Tuesday 15 December 2009

Sources victory for UK media in Interbrew case

The Financial Times, Guardian, Reuters, Times and Independent have finally won the Interbrew case, over the protection of the source of a leaked document, at the European Court of Human Rights, FT.Com reports today.
The media groups had gone to the court to challenge a decision made by the UK courts in 2001 that they should hand over leaked documents outlining a possible bid by Interbrew, the Belgian brewing company, for South African Breweries.
They argued that the UK High Court decision telling them to deliver a leaked document to Interbrew violated their right to freedom of expression and their right to respect for their home and correspondence under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Today, the Strasbourg-based court ruled that that the UK High Court order making them disclose the leaked document to Interbrew violated their right to freedom of expression.
In the judgment, the court found that Interbrew’s interests in eliminating damage through dissemination of the information were “insufficient to outweigh the public interest in the protection of journalists’ sources”.
The court also said that the UK government had to pay €160,000 plus interest to the media organisations. The news organisations had refused to comply with the court order made in 2001, arguing that they had an ethical obligation to protect their sources – but no steps were taken to enforce penalties.
In 2002, Interbrew announced that it would take no further legal proceedings against the media organisations and, in 2004, the Financial Services Authority, the City regulator, also dropped its own probe after admitting to difficulties unearthing the source of the leaked documents.
FT.Com reports today: "The case is regarded as one of the most important rulings on press freedom since the “freedom of expression” argument was used by Bill Goodwin, the journalist who won a landmark ruling in Strasbourg in 1996. In that case, it was ruled that English judges had punished Goodwin illegally for refusing to reveal a source. An order requiring the disclosure of sources could only be justified by an “overriding requirement in the public interest”.
You can read the court's full ruling here.

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