Supreme Court backs decision to jail reporters for protecting source

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Two reporters who have refused to name a confidential source face jail after the Supreme Court refused to hear their claim that journalists should be afforded special protections.

Without making any comment, the court allowed to let stand a lower court's ruling that the two reporters should be jailed and held in contempt of court for refusing to testify.

The case relates to the outing of the CIA operative Valeria Plame, the wife of a former US ambassador Joe Wilson. Her identity was leaked in 2003 by a Bush administration official in retaliation for Mr Wilson's public claim that the government had lied about Iraq's efforts to restart its nuclear programme.

After her identity was leaked - a federal offence - an investigation was launched by the Justice Department. It sought to speak to all the journalists who had spoken to the government official, including the conservative columnist Robert Novak, who had published the information.

Ironically, though the New York Times correspondent Judith Miller and Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper had talked to sources about the Plame story, neither had anything to do with leaking her identity. They both refused to co-operate with the grand jury investigation into the leak, claiming it would be wrong to reveal a confidential source.

A federal judge had ordered that as a result of their refusal, Mr Cooper and Ms Miller should be jailed for 18 months. Time magazine was also fined $1,000 a day until it complied with the court order.

Meanwhile, addressing the emotive issue of separation of church and state in the US yesterday, a divided Supreme Court ruled that the Ten Commandments could be displayed on government land, but not inside a federal courthouse.