HONG KONG (AFP) — Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller on Thursday called on the US Congress to enact a federal shield law that would protect journalists from being forced to disclose their sources.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who was jailed for 85 days in 2005 after refusing to tell prosecutors which of her sources had outed CIA agent Valerie Plame, said the US was now shrouded in secrecy in the post-9/11 era.
A vast amount of information which had been accessible to the public was made confidential by the administration of US President George W. Bush, she said in a speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club here.
"I have never seen such an abuse of secrecy in the name of national security since I arrived in Washington, DC, 35 years ago," said Miller, who specialises in covering bio-terrorism.
"No country that calls itself free should jail journalists for doing their job," she added.
"The danger now is that it's so difficult to get any bill through the US Congress. But we need to pass the bill on a federal shield law."
Various forms of media shield law are in place in 49 of the 50 US states. The US House of Representatives passed its version of the shield bill in October. The Senate is expected to debate the bill sometime this month.
Both of the presumptive presidential nominees, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, have endorsed the Senate version of the legislation.
But Miller warned Obama supporters that he might not be the perfect guardian of press freedoms, saying: "Obama is not very press-friendly. He's very suspicious of the press, and I think that it's true of all presidents."
Since her imprisonment, 3,000 reporters have received subpoenas to testify in court, the 60-year-old veteran said, noting that 80 percent of those cases had nothing to do with national security.
Miller was set free after her source -- I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff -- waived her pledge of confidentiality. She subsequently testified in front of a grand jury at a federal court.
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