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Report No. 93

1.3. Journalistic practice.-

The justification for considering reform of the law on the subject is mainly sought to be derived from the circumstances in which, and the conditions on which, information is obtained by the journalist. As a rule, when a journalist wishes to use information obtained professionally by him, he normally credits the source by name, with such further identification as may be necessary to establish the validity of the speaker's knowledge. However, to this general position, there are certain exceptions. In a study undertaken by the International Press Institute, the position was stated as under, a few years ago:1

"Very few reports appear in print without some specific attribution to source. This is regarded as essential if the reader is to be able to form a proper judgment of the weight to be given to a particular statement. But there are exceptions. They are infrequent, but may be important. There are times and circumstances... when an informant may not wish to be identified, as the source of a statement. To the journalist who has established himself as a reliable reporter, accurate and responsible in his approach to his task, the 'source' may nevertheless be willing to provide certain information with the understanding that it will not be attributed to him."

The informant (as was explained in the above study) may have good reason for wishing to remain anonymous. It may be a personal reason, but perfectly understandable and legitimate. There may even be a reason bearing some direct relation to the public welfare. If the source really wished to remain anonymous and if the journalist considered the information worthy of use, he would use it without directly attributing the information to a particular source. The question that arises for consideration is whether the law should recognise the practice followed by journalists and incorporate it as a privilege that could be claimed if the journalist is called upon in a court of law (or other authority having legal power to compel a witness to testify).

1. International Press Institute, Survey No. 6, Professional Secrecy and the Journalist (Arno Press), (1972).

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