Northern Ireland journalist does not have to reveal sources, Crown Court judge rules
A Northern Ireland journalist has been told she does not have to reveal her sources in a key victory for press freedom.
It follows a judgment at Belfast Crown Court yesterday on an application brought by Alex McCrory, one of the co-accused in an ongoing criminal trial involving Colin Duffy and Harry Fitzsimmons against Sunday World investigative journalist Paula Mackin.
Mr Justice Colton dismissed the bid to have Ms Mackin hand over material and disclose information to the applicant.
Richard Sullivan, the Northern Ireland editor of the Sunday World, said the verdict was "an important day for investigative reporting".
"This is a recognition by the court of protection of confidential journalistic sources and source material," he said. "Investigative journalism is the hallmark of what the Sunday World does. In this judgment, the court has upheld, recognised and preserved the right of a free press to responsibly and impartially report allegations of criminality, and the important right of Sunday World readers to receive information about serious criminality and of the right of journalists working in Northern Ireland to investigate crime without fear."
He added: "Mr Justice Colton delivered a judgment that recognises the public's right and the media right to freedom of expression. But the judgment is more important than that: it protects confidential journalistic sources and the information they communicate in confidence and anonymously which helps us at the Sunday World to inform the public in Northern Ireland about serious criminal activity.
"The court did recall that freedom of expression is a constitutional right in our democratic society and that protection of journalistic sources is a foundation of that right. Protecting these fundamental rights enable the press to carry out their duties as public watchdog."
McCrory's application arose out of a series of criminal investigative reports published by the Sunday World. He sought an order compelling Ms Mackin to disclose source material, an order compelling the disclosure of the journalistic source or sources who provided information, and sought to compel that journalist to attend the criminal trial and give evidence.
The court heard evidence from Ms Mackin that she was "simply doing her best to recollect and communicate the gist" to her readers and that the newspaper articles "related to a wide range of individuals who may be classed as dissidents".
In protecting her confidential sources and source material, Ms Mackin informed the court of the risk to her life and to the lives of her sources.
The Sunday World and Ms Mackin were represented by Olivia O'Kane, partner and head of media at Belfast law firm Carson McDowell.
Edward McCann, managing editor at Independent Newspapers, publishers of the Sunday World, welcomed the judgment.
"Today's judgment underlines the continuing importance of investigative journalism in our society," he said. "Confidentiality of journalistic sources is a fundamental tenet and it is important that this is recognised.
"Unfortunately, we have to incur costs defending applications such as this - costs that we cannot recover and money that would be better spent on journalism. The journalist is also to be commended for her work."
The National Union of Journalists' Irish Secretary, Seamus Dooley, paid tribute to the Sunday World for its strong stand in defence of media freedom.