By Samantha Juwitha Born

The movie Nothing But The Truth stars Kate Beckinsale as Rachel Armstrong who is a reporter for the Sun-Times. Rachel discovers that Erica van Doren - who is also a fellow soccer mom to her, - is a CIA agent who recently returned from Venezuela where she went on a fact finding mission concerning the assassination attempt on the President of the United States.
Rachel approaches Erica for comment and confirmation, however Erica refuses to confess. Having no doubt about the story and its facts, Rachel succeeded in making it front-page news with the support of her editor and the legal counselor of the newspaper. However the revelation of a covert operative’s identity is considered treasonous and the individual who leaked the information is a potential threat to national security. After the story has been published, federal prosecutor Patton Dubois convokes a grand jury and demands Rachel to reveal her source.
Rachel is very tied to her journalistic principle of not revealing her source, since her source has asked her to keep the identity anonymous. This leads to the newspaper hiring an attorney, Albert Burnside to defend her case. However, the judge did not tolerate Rachel’s right to protect her source and she is sent to jail. Rachel is imprisoned for months. Her time in prison has cost her the relationship with her husband Ray and her son Timmy. Other than that the Sun-Times also sacrifice a great deal of fines and legal fees.
Since Rachel does not show any sign of wanting to reveal her source, the judge decides to release her. However just as she leaves the prison she is arrested by U.S Marshals sent by Dubois for the obstruction of justice. Dubois persuades her to take a deal of two years imprisonment rather than going to trial. Rachel agrees as she is still tied to her principle.
Inside the facility, Rachel has a flashback about her time as a volunteer at her son’s school for a field trip, where she spoke to Van Doren's daughter, Alison. At the end of the movie it turns out that it was her who revealed that her mother worked for the government and recently went to Venezuela and she told Rachel not to tell anyone that it was her who revealed it.
The right to protect the source:
The right to protect a source’s identity, is the right of every professional journalist, with the reason of aiming at professionalism or upholding the professionalism in journalism. Nobody can force the journalist to reveal the identity of the news source. The journalist has the right to refuse any interrogation concerning the identity. Unfortunately for journalists, this is not an absolute right, meaning it has its limitations. If the journalist is put on trial there is a chance that the judge might send him or her into prison. So, why is the right to conceal your source needed? The law allows the right for certain professions to not reveal anything related to their work. For example, doctors, lawyers, priests and also journalists. As a journalist one very often interacts with the news sources. Essentially the journalist collects information, writes them into news and publishes them. Most of the part of the story consists of the news sources statements and information. The news source is very crucial for the journalist and it is important that they have a good relationship with them. If a news source asks the reporter to agree on not publishing his or her identity then the reporter must respect that. Trust plays a very important role between the source and the reporter. If the source trusts the reporter the more likely they are willing to speak.
An example to illustrate such a situation would be the case of Judith Miller. Her case is very similar to Rachel Armstrong in the movie. In 2005, New York Times reporter Judith Miller was imprisoned for eighty five days. She was very much tied to her principle to not reveal her source’s identity. However an act like this could possibly lead to putting the media in danger and also the source, but most importantly it may also compromise the ability to gather news and critical information for the public and to expose wrong-doing and corruption.
On March 6, 2007, I. Lewis Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted of obstruction of justice, making false statements to the F.B.I. Two counts of perjury surfaced out of Miller and the federal grand jury investigation into the leaking of the identity of a CIA operative Valerie Wilson. Since Miller was released from jail, she has been the subject of criticism from her own newspaper, which led to her resignation from the New York Times. It may be seen as great commitment for a journalist to hold on to their principle to appear professional. Yet, it puts them in great risk. It may cost them their job and especially their credibility as a journalist.
In the movie, the case was more dramatically shown, as Rachel was held in prison for months for withholding her source’s identity. The movie was emphasizing on the difficult process of dealing with the court in such a case and also how much a journalist can be devoted to their job.
The movie takes place in America, a democratic country that holds the libertarian and the social responsibility press systems. The libertarian press system derives from the idea that people who receive all information an issue will be able to
The concept of a libertarian press evolved from the idea that people who are given all the information on an issue will be able to distinguish between what is true and what is false and will make good choices. This is an idea embraced by the writers of the U.S. Constitution and by other democratic governments.
This theory assumes, that the media’s main goal is to deliver the truth, that the media will not cave in to outside pressures, and that people with opposing viewpoints will have a chance to express themselves. The media will present all points of view, in what is commonly called the free market- place of ideas.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution concisely advocates the idea of freedom of the press. In theory, America holds the libertarian theory, although this ideal has been challenged often by changes in the media industries since the Constitution was adopted.
The social responsibility theory, accepts the concept of a libertarian press but prescribes what the media should do, in which journalists will do their jobs well only if periodically reminded about their duties.
This theory developed out of the 1947 Hutchins Commission Report on the Free and Responsible Press where they listed five goals for the press, including the need for truthful and complete reporting of all sides of an issue. The commission concluded that the American press’ privileged position in the Constitution means that the press must always work to be responsible to society.
If the media fails to be responsible to society, the social responsibility theory holds that the government should encourage the media to comply. This shows a difference between the libertarian and the social responsibility model. The libertarian theory assumes the media will work well without government interference, yet the social responsibility theory supports government oversight for media that don’t act in society’s best interest.
It may become a debate of an ethical issue. The journalists job may be to inform the public and have social responsibility in what they publish, yet what about the individual who is attacked by the whole situation? The CIA agent who was revealed, is put in a very unfortunate position. Since CIA agents are sworn to secrecy, the person who leaked the identity is involved with the obstruction of justice.
In a democratic society where libertarian and social responsibility press systems are privileges to freedom of speech, it may seem like the journalist has it easy, however in reality it is just the opposite. Especially, according to the social responsibility where it seems that the journalist does not have society’s best interest in mind in the eyes of the government so that the journalist is put in the dark.
Personally I observe that in many cases where the government is put in a bad light or fears potential threat to national security through a news story it becomes a problem for the journalist who was actually only devoted to his or her job. And in this case it concerns them being tied to a principle of having the right to conceal the news source. The government also needs to do their job in protecting the country, thus, many media organizations are shut down or the journalist loses credibility for being imprisoned, while actually attempting to become a media hero. However, without protection sources may be discouraged from helping the press in informing the public on matters of public interest. Hence, the vital public watchdog role of the press may be weakened and the ability of the press to provide accurate and reliable information may be adversely affected.
The problem again however is that the journalist (in the movie) has exposed a potential threat to national security and it is crucial for the government to keep their country safe. Yet how are the journalists supposed to function as watchdogs? The government and the media seem to be watching each other. While the journalists are trying to be professional the government tries to protect their country.
“The Judith Miller example is significant for the way in which it highlights the tensions that exist between our desire for a heroic media and our increasing fear of media power. Who is to watch the watchdog?” (- Daniel Joyce)
In the movie however, the person who was the protected source was just a little girl who knew nothing about the consequences of her revelation. The journalists’ role is also to be fair, and so she treated the girl just like she would treat any other source. The girl herself wouldn’t have to face any criminal charges, because she is a minor and was not aware of her action’s impact. Yet, the point of the movie was the devotion of a journalist to their ethical conduct. Rachel Armstrong was not just protecting her source but she was also defending her principle.
There are a few examples that show just how far Rachel is willing to go. There is scene where Rachel’s lawyer slowly loses his patience and yells at her that he is defending Rachel Armstrong and not a principle. This shows that even the one on her side is becoming anxious since the case seems to be deliberately prolonged. Another example is a scene in the movie where a journalist comes to Rachel’s prison to interview her. In that interview the journalist asks Rachel who her source is. Rachel’s response is, “ Are you trying to get a fellow journalist to betray your integrity?”
It is critical to see who is right or wrong in this matter. The right of the journalist is limited by the government’s fear of threat towards national security. It is debatable to say that the journalist is right or that the government is. The journalist is just trying to do his or her job by being responsible to the public’s interest, yet in a socially responsible press system the government can interfere and make the journalist an enemy of the state. It seems ironic, yet it is the reality.

Reference List


Http:// (n.d.). National Security Agency

Lesmana, Tjipta Prof Dr. (n.d.). Media Law Lecture UPH.

New York Times. (n.d.). n.p. OUTED AGENT AND REPORTER GO TOE TO TOE . (n.d.). n.p. Defining Global Media Systems.