REGIONS:

NOT ENOUGH PROTECTION FOR JOURNALISTS' SOURCES, NEW STUDY FINDS

Blogger Josh Wolf spent 226 days in jail in the United States for refusing to surrender an unpublished videotape of a protest in San Francisco, and to testify before a grand jury investigating an attack on a police car that he witnessed. He was only released when he aired the video online. In the U.S., there is not a specific law to protect journalists who refuse to disclose their sources or respond to other demands for information, and Wolf was punished with jail time.

He is not alone. According to a new survey by Privacy International, governments worldwide are increasingly undermining the protection of journalists' sources, and journalists are paying the price.

"Silencing Sources", the first worldwide study of protection of journalists' sources, says the most significant problems are found in those countries lacking a specific law. Like the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands and Ireland are noteworthy as having no specific legal protections, and journalists like Wolf have been fined or jailed for not revealing their sources.

Privacy International found that governments have acknowledged the need to legally protect confidential sources - about 100 countries have adopted protection laws that allow journalists to ensure that the identities of confidential sources will not be revealed.

But those protections are often undermined, by legal - and illegal - surveillance, like the regular use of systematic telephone tapping or search warrants on media offices and journalists' homes, says Privacy International.

Few countries have specific legal protections on searches, especially in Europe, says the survey. Two weeks ago, police raided the offices of a TV station in Stockholm, Sweden, looking for a copy of a restaurant bill paid by a reporter at a meeting with the State Secretary. According to the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the regional group of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), a raid should only be allowed after a court decision, and an ombudsman should be present. "This is what is needed in the legislation so sources can feel confident when talking to journalists," says EFJ.

National security claims are also threatening protections. Under the pretext of the "war on terror", journalists have been arrested, prosecuted or harassed for disclosing information deemed "state secrets". New anti-terrorism laws across the world have given authorities extensive powers to demand assistance from journalists, intercept communications and gather information.

Check out the study, along with a map of where sources are protected around the world, at: http://www.privacyinternational.org/silencingsources

Also see IFJ's statement that backs up the study: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=5484&Language=EN

(20 November 2007)

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