IFJ Condemns New Attack on Journalists' Sources in UK

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its European group, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) today joined their affiliate, the National Union of Journalists in the UK and Ireland (NUJ), in condemning the secrecy of a preliminary hearing at a court in Belfast dealing with an application submitted by the Police Service in Northern Ireland (PSNI) to force Belfast journalist Suzanne Breen to hand over confidential material.

Judge Tom Burgess heard the evidence which was not made available to Ms Breen or her legal team and ruled that he "was minded to grant the application" but said he can still change his mind when he hears the full case which is anticipated to take place at the Recorder's Court on Friday May 29th.

"Protection of sources is a cardinal principle of journalism and Suzanne Breen's right to resist must be supported by every affiliate of the IFJ," said Jim Boumelha, IFJ President. "This is one of numerous cases where journalists have put themselves on the line to protect confidential sources, a critical tool for investigative reporters, and where the judicial system is used to intimidate journalists."

According to reports, the closed hearing on the PSNI application to force Suzanne Breen and the Dublin-based Sunday Tribune to hand over confidential material was held on Friday and neither the journalist's nor the paper's legal teams were present.

The police are seeking a court order on Ms Breen to surrender her notes, recording material, mobile phone and other material relating to the Real IRA.

The IFJ says that the protection of sources is a right guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and has been consistently upheld by the European Court of Human Rights.

"We are deeply concerned by the failure to avail our colleagues with the opportunity to defend such a fundamental right in this application," added Boumelha.

The NUJ points out that Suzanne Breen and her legal team will have to prepare their response "with their hand tied behind their back". "It is bad enough that a journalist should be faced with the prospect of going to jail in order to protect confidential sources of information but to face such a threat based on evidence given in private is an affront to the principles of natural justice." said NUJ Irish Secretary Séamus Dooley.

Strategies for a major campaign to defend Ms Breen and the Sunday Tribune will be discussed at the forthcoming annual meeting of the European Federation of Journalists taking place in Varna (Bulgaria) at the week end.

The EFJ recently published a policy document on protection of sources in Europe available at: http://europe.ifj.org/en/articles/efj-policy-document-on-protection-of-sources

For more information contact the IFJ at   +32 2 235 2207

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries worldwide