The Malta Independent 26 June 2019, Wednesday

'Confidentiality of sources not sacrosanct, but should be respected and upheld' - UNESCO official

Kevin Schembri Orland Saturday, 27 February 2016, 11:45 Last update: about 4 years ago

Threatening a journalist to reveal his source could likely have repercussions, UNESCO Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development Guy Berger believes..

 “More than a hundred countries have laws protecting journalists’ rights to keep their sources confidential, he said, adding that this is not always an absolute right”.

He was speaking with The Malta Independent while in Malta, after delivering a speech on “Freedom of Expression, Privacy and Defamation on the Internet”, organised by the Fondazzjoni Tumas Fenech għall-Edukazzjoni fil-Ġurnalizmu and the Department of Media and Communications, Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences, University of Malta.

“Journalists of course have an ethical code and even under pain of law they would struggle to give up sources. The rationale is, of course, that if sources are not protected then they would not come forward and a lot of public ills would remain concealed. So the social benefit of protecting sources is amplified”.

He believes that there might be some cases where ordering journalists to reveal their sources could be justified, “but one must always look at the bigger picture, and the possibility of creating precedent”.

“You might say yes, it’s justified to help capture a murderer, but the repercussions of that could mean that no clues would come out through the press as to who the next killer is. More broadly, people who know about corruption might not step forward”.

Courts should always ask if there are other ways to find that information without forcing a journalist to reveal a source, he said, adding that nowadays, there are always other digital means to find clues.

“Sometimes Journalists are asked to report on a street demonstration turned violent for example, and they would be called to testify against those brought before the court.  But because the journalists would have published an article, it’s very easy for the Court to tell the journalists to provide information. Yet the police were also there, so they could testify instead of the Courts”.

The protection of the confidentiality of sources Is not sacrosanct but it really should be respected and upheld as much as possible - and that is recognised worldwide, he explained.

Read the full interview in tomorrow’s edition of The Malta Independent on Sunday




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