Video: Jailing journalists

updated 4/9/2005 8:24:05 PM ET 2005-04-10T00:24:05

The boredom was worse than reporter Jim Taricani expected during his four-months of home confinement for protecting a source. Too much TV watching, house cleaning and reading left him looking for ways to kill time.

“It was certainly much better than prison,” he said. “But it gets to you after a while. When you lose your freedom, it’s a big deal.”

Still, Taricani told The Associated Press that he doesn’t regret his refusal to tell the government who gave him an FBI surveillance video that exposed government corruption.

“If reporters can’t have the opportunity to use confidential sources when they need to, we no longer have a free press,” Taricani said.

On Saturday, Taricani’s ankle monitoring bracelet was broken off, he bid his probation officer good bye and he planned a trip to New York City to enjoy museums, shopping and time outside with his wife.

Taricani, 55, of WJAR-TV, broke no law by airing the secret FBI tape, which was part of an investigation that sent former Providence Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci and other officials to prison. Instead, he was found in contempt of court for refusing to give up his source, who has since identified himself.

“We had a real good reason to inform the public of what public corruption really looked like,” Taricani said. “Rarely do they see a high-ranking public official taking a $1,000 cash bribe on video.”

After Taricani was convicted, Providence defense lawyer Joseph Bevilacqua Jr. came forward and admitted he leaked the tape.

First Amendment battleground
Taricani is one of several journalists nationwide who have become locked in First Amendment battles with the federal government over confidential sources. Reporters for Time and The New York Times have recently been threatened with jail as part of an investigation into the disclosure of an undercover CIA officer’s identity.

When he sentenced Taricani in December, U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres said the newsman had no First Amendment right to protect a source who had broken the law by providing him with information. Attorneys, investigators and defendants were under court order not to release any tapes connected to the investigation.

Prosecutors have not decided whether to criminally charge Bevilacqua.

Taricani was set free two months early for complying with all the conditions of the home confinement, which included a ban on working, giving media interviews and using the Internet. He expects to go back to work Wednesday.

Taricani described the experience as psychologically draining.

“You’re just not free,” he said. “You have an ankle bracelet on, you’re monitored, your probation officer shows up unannounced. It’s taxing.”

Along with reading and cleaning, he worked on a mystery novel he had started last summer.

“I found myself just doing things to make the time go by,” he said.

Taricani was given home confinement instead of jail because of his health: he had a heart transplant in 1996 and takes medication daily to prevent organ rejection.

Taricani said Saturday that he’d promised to protect his source’s identity and was acting on principle. Bevilacqua told prosecutors that he never required Taricani to withhold his identity and said he had signed a waiver of confidentiality.

However, Taricani suggested that Bevilacqua’s waiver was forced.

“I knew that he was in a position where he had to do that otherwise he would’ve been highly suspect,” Taricani said. “I knew as soon as I saw it that he had no intention of really wanting me to give his name up.”

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