Tuesday 23 June 2009

NightJack: Guardian readers' editor says 'Journalists should protect bloggers'

Guardian readers' editor Siobhain Butterworth suggests in her Open Door column this week that journalists should protect the identity of bloggers and other "self publishers" to ensure a free flow of information.
She said the Guardian had decided to protect the identy of Twitterers from Iran to protect their safety and described The Times' outing of policeman blogger NightJack as "questionable."
Butterworth says:"The difficulties in reporting events in Iran show that journalists may sometimes need to treat self-publishers as they would their own confidential sources in relation to both verification and protecting identities.
"The ethical obligation journalists have to protect confidential sources is included in the UK Press Complaints Commission's code of practice. In addition, section 10 of the 1981 Contempt of Court Act provides a legal shield: a court cannot force authors and publishers to disclose confidential sources unless it is necessary in the interests of justice or national security or for the prevention of disorder or crime.
"We call the legal protection given to confidential sources "journalistic privilege", but what's really at stake is the free flow of information and to see it only in terms of the reporter's shield is to take too narrow a view. This brings me to last week's court ruling, which allowed the Times to "out" police officer Richard Horton as the author of the NightJack blog. Rejecting Horton's privacy claim, Mr Justice Eady said: "Blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity." Nevertheless, the Times' conduct looks questionable. In the absence of obvious wrongdoing, don't journalists have an interest in protecting, rather than pursuing, anonymous self-publishers? They are, after all, potential sources of information."

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