IFJ Backs Australian Journalists Facing Court Action over Protection of Sources

The International Federation of Journalists today gave its full support to campaigners supporting journalists’ rights in Australia where two reporters face charges of contempt for failing to reveal their sources.

Herald-Sun journalists Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus are to be formally charged with contempt of court after refusing to name their source before the Chief Judge Michael Rozenes of the Melbourne County Court. The Director of Public Prosecutions is expected to press on with the case at a hearing to be held in two weeks.

‘With US reporter Judith Miller currently in jail for refusing to reveal her sources, this latest case shows that the fight for protection of sources is a global issue,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. The IFJ is backing the campaign in Australia of its affiliate the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance against official attempts to force journalists to reveal sources.

The Australian case arises from the prosecution of Desmond Patrick Kelly for leaking Government information in a report published in February last year. The two Canberra-based journalists refused to co-operate in the case by providing information that would reveal the identity of a key source for their report.

The article by Harvey and McManus exposed Government plans to reject a promised $500 million boost to war veterans’ pension benefits. Following publication, Kelly was charged under the Commonwealth Crimes Act.

In a preliminary hearing McManus refused to answer when asked whether he knew Kelly on the grounds it could incriminate him. The prosecution agreed to grant the pair immunity, thus setting them up for contempt charges if they failed to give evidence later. That point has now been reached.

“Journalists have an ethical obligation to protect their sources. Without this protection potential whistleblowers would not leak vital information in the public interest,” said White. “Some might argue that in special circumstances this right can be waived. But this isn’t one of them. There is no threat to national security here, this is just a case of the Government trying to minimise its embarrassment.”

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries