A suspended jail term for a journalist in Portugal, a United States reporter placed under house arrest, and a new court battle facing a German investigative journalist provide growing evidence that the cardinal principle of journalism – to protect sources of information is under threat worldwide, says the International Federation of Journalists.
The IFJ and its regional group, the European Federation of Journalists, is backing protests by journalists in Portugal following a Lisbon court’s 11-month suspended jail sentence on José Luis Manso Preto, a reporter who refused to reveal his sources when called to give evidence in a drugs case.
“This case illustrates only too clearly how the authorities are trying to strong-arm journalists into betraying ethical responsibilities,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “But if journalists betray the people who talk to them, sources of information will evaporate and access to credible and vital information will be lost.”
The IFJ is backing its affiliate in Portugal, the Sindicato dos Jornalistas, in its defence of Preto, who has been sentenced even though the protection of sources is protected by law and the constitution. The union is supporting an appeal against the verdict and journalists’ leaders plan to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, if necessary. The court has ruled against attempts to force journalist to reveal sources saying it is a breach of Article 10 on Freedom of Expression in the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Portuguese case adds to the fears among journalists of a growing global trend of attacks on the right to protect their sources. Last week a US court placed local Rhode Island television reporter Jim Taricani under house arrest for six months for refusing to reveal who leaked him an FBI surveillance tape.
Meanwhile, the IFJ and EFJ continue to support German reporter Hans-Martin Tillack whose magazine, Stern, has decided to appeal against a court decision in October 2004 which on a technicality rejected his plea to stop European Commission officials gaining access to files which have been seized by Belgian police investigating who he talked to over issues being dealt with by the European Union anti-fraud unit. He will appeal to the
European Court of Justice.
“These cases highlight why we must defend the people’s right to know,” said White. “They involve high profile public interest issues and scrutiny of people in power. These would remain secret if journalists did not report on them. We need to strengthen the right of confidentiality, not undermine it.”
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries