Journalists Protected Internationally But Not in the U.S.?
The U.N. Tribunal quoted above ruled that journalist Jonathan Randal could not be compelled to provide testimony in the case of a Bosnian official accused of ethnic cleansing. Apparently, that protection is not necessarily afforded to journalists in the U.S.
A case playing out in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston highlights the lack of protection for conflict reporters under U.S. domestic law. Ed Moloney, an award-winning Irish journalist who has covered the conflict in Northern Ireland since 1979, and researcher Anthony McIntyre are fighting to keep their confidential sources secret. Moloney, a permanent resident of the United States, directed “The Belfast Project,” an oral history project documenting “The Troubles” that was deposited at Boston College in an archive that would be sealed, according to the terms of the project, until the participants granted permission or died.
The British government is now seeking access to the oral history project for an investigation into the 1972 killing of Jean McConville, a mother of 10 in Belfast whom the IRA has admitted to killing because she was suspected of being an informant.
Under the terms of a bilateral agreement, U.S. authorities are cooperating with the UK investigation and have served Boston College with a subpoena to produce the materials. Moloney says these include confidential journalistic material he used for his book and documentary. If the subpoenas are successful Moloney may be legally obliged to verify the material so it can be used as evidence in criminal proceedings, something he says he will not do.
Meanwhile, Moloney and McIntyre have filed a legal challenge of their own asserting that they should be allowed to participate in the case so they can fully defend their interest in keeping the interviews under wraps. Their lawyers have argued that releasing the documents would violate Moloney’s rights under the First Amendment and could endanger the life of McIntyre because of his IRA connections.
A ruling is expected in the coming weeks.
But while the legal issues in the Moloney case may be complicated, the principle is not. Journalists covering conflict, particularly those reporting on human rights violations and crimes of war, must be able to protect their confidential sources in order to be able to do their critically important job with some modicum of safety. While that principle has been upheld at the international level in the Randal case, it has not been established in the United States.
FJP: Upsetting as this sounds, it is what it is. Key takeaway: CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon’s point that conflict reporters in the US must understand they can be subpoenaed as part of an international investigation and, if they are, their ability to protect their confidential sources is unclear. We await the ruling on this case and hope our journalists receive the protection they deserve.
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