Press Disclosure of Journalistic Sources

A Delhi court said there is “no statutory exemption in India for journalists from disclosing their sources to investigating agencies,” while rejecting the CBI’s closure report.

What’s the latest?

  • The CBI wanted to wrap up its investigation into how certain news outlets and a newspaper aired and published reports about a disproportionate assets case against a leader.
  • It claimed that the “documents used by the news channel were forged,” but it was unclear who forged the documents.
  • This is unquestionably the creation of fake news.

Legal safeguards for the disclosure of journalistic sources

  • There is no specific legislation in India that protects journalists from being asked to reveal their sources.
  • Article 19 of the Constitution guarantees all citizens the right to free speech and expression.
  • Anyone, including journalists, can be summoned by investigative agencies to provide information.
  • A journalist, like any other citizen, can be compelled to testify in court.
  • If she does not comply, the journalist may face contempt of court charges.

What have the courts said about this?

  • While the Supreme Court broadly recognises press freedom, including journalists’ right to protect their sources, different courts have ruled differently on this issue.
  • In the Pegasus spyware case (2021), the Court emphasised that one of the fundamental conditions for press freedom is the protection of journalistic sources.
  • In 2019, the Supreme Court overruled the Centre’s objections to the petitioner’s claims in the Rafale case in a review petition because they relied on allegedly “stolen” confidential documents.

Is there any legal enforcement?

  • In the “public interest,” courts have ordered journalists to reveal their sources. In the absence of a specific law, it is frequently left to a Court’s discretion.
  • The Press Council of India (PCI) Act of 1978 gives the Press Council of India (PCI) the authority of a civil court to hear complaints when a newspaper has “offended against the standards of journalistic ethics.”
  • During the proceedings, however, the Council cannot compel a newspaper, news agency, journalist, or editor to reveal their sources.
  • The Whistleblower Protection Act of 2014 protects people who report acts of corruption, willful misuse of power, or criminal offences committed by public servants in the public interest.

Recommendations for a change in law

  • In its 93rd Report in 1983, the Law Commission of India recommended amending the Indian Evidence Act to recognise journalistic privilege.
  • The Law Commission proposed this amendment again in its 185th report on amendments to the Evidence Act.

Other countries’ positions

  • The United Kingdom: The 1981 Contempt of Courts Act establishes a presumption in favour of journalists who wish to protect the identity of their sources. However, in the “interest of justice,” that right is subject to certain conditions.
  • United States: Despite the fact that the First Amendment guarantees free speech in the United States, the Supreme Court has ruled that journalists do not have the right to refuse to testify in a federal grand jury proceeding and disclose sources.
  • Sweden: The Freedom of the Press Act in Sweden provides broad protection for journalists’ rights and even extends to state and municipal employees who may freely share information with journalists. In fact, a journalist who reveals his or her source without permission may be prosecuted at the source’s request.
  • Journalists in France and Germany have the right to refuse to reveal sources in an investigation.

Non-disclosure is required.

  • The right of journalists to use and protect confidential sources is a contentious issue.
  • The importance of larger public interest: According to many journalists, confidential sources are an essential tool in the search for information of great public interest.
  • Prevent oppression: It is a reporter’s need and duty to protect the identity of the source of his information; otherwise, vital information of public concern would be suppressed in a democracy.

Why are we debating this?

  • Misconduct in the media is on the rise: The sources can be revealed when the public interest is compelling and the disclosure outweighs the public interest.
  • Serious allegations and media trials: The court may also order the disclosure of the source of the news if it relates to a public office or official and serious allegations have been levelled against him.
  • Defamation by the media: If a defamatory article is published about a person, the Court may order the journalist to reveal his source.

Why does the media require source protection?

  • When source protection is violated, the following consequences may occur: pre-publication exposure of journalistic investigations may result in cover-ups, intimidation, or destruction of information,
  • The disclosure of sources’ identities can have legal or extra-legal consequences.
  • When information sources run dry,
  • Journalists and citizens censor themselves.

@the end

Indian law on source disclosure is limited and has mostly been decided on a case-by-case basis by courts.

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