Court’s costs ruling a blow to accountability

There is chilling coincidence in the fact that within days of the death of Ben Bradlee, the great, liberal and inspirational American newspaper editor who brought down the corrupt president Richard Nixon by supporting good, old fashioned and don’t-name-your-sources journalism, that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled against The Irish Times in a benchmark case related to the whether journalists are obliged to name their sources or not.

The Strasbourg court ruled that the newspaper must pay the costs it and the Mahon Tribunal incurred in a case which the newspaper won against the tribunal. That case followed the 2006 story which revealed that the tribunal was investigating a series of payments to then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

In 2009, the Supreme Court upheld an appeal by then Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy and public affairs correspondent Colm Keena against a High Court ruling that they should reveal their sources. However, because evidence that might have identified that source was destroyed usual procedures on costs were not followed. A daunting economic barrier was placed in front of journalists rather than a legal one. This ruling is doubly ironic as it comes at a moment when the Freedom of Information Act is being restored to something like its earlier effectiveness and at a moment when legislation to protect whistleblowers has been promised. And, as ever, the question must be who does the ruling really protect?


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