On the same day that a New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed
for refusing to identify her source in a landmark press freedom case,
two Australian journalists were facing the Melbourne County Court with
potentially the same consequences.

In a preliminary hearing into the leak of information from the Department of Veterans Affairs in February last year, Herald Sun
political reporters Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus were last
Thursday summoned to give evidence into the leak of a planned overhaul
of veterans’ pension entitlements – which had already been scrapped
after a backbench revolt – as their own paper reports here.

Career
public servant Desmond Patrick Kelly has been accused of being the
source of the leak, and could face up to two years jail for
unauthorised disclosure, according to Phillip Coorey in the Adelaide Advertiser.

As
for Harvey and McManus, they were granted immunity from allegations of
aiding and abetting the commission of a crime in an effort to get them
to name their source, and if they refuse to do so at the next hearing
in August they could be held in contempt of court and potentially face
jail.

Which leaves them with a tough choice – they can cough up and avoid
the penalties, or they can stick to their journalistic code of ethics,
which has no legal standing, and face the consequences.

That the situation has come to this is “an absurdity,”
says Coorey. And besides, “people leak far juicier stuff all the time.”
Leaks are a daily occurrence in political reporting, he says, and all
that was involved here was a hopeless plan that was “already ditched.”

Peter Fray

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