(New York, NY) – A policy requiring University of Illinois-affiliated journalists to disclose information about confidential reports of sexual violence or harassment is misguided and harmful, PEN America said today, and that journalists associated with the university should be exempt from being compelled to turn over such information.

In August, NPR Illinois and ProPublica published a report about sexual harassment, and the reporting outlets gave sources the ability to confidentially share stories of sexual harassment or violence online. In response, the University of Illinois, which owns the license for NPR Illinois, said university-affiliated employees could not guarantee confidentiality, as they are obligated to report allegations under federal law.

“The ability to offer confidentiality to sources is one of the most fundamental tools in a reporter’s toolbox. To remove that is to strike at the heart of journalistic independence and undermine the media’s ability to do its job. Simply put, the University is misguided to apply its policy in a way that cuts deeply into university-affiliated media’s freedom of the press,” said Summer Lopez, senior director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America.

NPR Illinois requested an exemption from the University’s Title IX policy, such as the one that the University reportedly grants to confidential counselors, but says its request was denied. NPR says  about two-thirds of its stations across the country are either licensed to, or affiliated with, a college or university.

“The University’s attempt to limit journalistic promises of confidentiality to sources alleging sexual misconduct will only reduce the space for transparency and accountability around the issue of sexual misconduct on campus,” said PEN America’s Lopez. “We appreciate that the university is attempting to balance journalistic freedom with its legal obligations. But here, it has clearly struck the wrong balance.”

As an organization dedicated to literary and journalistic freedoms, PEN America engages with issues affecting freedom of the press throughout the country. As well, PEN America engages heavily on the issues surrounding free speech and college campuses, including through the recent launch of its Campus Free Speech Guide, developed as a resource for faculty and students alike. 

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee@pen.org, +1 202 309 8892