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Irish Supreme Court upholds press freedom

31 July 2009

The Supreme Court in Ireland has unanimously upheld an appeal by the Irish Times against a High Court order requiring editor Geraldine Kennedy and journalist Colm Keena to answer questions. The newspaper argued that this could reveal the source of a story about an official corruption inquiry.

The NUJ has welcomed the important decision that upholds the principle of protection of journalistic sources.

The Mahon tribunal into alleged planning corruption wanted to question the journalists about a story published in the paper in September 2006, which revealed that the inquiry was looking into payments made to Bertie Ahern when he was finance minister.

Both refused to discuss the source of the article and appealed the High Court order because it failed to recognise fundamental principles of press freedom.

Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish Secretary, welcomed the decision which he described as "victory for press freedom, for journalism and for common sense".

"This is a highly significant judgement which draws on the reasoning of the European Court in the landmark Goodwin case taken some years ago by the National Union of Journalists. The Supreme Court has stated in unambiguous terms that the High Court judgement 'had devalued the journalistic privilege so severely, the balance was not properly struck'.
"This is a welcome restatement of the right to protect confidential sources of information. It is regrettable that Ms Kennedy, Mr Keena and The Irish Times were forced to go to the Supreme Court to vindicate this important journalistic principle but the judgement is one, which is extremely important."
"We salute the tenacity of Ms Kennedy and Mr Keena. It is vital that journalists are allowed to act in the public interest, even when such work makes life uncomfortable for those in positions of power and authority.
"The support of the Trust, Board and Management of The Irish Times must also be acknowledged. It is vital that the values of editorial integrity and independence are upheld and that media organisations continue to place journalistic ethics at the heart of their business."

Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary, extended congratulations to Geraldine Kennedy and Colm Keena, saying:

"They are two journalists of principle and colleagues everywhere will join with me in congratulating these two NUJ members on the outcome of this case. Coming so soon after the outcome of the Suzanne Breen case, today is another great day for press freedom."

Tags: , newspapers, irish times, protection of sources, supreme court ireland, geraldine kennedy, colm keena, high court ireland