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Canada’s Theoretically Free Press

This Magazine Staff

Two interesting developments in the latest challenge to the tradition of confidential sources for Canadian journalists.

Hamilton Spectator reporter Ken Peters was yesterday found guilty of contempt of court for refusing to answer a direct question from a judge. Mr. Peters felt his answer would compromise a source to whom he had promised confidentiality, and Peters has shown exemplary courage in standing firm on his professional principle.

Interestingly enough, despite the guilty verdict, Peters is not on the hook for any fines or jail time. In fact, his case was moved from criminal to civil court, seemingly to protect him from a possible criminal record should he be convicted.

Some quotations of note from the Globe story:

There is a newsroom culture that media employers put personal onus on journalists when they promise to protect a source’s confidentiality, the judge said.

“It is all very well for the employer and the educator to say the protection of source is a matter for the individual conscience of the journalist,” Judge Crane said in his ruling.

“When they also say any journalist who has revealed a source will never again be employed in a newsroom, the oppressive nature of this culture on the individual has been the cause of the very real turmoil of Mr. Peters that he has been in for the last two weeks.”

The judge seems to be suggesting that the Hamilton Spectator has not been forceful enough in their protection of their employee, and that Peters may be standing his ground simply to protect his job.

Not sure of the full details of Peters relationship with the Spectator, a venerable daily and currently a TorStar property, but I’ve always understood the simple logic of the confidentiality principle to be you might as well go to jail to protect your source because if you name them, no-one will ever give you confidential info again – IOW, your career as a journalist is toast.

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