Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Shield me

This right here is a good example of why Canadian Journalists need a Shield Law, to prevent frivalous damages being claimed by people on the wrong end of a story.

I've never been asked by a legal authority to give up a source... maybe because any legal authority charged with said activity would be laughed at by me... or maybe I need to get some bigger stories...

Good news, the Charter applies to reporters now...

They fined the reporter 31 Grand.... now that is something I have comtempt for.

Hooray to Ken Peters, who should never have to pay for a drink while in the company of journalists again...

The Ontario Court of Appeal has overturned a charge of contempt against a journalist for refusing to reveal a source during testimony in a 2004 lawsuit.

In the ruling issued Monday in Toronto, the three-judge panel ruled that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to journalist-informant confidentiality and, as a result, the contempt charge and fine against Hamilton Spectator reporter Ken Peters should be set aside.

In 2004, Peters refused to provide information that could identify a confidential source during a civil trial that stemmed from a series of articles he wrote.

Peters's stories, written in April 1995, focused on issues at a Hamilton nursing home. The allegations prompted the nursing home operators, St. Elizabeth Home Society, to file a lawsuit against the City of Hamilton and Halton Region.

In addition to the contempt charge, Peters was fined $31,600 to cover costs "thrown away" during the proceedings relating to his refusal to answer. The source, former city alderman Henry Merling, eventually came forward.

The Court of Appeal ruled that courts should do their best to obtain evidence from other sources before compelling a journalist to reveal a source. The ruling said that due to the freedom-of-speech rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms "every effort should be made to minimize the impact upon those rights and values."

The ruling also found that the charge of contempt was premature.

"I agree with the appellant's submission that even after it has been determined that the rights of the litigants trump a journalist's claim of confidentiality, it is a mistake to cite the journalist for contempt immediately," wrote Justice Robert Sharpe on behalf of the panel, adding that contempt power is to be used cautiously and only as a last resort.

"The court should first explore other means of proceeding that would be less intrusive to the journalist-informant relationship of confidentiality."

The ruling also said the judges "can see no justification" for having continued with contempt proceedings after the confidential source had been revealed.

Media groups welcomed the ruling's protection of journalist-source confidentiality, but expressed concern that it stopped short of enshrining an absolute right to protect sources.

"I think it was a strong reaffirmation of the mission and mandate of journalism and the role newspapers play in upholding democracy. I think that came out quite clearly," said Anne Kothawala, president and CEO of the Canadian Newspaper Association.

"It's a great outcome, but after how much time and money and never mind the stress and anxiety for poor Ken Peters … Do we have to keep fighting this on a case-by-case basis?"

Canadian Association of Journalists president Mary Agnes Welch said a "shield law" protecting journalists' sources is needed.

"Without one, we're going to keep having to go case by case and fighting on the merits," Welch said.