"I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth." (Karl Popper)

Friday, September 29, 2006

Journalists decline to assist tribunal

Breaking news via RTE.ie:
"An Irish Times journalist has told the Mahon Tribunal that he will not assist the inquiry in identifying the source of a leak revealing payments to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
In evidence, the paper's Public Affairs Correspondent, Colm Keena, said he could not answer any questions about how he received information contained in a letter from the tribunal to businessman David McKenna last June.
Mr McKenna was one of 12 businessmen discovered to have made payments
totalling £38,500 to Mr Ahern in 1993 and 1994.

Earlier, tribunal chairman Judge Alan Mahon warned Mr Keena that failure to answer questions in evidence is an offence punishable with a fine of up to €300,000 and two years in jail.
Both Mr Keena and The Irish Times Editor Geraldine Kennedy have been summoned to give evidence to the tribunal, which is investigating the leak of confidential information.
At the beginning of the hearing, Mr Mahon said that he was particularly concerned by Ms Kennedy's admission in correspondence that she had destroyed a document on legal advice after receiving an order from the tribunal. The chairman also said The Irish Times had been aware of a Supreme Court injunction prohibiting the publishing of confidential tribunal information."

It has previously been decided (Re Kevin O'Kelly) that the Constitution's protection of freedom of expression does not require that journalists be allowed to decline to disclose to the courts the sources of their stories. Since then, however, we have had the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003. This compels the courts to have due regard to decisions of the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This is where it gets interesting: the Strasbourg court has held that Article 10 of the Convention necessitates that journalists should, indeed must, be allowed keep their sources secret: see Goodwin v U.K. (1996) 22 EHRR 123, and the subsequent English decision in John v Express Newspapers [2000] 3 All ER 257; [2000] 1 WLR 1931.

Keena and Kennedy (the latter having also pledged non-cooperation) have that development on their side, but breaking a court injunction is surely a different matter. According to the tv and radio news, Ms. Kennedy has claimed the newspaper was unaware of any such injunction, that the relevant documents have been destroyed and that it was effectively none of the tribunal's business, since the matters were not within its remit.


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