ICE blogs

May 15, 2010

Journalists’ right to confidentiality ‘not absolute’

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism, professional ethics — news_editor @ 10:45 am

Canada’s highest court has quashed an attempt to establish journalists’ absolute right to protect confidential sources. In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court ordered the National Post to hand over to police documents obtained in 2001 alleging the involvement of former prime minister Jean Chretien in a loan scandal.

Barry Turner, senior lecturer in law at the University of Lincoln, UK, commented: ‘I am increasingly alarmed at the civil liberties situation in Canada. They have some draconian laws in a number of areas that even Tony Blair would have blanched at.’

The court recognised the public’s interest ‘in being informed about matters of public importance that may only see the light of day through the cooperation of sources who will not speak except on condition of confidentiality’.
But the court added that the right to confidentiality had to be balanced against other important public interests, including the investigation of crime. ‘The bottom line is that no journalist can give a source a total assurance of confidentiality. All such arrangements necessarily carry an element of risk that the source’s identity will eventually be revealed.’

The Supreme Court said the constitutional protection of freedom of expression was not limited to ‘traditional media’ but was enjoyed by ‘everyone’: bloggers, tweeters and even those who stood on street corners and shouted news at passing pedestrians.

Granting immunity to sources deemed worthy to quote on condition of anonymity by ’such a heterogeneous and ill-defined group of writers and speakers…would blow a giant hole in law enforcement and other constitutionally recognised values such as privacy’.

- See also http://www.themarknews.com/articles/1498-there-s-nothing-special-about-journalists

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