Safety Issue in Northern Ireland as Journalist Fights to Protect Sources of Information

The International

Federation of journalists (IFJ) says that forcing a journalist to reveal her

sources in Northern Ireland will put

her life at risk and weaken the fragile peace and democracy in the region.

At a hearing yesterday

in Belfast, the

Police Service of Northern Ireland

(PSNI) sought to enforce an order that Suzanne Breen, a journalist of the

Sunday Tribune, should provide materials over articles concerning the murder of

two British soldiers in the province. The case, says the IFJ, highlights the

threats to press freedom and the safety of journalists forced to hand over

materials that will reveal their sources. 

"The protection

of sources is of the essence for independent journalism," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "In this case

the journalist is at physical risk of reprisals from paramilitary groups if she

hands over information and the right of people to be informed will be

compromised in Northern Ireland

if sources of information dry up."

The IFJ says that

the Breen case demonstrates unequivocally that ruthless groups are prone to

exert retaliation against journalists for briefing authorities on them. 

According to

reports, journalists who testified at the hearing told the court that

journalists must not discriminate against their sources at the risk of scaring

off future sources of information. The court also heard witness evidence

of previous incidents of violence against journalists and media organisations

as a result of their cooperation with the Police in their inquiries.

Suzanne Breen was

contacted by the Real IRA, a dissident group of the IRA which claimed

responsibility for the murder of the soldiers in March. She subsequently

interviewed the group's representative whose identity the PSNI is asking her to

reveal. The journalist told the court she had received threats in case she

complied with the authorities' request.

The IFJ and its

European group, the European Federations of Journalists (EFJ) led the campaign

for the review of anti-terrorism laws in European countries which threaten the

protection of journalists' sources. The issue was raised by the EFJ at the

meeting of ministers of the human rights network of the Council of Europe

in Reykjavik, Iceland,

at the end of May which called on their

government to review anti-terrorism laws enacted after the attacks of 11

September in New York and Washington.

"These laws do

more harm than good," added White. "They compromise the integrity in journalism

and expose journalists to serious risks."

For further information contact

IFJ on        + 32 2 235 22 07       

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123

countries worldwide