8 May 2013

Subpoenaed CNMI journalist says she is prepared to go to jail

8:47 pm on 8 May 2013

A journalist in the Northern Marianas says she would rather go to jail that reveal her sources to the attorney general.

Tammy Doty and her employer, the Marianas Variety, have been subpoenaed to surrender any information they have regarding a story Ms Doty wrote about a former governor, Benigno Fitial.

She says her case is the first of its kind in the Northern Marianas, and she is prepared to defend her sources, and the freedom of the press, which is safeguarded by the US Constitution.

She told Jamie Tahana how she wound up in this situation.

DOTY: Back in February, a citizen approached the governor's office and was speaking with his special assistant at the time and got very loud and obnoxious and was saying some things, his personal feelings about the governor. And the conversation ended. The special advisor went and told the governor. The governor told him to call the police. The citizen wasn't arrested until two days later. And subsequently our governor resigned, as opposed to facing an impeachment vote in the senate. So he exited. And fast-forward a couple of weeks, I did a story on this citizen who allegedly threatened the governor. And after the story hit the newspaper, I received information that the primary witness had recanted and said that he'd never told the police those things, they had coached him and basically inflated what he had said, and that this citizen should never have been arrested. Now, this primary witness has recanted on our local TV station. I had first-hand sources where he recanted in my subsequent article. And he's been very outspoken and vocal. For whatever reason the attorney general's office has subpoenaed my privileged material. And I said respectfully, 'Thank you, but no thank you'.

TAHANA: If he's been very vocal, why does the attorney general want all of your notes?

DOTY: That is the million-dollar question. I have no idea. They have a first-hand witness who is ready to take the stand, do a deposition and tell them exactly from a first person. I am basically a second-person source so I have no idea why they're pursuing this.

TAHANA: Do you believe it's some form of campaign against the media in the Northern Marianas?

DOTY: I cannot say. During the tenure of the last governor, Fitial, the relationship between the press and his administration was extremely tense and contentious. They were extremely secretive and operated in the shadows. I cannot speak for this administration. I have seen more openness and willingness to speak to the media, but I cannot speak to the motives of the attorney general's office. I'm very proud to say that I work for a fearless community newspaper that has dedicated itself to exposing corruption and bad government and has oftentimes gone up against the government. We have every confidence that we will prevail if the attorney general's office does seek to bring me into court before a judge on contempt charges.

TAHANA: So we don't know if this will go to court yet?

DOTY: We don't. It's been about three weeks since I've declined to confirm, deny or otherwise anything to do with my reporter's privileged material. Subsequently, they have sent another subpoena for the same materials, although not quite as Draconian, to our local TV station, KSPN. But me, personally, I have received no information from the attorney general's office and I don't believe our attorney has, either, in terms of what they seek to do, going forward.

TAHANA: Does this scare you?

DOTY: Well, no. I'm not scared too easily. (Laughs) And I don't mean to make light of the possibility that I would go to jail. But there's really nothing more important in the western world than standing up for freedom of speech. And I have a wonderful husband and an eight year old son who are fully aware of the possible consequences. And they stand firmly behind me and encourage me every day to stand on principle, that there's no better reason to go to jail than on the first principle. So I feel very confident. I'm not really thinking that the new government and the administration really want this to go much farther because we have really large economic and social issues to be dealing with and this is really not the best use of our community's time and intelligence and resources. So I'm hoping that cooler heads will prevail.

That was Marianas Variety reporter Tammy Doty, speaking to Jamie Tahana.