In a move many are decrying as a violation of media shield laws, a Chicago-area journalist is being penalized for refusing to reveal a confidential source.
For refusing to reveal the identify of his sources, Judge Gerald Kinney of Illinois’s Will County Circuit Court has fined editor Joseph Hosey a one-time $1,000 fine, plus an additional $300 penalty for every day he does not disclose to the court who gave him the police reports related to a double murder in Illinois earlier this year.
Hosey is the editor of the hyperlocal news site Orland Park Patch, part of the Patch Media Network, which is owned by AOL. The $300 daily fine will be charged to Hosey for 180 days, and began Aug. 29, 2013. If Hosey does not disclose his source before the 180 days are up, he is expected to serve jail time.
According to his bio page on the Patch website, Hosey has been a reporter in the Chicago area since 1999 and covered the Drew Peterson case, which he later wrote about in his book, “Fatal Vows: The Tragic Wives of Sergeant Drew Peterson.” That book was later made into a movie for the cable network Lifetime.
Hosey has been an editor for the Orland Park Patch since 2010.
In Illinois, journalists are protected under a state media shield law, which says that a journalist has the right to protect the identity of a confidential source. However, the law has an exception: if a petitioner can show that the identity of a confidential source is relevant to the proceedings and that public interest would be “adversely affected” if the information is not disclosed, they are not longer able to claim “reporter’s privilege.”
Though freedom of speech, which includes the printed word, is protected under the First Amendment, media shield laws are supposed to go above and beyond in terms of protecting a journalist from being forced to disclose confidential information and sources.
Hosey was ordered to hand over the police reports on Aug. 30, which he used to describe the details of the Hickory Street murders that occurred in Joliet, Ill. in January. Judge Kinney said that if the identity of the source could not be determined solely by the documents, Hosey would have to disclose the identity of his source to the court.
Hickory Street murder coverage
According to Patch, the police reports obtained by Hosey revealed that 22-year-olds Terrance Rankins and Eric Glover were lured to the home of 19-year-old Alisa Massaro, where Adam Landerman, 20, and Joshua Miner, 25, strangled them.
Patch reported that the police reports said Miner and Massaro then had sex on top of the dead bodies, which were discovered on Jan. 10, 2013, lifeless and with plastic bags over the men’s heads.
Landerman, Massaro and Miner were charged with murder of the two men, along with 19-year-old Bethany McKee. Patch is reportedly the only news organization who was able to obtain the police reports for the murders.
Chuck Bertz, attorney for McKee, filed a motion to determine how Hosey was able to obtain the police reports. He argued that the court had exhausted all other means to figure out who the source was, including obtaining signed affidavits from more than 500 people at local law firms, police agencies, the Will County State Attorney’s Office and Will County Public Defender’s Office, saying they were not Hosey’s source.
Judge Kinney agreed. But on Sept. 3, Hosey and Patch’s attorney Kenneth Schmetterer said that the organization would not comply with the judge’s order to hand over the documents or the name of the source.
Doug Serton is the director of communications for AOL. He said, “We respectfully disagree with the judge’s decision. We believe that reporter shield laws apply in this case and intend to appeal the matter.”
Judge Kinney has continued to press Hosey to reveal who gave him the reports, but the journalist has held firm in his refusal to comply despite the fact that Kinney said his reporter’s privilege does not apply in this case.
On Sept. 20, 2013, Judge Kinney found Hosey in minor direct criminal contempt after Hosey refused to hand over the police reports — 21 days after he was first asked to do so.
In response to Kinney’s ruling that Hosey is not protected under the state’s media shield law and that Hosey would be fined for not handing over the reports and name of his source, Schmetterer said that he would be filing an appeal, even though it could take months.
“Illinois courts have upheld the shield law to protect reporters precisely from having to divulge confidential sources because of the chilling effect it can have on the important work reporters can do,” he said.
He added that the media shield law is “a principle that’s established and recognized by appellate courts and the Illinois Supreme Court by the statute, and that’s why we’re going to vigorously press forward with our appeal.”
A status hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 3, in Will County court.
After news spread that Hosey was ordered to reveal a confidential source, many journalistic organizations issued statements in defense of the editor.
The Society of Professional Journalists, which represents 8,000 journalists nationwide, has expressed support for Hosey, saying the ruling is not just a violation on the freedoms of the press but to citizens who have a right to know what is going on with their government.
Dave Cuillier is the president of SPJ. He said the charges against Hosey are outrageous and “cannot be tolerated.”
“I can’t believe an Illinois judge, or any American for that matter, would think it’s OK to imprison and bankrupt a person for doing his or her job well,” he said. “That’s something I would expect in a third-world country, not here. SPJ will not stand by passively and let a judge trample over democracy. Neither should the people of Illinois.”
Linda Petersen, SPJ’s national FOI committee chair, agreed and said the case against Hosey is “a witch hunt to discover who leaked documents to Joey Hosey who is just doing his job as a reporter.
“That Judge Kinney feels justified under the law is appalling,” she said. “Illinois’ shield law clearly protects Joey Hosey in this situation and Kinney’s manipulative interpretation of that law is a farce.”
The Chicago Headline Club, the largest SPJ chapter in the U.S., also released a statement condemning the contempt of court charges filed against Hosey, and have asked Kinney to withdraw his orders to Hosey.
“We are appalled, dismayed and angered by Judge Kinney’s decision,” said Fernando Diaz, president of the Chicago Headline Club. “Kinney’s actions are unwarranted as Mr. Hosey was working within the ethical framework of professional journalism.”
“The SPJ code of ethics starts with ‘seek truth and report it,’” Diaz said, “and that’s exactly what Mr. Hosey has been doing. Kinney’s action does little more than keep information from the public.”
Restricted freedoms of the press
Hosey is far from the only journalist who has been targeted recently by a government entity for refusing to share where he obtained his information. As Mint Press News previously reported, after it was discovered earlier this summer that several media organizations had been spied on, including the Associated Press and FOX News, President Obama told the Justice Department to develop guidelines to protect journalists.
In July, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released seven new media guidelines for the Department of Justice. Arguably the biggest alteration was that reporters would be notified within 45 days of a request from the DOJ to turn over communications or business records. The extended time period also allows a news organization or journalist to challenge the government’s need to review the materials.
Under the guise of protecting media outlets, Congress has also crafted a piece of legislation that determines whether or not a person is a journalist, in a bill designed to give federal protection to journalists and bloggers from being forced to disclose the identities of their confidential sources.
The original draft defined who was and was not a journalist, but as the Electronic Frontier Foundation reported last week, that part of the bill was amended, allowing judges to decide who should be considered a practicing journalist.