Crime reporters working for Irish newspapers have expressed concern about increasing levels of Garda monitoring of their mobile phone calls in an attempt to identify Garda sources.
Crime correspondents have also complained that they are being threatened with arrest in an attempt to reveal their sources.
A report in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper cited several journalists employed by Irish newspapers who have been alarmed at a recent crackdown by gardaí on their investigative work.
Many suspect their mobile phone calls are intercepted and monitored by gardaí.
They are also concerned that gardaí have begun to strictly enforce the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which prohibits gardaí from disclosing information to journalists, among others. Under the legislation, any garda convicted of an offence faces a possible maximum jail term of seven years and a fine of €75,000.
Evening Herald deputy editor Ian Mallon described the garda focus on trying to find the source of leaks to the media as “Stasi-like”.
Mr Mallon expressed concern at how gardaí appeared more fixated on tracing the source of the Evening Herald story about a €20,000 contract put on reporter Mick McCaffrey than on apprehending the criminal who has ordered a hit on the Sunday World journalist.
The Irish Examiner is aware of one crime reporter who has been the subject of at least five Garda inquiries in recent months. It is believed the crackdown has been ordered by gardaí at the most senior level.
Another reporter claimed he has been questioned 30 times over the past decade about his Garda sources. The Irish Daily Star crime reporter, Michael O’Toole, said he now assumes that gardaí regularly listened in on his phone calls.
As a result of the crackdown, individual gardaí now use untraceable, pay-as-you-go mobiles to pass on information to journalists.
A human rights group, Index On Censorship, claims the legislation restricting the release of Garda information is “not the behaviour of a European democracy”.
“Reporters should not be forced to operate in fear of police surveillance,” said its spokesman Padraig Reidy.
The National Union of Journalists said the Garda’s almost obsessive culture of secrecy and trying to cut off contact between its members and journalists was a cause of concern given the Government was purporting to encourage greater openness with the introduction of whistleblower legislation.
“There is no justification for this anti-democratic process of attempting to intimidate journalists,” said NUJ vice-president Barry McCall.
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