, save for the waning days of the Nixon administration. Donaldson said he hears commentators from the right and left trying to convince the public that the mainstream press cannot be trusted. It's time to "fire back," he said.

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