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    Tuesday, 23 October 2007

    Journalism - the 'surest way to anarchy': Irish court orders source disclosure

    Having resisted the temptation to highlight the relative standing of Ireland on the index of press freedom noted earlier today (8th by the way), I feel bound to herald that country's imminent demotion nonetheless. Two senior journalists on the Irish Times have been ordered by the High Court to give evidence as to the identity of their source for an article on the finances of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern (1,2,3). They face possible contempt of court charges should they fail to do so.

    The developments relate to the publication of an article in September of last year which was based in part on a letter sent by the Mahon Tribunal - a body established to probe suggestions of planning corruption, in particular involving the Taoiseach - to a benefactor of Bertie Ahern. The Tribunal is keen to learn of the source of the leaks by which it has been bedevilled; the journalists have refused to answer questions and moreover have destroyed relevant documents. This course of action was today labelled by the court as "anathema to the rule of law and an affront to democratic order". It proceeded: "if tolerated [such behaviour] is the surest way to anarchy". While such comments are clearly overblown, there is of course an imperative to protect the confidentiality of the legal process which the three-man judicial panel was not slow to recognise.

    So far the journalists have remained implacable. There has already been mention of a prospective appeal to the Supreme Court on the basis that the High Court has significantly underplayed the important of the journalist's right to protect sources and the public interest in receipt of the newspaper article.

    This is not the first occasion on which the progress of the Tribunal has resulted in freedom of expression concerns.

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