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IFJ welcomes legal victory on protection of journalists' sources

(IFJ/IFEX) - 7 December 2011 - The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European group of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), welcomed a major legal victory for protection of journalists' sources in France in the ongoing "Woerth-Bettencourt" case, a high-profile scandal mixing business and political financing.

The Appeal Court (Cour de Cassation) ruled yesterday that judge Philippe Courroye, who initiated a procedure to identify information leaks in the "Woerth-Bettencourt" case in September 2010, had infringed the law on protection of sources by trying to access detailed phone records of three journalists working at the daily newspaper Le Monde.

"We welcome a decision that is in line with case-law from the European Court of Human Rights," said Arne König, EFJ President. "Finally French journalists can see a light at the end of the tunnel after many cases that have violated the principle of protection of sources in the country in recent months."

According to the ruling, "the infringement of the confidentiality of journalists' sources was not justified by the existence of an overriding public interest and the measure was not strictly necessary and proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued".

The EFJ now hopes that this decision will help other colleagues to enforce their rights. A reporter for the Tribune newspaper was summoned on 2 December 2011 by the French financial watchdog (Autorité des Marchés Financiers, AMF) for information about the allocation of a railway contract in April 2010. Le Monde journalists had also been subject to legal proceedings in Marseille in which a prosecutor attempted to access telephone records as part of a case relating to organised crime in Corsica.

A French law of 2 January 2010 states that "the confidentiality of sources can be directly or indirectly affected only if an overriding public interest justifies it". The EFJ has made clear on several occasions that this law must be respected.

Case-law from the European Court of Human Rights has also confirmed that protection of sources is an essential element of press freedom.

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