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Unions claim victories in fight to protect journalistic sources

13 August 2012

The NUJ continues to campaign hard for the protection of journalistic sources – a vital principle contained in the union's code of conduct.

The UK police last week were denied access to BBC footage connected to the shooting of Mark Duggan and the civil unrest that followed his death. The police applied for two production orders and the judge said there was not a clear and compelling case and rejected the applications.

The decision follows on from a judicial review earlier this year involving NUJ member Jason N. Parkinson and the BBC, ITN, BSkyB and Hardcash Productions at the Court of Appeal. The appeal was to challenge the decision by Chelmsford Crown Court to grant a production order for Dale Farm footage.

The decision to force journalists to hand over unbroadcast footage was overturned by the High Court appeal and journalists did not hand-over Dale Farm footage to the police.

Journalists in Europe have also faced similar threats and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its European group (EFJ) have welcomed a decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on 28 June. The decision follows a protection of sources case brought by journalists in France, following searches of the newsrooms of the French newspapers, L'Equipe and Le Point, and the confiscations of material conducted on 13 January.

The case arose as the French magistrates and investigators wanted to access the sources in a doping affair within the Cofidis team. Given that the French judiciary system failed to recognize a violation of article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights in this case, the IFJ and its affiliate in France, the Syndicat National des Journalistes lodged an application before the ECHR.

The Court not only reaffirmed its jurisprudence in this regard but also extended it, stressing that: 

"… the rights of journalists to protect their sources shall not be considered as a privilege that can be granted or withdrawn on the basis of the legality or illegality of these sources, but shall be considered as an inalienable right to information commanding the highest considerable."

In other words, the protection of sources is an inherent feature of the right to information, which has nothing to do with the nature of these sources.

Stephen Pearse, EFJ General Secretary, said:

"This is a victory for all European journalists, but it is also a wake-up call for the political, judiciary and police authorities of all Member States, particularly France, which haven't yet understood the rules of the democratic game concerning press freedom".

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary said:

"The most recent court rulings are significant and are welcomed by the NUJ. It has been the journalist trade unions and our federations that have led the fight to protect journalists, their sources and materials – the latest court cases show we have succeeded."

Tags: , protection of sources, Dale Farm, France, production order, bbc, itn, broadcasting, hardcash productions, jason parkinson, ifj, efj, bskyb, european convention on human rights, echr, l'equipe, snj, le point