Protection of Sources

IN Press Laws Guide | 17/09/2012

1. Is there any law that gives me a right to refuse to divulge my sources?

Answer: No, there is no law which gives a right to refuse to divulge my sources. Though the courts generally do not compel a journalist to reveal his sources, but then again the journalist cannot claim the same as a right.

Reasoning: To protect the freedom of speech and expression available to the media under Article 19, a journalist should not be compelled to reveal his sources. However, this protection is not given under any law in India. Though Section 15(2) of the Press Council of India Act does provide protection to the journalist from revealing his sources but it is only applicable to proceedings in front of the Press Council. No protection is available to the journalists before the Court. The Court can ask the media to reveal its sourced if it deems fit.

Effect: There is no law which give the right to the journalist to refuse to divulge his sources. It is expected that the journalist will not disclose what has been obtained by them in confidence. But if the journalist is asked by the competent authority to disclose the source, he cannot refuse to do so.
 
2. Who has the authority to make me reveal my sources and under what circumstances?
 
Answer: There is no law regarding the disclosure of the source by the media. The authority which can ask the journalist to divulge the source is the Court. The Court can compel the journalist to reveal his source if the Court deems it necessary.
 
Reasoning: The circumstances in which the Court can compel the journalist to reveal the source is when the matter is of public concern. When the public interest in compelling and the disclosure outweighs the public interest then the sources can be revealed. Court can also require disclosure of the source if the news relates to a public office or public official and serious allegations have been made against him. Also if there is a defamatory article against a person then the Court may compel the journalist to reveal his source. In Jai Prakash Agarwal vs Bishambar Dutt Sharma, the Delhi high court directed the reporters of Jan Satta and Punjab Kesari to disclose their sources for a story alleging that a judicial verdict in an election petition had been fixed.
 
Effect: There is no law which gives protection to the media for non disclosure of the sources. As the prevalent norm the journalists are not compelled to disclose the source. But where the public interest is involved the journalist can be compelled by the competent Court to reveal its sources.
 
3. What are the possible reasons I can give in a court of law for refusing to divulge my sources?
 
Answer: The journalist can plead that the information was given to him on the basis of confidentiality and if the source is revealed by him then he would not be able to get any information later on. It would hamper his right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India. Moreover, the journalist can put forth all the evidences by which he reached the conclusion in his report. Once he places all the evidences, he can request the Court for non disclosure of the source of the evidence or information.
 
4. Are there any guidelines for courts to follow in deciding whether public interest outweighs a journalist’s right to withhold sources?
 
Answer: There have been no guidelines that the courts have to follow while deciding whether or not the journalist can be compelled to reveal his source. The Court decides this on the facts and circumstances of each case. The Court has to respect the journalist’s fundamental right to freedom to speech and expression under Article 19(1) of the Constitution of the India. If the journalist is compelled to disclose information every now and then, it would hamper the gathering of information from their sources. Thus the Court has to decide whether or not the disclosure of the source is in interest of the public at large before compelling the journalist to disclose his sources.
 
5. What are the possible consequences of my refusing to divulge my sources even if a court demands that I do?
 
Answer: When the Court demands a disclosure of the source of the information the journalist is bound to reveal the information. If the journalist does not divulge the sources then it would amount to Contempt of Court. The journalist can be punished by the Court under the Contempt of Court Act, 1971.
 
6. What should I do if false charges are slapped on me on account of the fact that I’ve maintained the privacy of my sources?
 
Answer: The journalist gets the knowledge regarding the false charges that have levelled against him from a perusal of the FIR. If false charges have been framed against the journalist then he can move an application in the competent Court under Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 for quashing of the FIR.
 
Reasoning: False charges are levelled against the journalists quite a number of times. Thus, it is necessary to give them a remedy against it. They can file an application to quash the FIR under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1973. If the Court rejects the application and proceedings are initiated then the journalist can lead evidence proving his innocence. If the Court decides in the favour of the journalist then the journalist can file a suit of malicious prosecution. The essential conditions for an action of malicious prosecution are that:
  • The plaintiff was prosecuted by the defendant,
  • the proceeding complained was terminated in favour of the present plaintiff,
  • the prosecution was instituted against without any just or reasonable cause,
  • the prosecution was instituted with a malicious intention, that is, not with the mere intention of getting the law into effect, but with an intention, which was wrongful in fact and he suffered damage to his reputation or to the safety of person, or to security of his property.
Effect: The remedy available to the journalist is get the FIR of the false charges quashed if no prima facie case is made out against him. However, if the FIR is not quashed and the suit proceeds then the remedy of malicious prosecution is available to journalist if the decision is in his favour
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