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IFJ joins protest against threat to confidentiality of sources from police

(IFJ/IFEX) - 20 September 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its European group, the Federation of European Journalists (EFJ), today joined the chorus of condemnation which greeted news that the Metropolitan Police are invoking the Official Secrets Acts 1989 to force journalists to reveal their sources.

Media reports in the United Kingdom revealed that Scotland Yard last week sought an order under the Official Secrets Act to compel the Guardian newspaper to disclose the source of information published by the paper on the phone hacking scandal. The news drew widespread criticism from journalists and the political establishment with senior politicians calling for the Attorney General, the government's most senior law officer to block the police's attempt, reports say.

"This is an outrageous abuse of power seeking to turn journalists into unwilling informers of the police," said Arne König, EFJ President. "It is little wonder it has been resoundingly rejected as a measure more likely to find favour in police states' regimes and we support efforts to defeat it."

The Guardian newspaper exposed the hacking scandal in 2008 by journalists of the News of the World, the oldest British tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch which closed down in July 2011, following the scandal of the illegal telephone tapping of thousands of people, including families of victims of crime and terrorism. The Metropolitan Police launched Operation Weeting inquiry into illegal phone tapping after coming under pressure for their failure to investigate the Guardian's initial story about the practice at the tabloid.

Police early this month questioned under caution Amelia Hill, a reporter for the Guardian, following an article in the newspaper which revealed the arrest of former News of the World showbiz editor, James Desborough, as part of the Operating Weeting inquiry into illegal phone tapping.

The IFJ supports the National Union of Journalists in Great Britain and Ireland (NUJ), an IFJ affiliate, which has accused the police of engaging in a witch hunt against journalists, saying this latest attempt in their investigations is a breach of journalism's basic principle.

"The protection of sources is an essential principle which has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the European Court of Human Rights as the cornerstone of press freedom and the NUJ shall defend it," said Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ General Secretary. "In 2007, a judge made it clear that journalists and their sources are protected under article 10 of the Human Rights Act which applies to leaked material. The use of the Official Secrets Act is a disgraceful attempt to get round this existing judgement."

The Guardian reported yesterday that the Attorney general's office had said he would rule on whether a prosecution under the Official Secrets Act was in the public interest before a case could proceed.

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