Protection of journalistic sources as stated by Ingham 2008 is one of the golden rules of journalism Its importance to journalists cannot be understated One vital element of press freedom is that journalists can promise and maintain the confidentiality of their sources As stated in the NUJ National Union of Journalists 2017 protection of sources is a sacred tenant of journalistic ethics that reporters recognize the need to protect confidential sources and promise confidentiality only with the intention of keeping that promise Journalists would find it strenuous to gain access to places and situations where they can report on matters of public interest if they cannot when necessary give a strong genuine promise of confidentiality to their sources This essay will seek to argue that in the scenario presented that it is necessary for the journalist to protect their sources identity It will be argued that it is a reporter s core obligation in any given circumstance to protect their source in order to protect press freedom It will also be argued that it is integral to protect the sources identify for them and their sources safety
The promise of confidentiality has a moral force hence the need to ensure a sources anonymity This becomes evident in the process of requiring new sources which has a salient role in the ventures of investigative journalism Judge Jan de Meyer stated in Goodwin v UK 1996 The protection of a journalist s source is of such vital importance for the exercise of his right to freedom of expression that it must as a matter of course never be allowed to be infringed upon save perhaps in very exceptional circumstances But when protecting their source the journalist must consider whether the right to protect their source is in the public's interest to do so Posetti J 2017 states that a journalist must recognise the value to the public interest of source protection with its legal foundation in the right to freedom of expression including press freedom and to privacy Even in the circumstance presented with the source confessing to have committed premeditated murder it is still imperative to protect their confidentiality Taking into account the NUJ Code of Conduct on protecting of journalistic sources it should be treated as an absolute in order to maintain the integrity of a free press
A journalist particularly in a conflict zone can become the target of rebel groups or militias Dealing with a source close the IRA is an extremely dangerous matter and not one that should be taken lightly The media were not popular during the Northern Ireland peace process Murray D 2012 says there was a body of opinion in Northern Ireland in the 1970s that firmly believed that there d be no trouble if you boys weren t putting it on TV It was as though broadcasters and newspapers were doing the paramilitaries a favour by reporting bombings shootings and so on By revealing journalist in this scenario revealing the identity of source runs the real risk of making them an enemy target not only for themselves but for their family and close confidants as well As described by Judge Burgess in the verdict of the Suzzane Breen case as cited by McDonald 2009 by revealing her source it would be close to inconceivable as to how she and potentially her family could be protected for what could well be many years to come
The protection of the journalist's life must outweigh that of revealing the source otherwise they will not be able to fulfil their role as a journalist The scenario presented in this essay amounts to that of the Suzanne Breen case The right to their life outweighs that of revealing the sources identity otherwise they would certainly become a target and run the chance of putting their life at risk As voiced by Hammarberg T 2012 the right of journalists to carry out their work under safe conditions without fear of being harassed attacked beaten and killed is a topic of paramount importance for freedom of the press and freedom of expression To summarise it is clear that protection of a journalists sources has a powerful moral force It is regarded by journalists as the key for their work to have meaning One would regard it as being a deontological ethics like Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative You are doing duty for duty's sake and not being concerned by the consequences Even in the scenario presented a journalist must refrain from revealing their source By doing so they are upholding their status as a journalists and if broken it will set an unnerving precedent for the future
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