IFJ Warns British Government to “Back Off” in Confrontation Over Sources of Information

The British Government and Parliament is “threatening the core values of professional journalism” warns the International Federation of Journalists over attempts to expose whistle-blowers who embarrass political leaders.

The IFJ says protection of sources, the “cornerstone of journalism”, is being abused by the British government in its battle with the BBC, which has led to the tragic death of civil servant Dr David Kelly who has admitted to speaking to BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan about the controversial evidence that the UK used to justify waging war in Iraq earlier this year.

“This man is a victim of a political machine determined to expose and punish civil servants who speak to journalists, even when they do so in the public interest,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “The government is engaged is threatening the core values of professional journalism just to save its political face. It must back off.”

The BBC has denied that Dr Kelly is the source of its reports, but he was submitted to a combative investigation by Parliamentarians who are saying journalists should be forced to name sources if speaking under Parliamentary privilege.

“This demand strikes at the ethical cornerstone of journalism,” said White. “Journalists must be able to protect those who come forward with information. If not, sources will dry up and democracy will suffer.”

The IFJ says that the British Government’s action is flying in the face of a growing recognition in Europe that journalists’ rights to protect sources are protected by human rights law.

“Recent decisions by the European courts have underscored the importance of journalists standing by their sources,” said White, “but governments and the authorities still persist in trying to stifle dissent and hinder legitimate journalistic investigation often just to avoid public exposure of their embarrassing mistakes.”

The IFJ says that it fully supports all journalists who refuse to reveal confidential sources of information.

The IFJ has recently launched a global campaign to highlight the need to protect sources and has supported journalists who have refused to give evidence, even to international courts, if it might expose confidential sources.

“Journalism depends on the quality of its sources of information and many of those sources need protection,” said White, who was working as a journalist at The Guardian in 1983 when a young civil servant, Sarah Tisdall, was jailed for six months after the paper named her as the source of its story about the arrival of Cruise Missiles in the UK.

She was prosecuted after the paper named her when ordered to do so by a court. “That case haunts the newsrooms of British journalism even today and the Blair government would do well not to create another confrontation in which the victims are not only the people who serve the public interest, but democracy itself,” he said.

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The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries