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IPI alarmed at Justice Ministry attempt to undermine confidentiality of sources

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, Mar. 12, 2012 - The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI), the world's oldest global press freedom organisation, with prominent members on every continent, on Monday expressed grave concern at an apparent attempt by Austria's Justice Ministry to undermine the confidentiality of journalists' sources.

A law proposed by the Ministry would grant powers to the police and state prosecutors to force journalists to hand over material used in investigative stories, and identify sources, if the journalists are themselves subjects of a criminal investigation. Critics of the law, including IPI, IPI's Austrian National Committee, the Austrian Press Council, and the Austrian Journalists' Syndicate, warn that journalists could easily be labelled subjects in a criminal investigation, without independent judicial oversight, when the authorities want to identify sources or seize material.

IPI believes that the law, if passed would seriously jeopardise the ability of Austrian, and other journalists in Austria, to conduct investigative reporting, at a time when Austria is engulfed in a series of high-profile corruption scandals - many of them being investigated by a special parliamentary commission. IPI further notes that the Austrian media has played - as it should - a lead role in uncovering many of the cases of alleged corruption.

Gerfried Sperl, the head of IPI's Austrian National Committee, said: "For ten years, Austrian governments have been trying to reduce civil rights. Now, for the second time, a minister of justice has proposed a law which would clearly undermine press freedom. This is not far from [Hungarian Prime Minister] Victor Orban's conception to force democracy, step by step, under authoritarian control."

IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills said: "IPI would like to remind the Austrian Justice Ministry that, in a healthy democracy, journalists must have the unfettered, fundamental right to hold politicians and other elected officials to account before the population, to investigate wrongdoing in all its forms, including corruption, and to protect the confidentiality of the sources who provide reporters with information of public interest."

IPI urges the Justice Ministry to withdraw the proposal.

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