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Broadcasters May Be Required to Disclose Their Sources in Cases Related to “Protection of National Security and Public Order”

27 November 2020
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Courts may be empowered to force journalists to disclose their sources of information “if it becomes necessary for protecting national security and public order”, according to the draft law amending and supplementing the Broadcasting Media Service Code drafted by three Socialist deputies. The parliamentarians claim they intend to combat fake news and, simultaneously, to hold the press accountable. Experts in the field consider that this “alarming” initiative will affect journalists’ activity.

The document was drafted by the PSRM deputies Adrian Lebedinschi, Bogdan Tirdea, and Vasile Bolea, and registered by the Parliament on November 23.

Adrian Lebedinschi, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Media Issues, referred to the initiative on November 24, on the first day of this year’s Mass Media Forum, in the context of the need to combat fake news. “It is for this very reason that I am here in order to protect the sources of information. We are preparing a draft law amending the Broadcasting Media Service Code, which should expressly stipulate what the sources of information and the criteria for access to the sources of information are, because we have to be responsible for what we say,” Adrian Lebedinschi said.

According to the suggestion, the following aspects are considered to be suitable for identifying the sources of information: personal data, as well as the voice or image of a source; specific circumstances of obtaining the information by the journalist, and the unpublished part of the information provided by the journalist’s source. Another paragraph also mentions that “confidentiality of sources of information implies assuming responsibility for correctness of the information provided.” At the same time, according to the deputies, disclosing a source of information can be “ordered by the court if it becomes necessary for protecting national security or public order.”

AN “ALARMING” SUGGESTION

Tatiana Puiu, Freedom House representative in Moldova, admits that legal recognition of protecting the sources of information is a must in a democratic society. “This new suggestion, however, is not at all commendable, it is even alarming, because a journalist or media will be ordered to disclose their sources by the court whenever it is necessary to protect national security or public order,” she explains.

The lawyer affirms that, currently, there are sufficient guarantees to protect confidentiality of a source stipulated by the Law on Freedom of Expression. Moreover, according to the law, a person who has publicly distributed the information obtained from confidential sources cannot be obliged to disclose their identity during a civil or a contravention procedure. “This protection covers not only the media, but also a person who is not a journalist but practices journalistic activity of collecting, obtaining, and publicly distributing information, as well as persons cooperating with them. The only exception when one can be forced to disclose the source of information can take place only during a criminal procedure”, Tatiana Puiu adds.

According to the legislation, a criminal investigation authority or a court may oblige a person to disclose the source of information if the following provisions are cumulatively complied with: the criminal dossier concerns a particularly grave or an exceptionally grave crime; disclosing the source is absolutely necessary for criminal investigation; all the possibilities to identify the source of information by other means have been exhausted.

Sergiu Bozianu, President of the Association for Protection of Privacy, also considers that the suggestion regarding journalists’ responsibility for the information provided is “ungrounded”. “That would mean that a journalist will assume civil, contravention, and criminal liability for legality of a (concealed) recording between two persons, information leakage in criminal cases and information attributed to all types of secrets – state, commercial, trade, etc.,” the lawyer explains. An even more serious situation, in his opinion, is related to the conditions in which a journalist will be forced to disclose the sources.

Sergiu Bozianu mentions that the initiative targets both journalists and their sources of information, for instance, officials who supply information of public interest. According to him, it also concerns prosecutors, judges, police officers, or public officials providing information about crimes; consequently, they could be held accountable, according to the Criminal Code, if inviolability of private life or secrecy of correspondence is breached.

Although the legislative amendments concern broadcasting subjects, Bozianu does not exclude the fact that other media institutions, such as written and online press, could actually be held liable, too, according to these provisions if they are approved. “It generates a gap that can be interpreted to the detriment of sources of information and journalists,” Sergiu Bozianu concludes.
The lawyer of the Independent Journalism Center (IJC), Cristina Durnea, considers that the provisions related to the conditions when media may be obliged to disclose their sources “restrict the guarantee currently stipulated by the legislation in force.”

As to the suggestion to assume the liability for the correctness of the information provided, the lawyer mentions that this obligation is actually valid at the moment, because a person who considers that their rights are breached can address the court in accordance with the Law on Freedom of Expression. “This is why, when documenting a material based on the data provided by a confidential source, the journalist has to verify the correctness of the information and to report about this fact,” Cristina Durnea explains.

Moreover, she points out that, according to the Regulation on Broadcasting Media Content, “if information is obtained from confidential sources or sources whose credibility is not sufficiently confirmed, this fact must be explicitly mentioned.”

Foto: travisangry.com