Media Watch (here) last night picked up on the dilemma faced by Herald Sun reporters Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus, who must reveal their source or face contempt of court charges and possibly jail.

As we reported last week, it’s a case eerily reflecting New York Times
reporter Judith Miller’s jailing this month for refusing to identify
her source in the Karl Rove/Valerie Plame case. And it raises a crucial
question for the media: how far should journalists go to protect their
sources?

In Miller’s case, it led to the slammer. But
according to former American editor and academic Bill Kovach this
needn’t have happened. He argues that if a confidential source gives a
reporter wrong or misleading information that damages the newspaper,
she is quite entitled to name them.

“If a man damages your
credibility, why not lay the blame where it belongs?” asks Kovach in
this compelling analysis by Sidney Blumenthal (here).
“Whoever was leaking that information to Novak, Cooper or Judy Miller
was doing it with malice aforethought, trying to set up a deceptive
circumstance. That would invalidate any promise of confidentiality.”

“You
wouldn’t protect a source for telling lies or using you to mislead your
audience. That changes everything. Any reporter that puts themselves or
a news organisation in that position is making a big mistake.”

Of
course, that high minded position doesn’t solve Harvey and McManus’s
dilemma. Their information was bang on – much to the embarrassment of
the minister, whose apparently vindictive reaction set this process in
train. Incidentally, the cosy relationship Karl Rove appears to share
with some US reporters and columnists inside the beltway mirrors the
relationship here between leading News Ltd commentators with Howard
government officials. Where would messrs Shanahan, Sheridan, Milne et
al stand if Bill Kovach’s standards were applied here?

Liz
Jackson said last night: “We think it’s outrageous that three people
should be facing jail because a bad policy idea was exposed to the
light of public scrutiny.” We agree. Thoughts and suggestions, please,
on the sourcing dilemma to [email protected]

Peter Fray

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