A federal judge Thursday sentenced Jim Taricani, investigative reporter for NBC Universal-owned WJAR-TV Providence, R.I., to six months of home confinement after the reporter was convicted by a Rhode Island U.S. District Court Thursday of criminal contempt for refusing to reveal the identity of a source who gave him an FBI videotape related to an investigation of corruption in Providence's local government.
The sentence ends a three-year ordeal for Taricani, 55, who faced up to six months in prison.
The case took a wild turn last week when the source revealed himself.
Attorney Joseph Bevilacqua, a lawyer for one of the men convicted in the corruption scandal Taricani investigated three years ago, told a special prosecutor Nov. 24 that he had provided the reporter with an FBI undercover videotape of a mayor’s aide taking a bribe. However, Bevilacqua says he never asked the reporter to keep his identity confidential.
Taricani, who has had a heart transplant and pacemaker, bitterly denied that assertion, saying, “I would never have jeopardized my health and reputation, and put my family and my company through this ordeal, if my source had not required a promise of confidentiality.”
The Radio-Television News Directors Association called on Congress Thursday to pass a federal law shielding reporters for refusing to name a confidential source. "Jim Taricani has been placed in this position because the law does not recognize that reporters are obliged to protect the confidentiality of their sources," RTNDA President Barbara Cochran said in a statement.
"An increasing number of journalists are facing loss of personal liberty because of their efforts to inform the public of wrongdoing. It is time for a federal shield law to protect reporters like Jim and those facing contempt of court rulings in other ongoing investigations." The odds of a federal law are considered long, however. Shield laws are in place in 31 states and the District of Columbia.
NBC Universal said in a statement: "We are relieved that he has been spared a potentially life-threatening prison sentence. Nonetheless, it is a sad day for journalism. The facts here do not justify punishing a journalist who did nothing illegal in receiving and airing a videotape. " NBC also called for a federal shield law.
In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Ernest C. Torres cited Taricani's health and years of good citizenship as mitigating factors.
Taricani still may face a stiff monetary penalty. The special prosecutor asked the court to force Taricani to repay costs of the investigation and the trial, reportedly more than $100,000 since mid-August alone.