The Sunday Times in a leader today says the attempt by the Metropolitan Police to take legal action against the Guardian, in a bid to force it to reveal the sources of the story that Milly Dowler's phone was hacked, is wrong and should be of concern to everyone in the media.
The leader says the Dowler story "changed the terms of the phone hacking story" and had major repercussions for News International, publisher of the Sunday Times.
It adds: "The Met’s behaviour should be of concern to everybody in the media. It will set a dangerous legal precedent which could be used against investigative journalists everywhere. If sources know they risk exposure, they will stop providing information, strangling investigative journalism at birth. Furthermore, journalists have a duty to protect confidential sources and many would go to prison rather than reveal their contacts.
"The Met’s argument, that 'this is an investigation into the alleged gratuitous release of information that is not in the public interest', is absurd. However uncomfortable the story may have been for News International, owner of The Sunday Times, it would undoubtedly have emerged at some stage. There is a powerful public interest in ensuring we have a clean and trusted press.
"It is not too late for the Met to call off its legal dogs before the Old Bailey hearing on Friday. Relations are already tense between the police and the media. One of the Met’s most senior officers was forced to resign over the affair, while a disclosure that the Met’s chief officer had taken freebies prompted his resignation. Pursuing this case is wrong and will backfire when The Guardian understandably refuses to co-operate."Former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans writing in the Observer says: "I cannot believe that the attorney general will let this case of uniformed bullying go forward. It would be clearly a breach of the Human Rights Act and the precedent set in Goodwin v UK, as noted by Geoffrey Robertson, QC.
"Without the ability and determination of the press to protect sources, many wrongs would go undetected and unpunished, as they were in the hacking case. And when I say the press, I mean all the media, including broadcasting.
"But there is curious reticence among the press in making common cause against a common threat. It was notable that newspapers were amazingly slow to follow the Guardian's hacking stories until the Milly Dowler scandal made coverage inescapable. I do not hear much of a din about this assault on sources. Maybe the news travels slowly in some parts of the media."
- The Sunday Times is behind a paywall.