Journalists’ confidential sources: Reform lessons from recent Australian shield law cases
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That journalism, especially journalism delving into serious impropriety, relies heavily upon a journalist’s ability to honour promises of confidentiality to sources, and therefore needs protection, has been well acknowledged. Former Attorney-General Philip Ruddock in proposing protection for journalists’ confidential sources—commonly referred to as shield law—in the first such major federal level initiative, said ‘[t]his privilege is an important reform to evidence law’ (Explanatory Memorandum, 2007); and in the circumstances then prevailing ‘the protection of journalists is too important an issue to wait’ (Philip Ruddock, Second Reading Speech, 2007). In one instance the court went so far as to say that the importance of source protection was ‘entirely unexceptionable and in accordance with human experience and common sense’ (Liu, 2010, para 51). Are journalists’ confidential sources better protected with the advent of statutory protection in several Australian jurisdictions? The media does not think so (MEAA, 2013). Former Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus observed towards the end of his term of office: ‘Recent court proceedings have highlighted the inadequacy of protections for journalists in some jurisdictions and lack of uniformity in laws across Australia’ (Dreyfus, 2013). The current Commonwealth government in relation to national uniform shield law is unclear. The Australian shield law framework beckons reform and recent events indicate some potential reform areas.
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