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Court decision protects sources but orders newspaper to hand over documents

(CEPET/IFEX) - The Mexican Electoral Tribunal has ruled that "La Jornada" newspaper has the right to protect its sources, and by doing so has set a new legal precedent in the country. However, the tribunal also ruled that the newspaper must hand over documents relating to four articles it published in May and June 2006 about allegations of vote buying and diversion of public funds by the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN) in Tlalnepantla, Mexico state. The diversion of funds was allegedly committed by the Attorney General's Office and funneled towards the campaign of President Felipe Calderón.

In 2006, the "For the good of everyone" ("Por el Bien de Todos") coalition, which supported the leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, filed a complaint before the Federal Elections Institute (Instituto Federal Electoral, IFE) alleging that irregularities were taking place in the presidential electoral campaign. The "La Jornada" articles were included as part of the information provided to substantiate the allegation.

On 4 June 2008, the IFE asked the newspaper to hand over documents, tape recordings and any other information relating to the case, saying that it needed more evidence to be able to ascertain the validity of the complaint filed by the coalition.

The newspaper refused to hand over the requested information and took its case for doing so to the Electoral Tribunal. According to an 11 September "La Jornada" article, the newspaper based its case on a belief that the IFE had overstepped it bounds and said it viewed the IFE's request as an attack on freedom of the press and the right to confidentiality of sources.

In response, the tribunal determined that the IFE's request did indeed violate the right to source confidentiality and ordered the IFE to modify the terms of the request. However, the tribunal also ruled that "La Jornada" had to hand over the requested information to the IFE, saying that the newspaper could eliminate all references to the identity of its sources.

The tribunal's ruling is the first in Mexico's history to deal with source confidentiality. According to Judge Salvador Nava, who delivered the unanimously approved resolution, with the ruling Mexico is complying with principles set out by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which prohibit the identification of sources. The judge went on to say however that this does not mean that information cannot be handed over, but rather simply that the identity of the sources must be protected.

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