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Campbell in the soup?

By Steven | May 19, 2009

You’ve probably heard that the police have asked the judge in the Waiouru Army medals case to order John Campbell and Ingrid Leary to answer questions that may disclose the identity of their source. (That source being, of course, one of the thieves, with whom Campbell famously performed his Clayton’s interview.)

The journalists have promised not to reveal their source. Can they be ordered to do so?

The short answer is yes. The new Evidence Act gives journalists a privilege to protect their confidential sources. But the judge can override that privilege. The judge has to balance the importance of the journalists’ evidence against the harm that would be done to the particular source – and to sources generally. As far as I know, this will be the first case to consider this section. It may set the tone for the approach of judges in the future. If the judges too readily override the privilege, confidential sources may begin to feel that they can’t trust the journalists and important stories may not get told.

No doubt TV3 will be waving the European Court of Human Rights decision in Goodwin v UK (1997) 25 EHRR 1:

[39] Protection of journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions for press freedom, as is reflected in the laws and the professional codes of conduct in a number of Contracting States and is affirmed in several international instruments on journalistic freedoms (see, amongst others, the Resolution on Journalistic Freedoms and Human Rights, adopted at the 4th European Ministerial Conference on Mass Media Policy (Prague, 7-8 December 1994) and Resolution on the Confidentiality of Journalists’ Sources by the European Parliament, 18 January 1994, Official Journal of the European Communities No. C 44/34).  Without such protection, sources may be deterred from assisting the press in informing the public on matters of public interest.  As a result the vital public-watchdog role of the press may be undermined and the ability of the press to provide accurate and reliable information may be adversely affected.  Having regard to the importance of the protection of journalistic sources for press freedom in a democratic society and the potentially chilling effect an order of source disclosure has on the exercise of that freedom, such a measure cannot be compatible with Article 10 (art. 10) of the Convention unless it is justified by an overriding requirement in the public interest.

Topics: Confidential sources, Journalism and criminal law | 5 Comments »

5 Responses to “Campbell in the soup?”

  1. Blog Bits | Kiwiblog Says:
    May 20th, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    […] Steven Price blogs that John Campbell may be compelled to give evidence against his will. […]

  2. ross Says:
    May 20th, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    The Campbell interview was conducted in February 2008. The trial of the accused will be held in October this year. Is it reasonable to think that Campbell may have forgotten the name of his informant by then, you know, just like jurors apparently forget crucial details about cases that are given widespread publicity many months before a trial?

  3. Steven Says:
    May 21st, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    I assume you’re joking Ross. There’s plenty of evidence that most people can’t remember any details in stories they’ve read a year ago. None of that would apply to a journalist conducting what he regards as an enormous scoop.

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