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"Ground-breaking" decision by Singapore Court quashes order on journalist's sources

On 17 January 2014, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) welcomed the landmark decision of a Singapore Court of Appeal to overturn an order that a journalist should disclose his sources for an article he had written on his blog.

James Dorsey, a Singapore-based journalist and author of the blog The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, had appealed against an order to disclose his sources for an article about the relationship between World Sports Group (WSG) and Mohammed Bin Hammam, a former Fifa Vice-President and one-time President of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), who is now banned from the game.

In the first ever ruling of its kind in Singapore's history, the Court of Appeal held that the country's lower court was wrong to issue the order and quashed it, while also ordering that WSG should pay Mr Dorsey's costs for the appeal and any previous proceedings, his lawyers said in a statement.

The IFJ, which provided financial support and contributed legal advice on international norms about protection of sources to Mr.Dorsey throughout the process, has stated that the ruling represents a major step forward for media freedom in the country.

"We welcome this ground breaking and hugely positive ruling," said IFJ President Jim Boumelha. "It is a major victory in the battle against those who wish to suppress and undermine press freedom and freedom of expression in Singapore."

According to documents filed with the court, Dorsey had published information contained in a report by accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory on activities of the AFC while Mr Bin Hammam was its president, and on a commercial rights agreement between it and WSG.

WSG argued that Dorsey had had access to the PWC report, which was a breach of confidence, and said it wished to sue the person responsible for the leak, and was also considering suing Dorsey for defamation over a posting which appeared on his blog in August 2012.

Dorsey's lawyers said that the sports management company sought an order for Dorsey to make the disclosures under Singapore's pre-action interrogatories regime, which allows courts to order pre-action disclosure or discovery of information. The Lower court had ordered that Dorsey respond to the order and disclose his source.

However, the Court of Appeal set aside the order and found that the lower court had erred in granting the interlocutory interrogatories, pointing out that the information from the PWC report had been the subject of considerable coverage in national and international media, none of which was the subject of any attempted litigation by WSG.

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