oa Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa - Journalistic privilege: does it merit legal protection?

Volume 38, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0010-4051



In the course of gathering news journalists do from time to time rely on confidential sources. These sources claim that they will be subject to retribution for exposing matters of public importance to the media, unless their identity remains confidential. Journalists are frequently requested by way of subpoena to reveal confidential sources and information they have obtained during news gathering. This creates a moral and ethical dilemma for journalists. Most journalists feel an obligation to protect their confidential sources even if threatened with jail. The media argues that confidential source protection ensures that the media is able to perform its role as a public watchdog uncovering wrongdoing, mal-administration and corruption. If journalists reveal their confidential sources they would be seen as an arm of the police, they would lose their credibility as independent, impartial observers and sources will dry up. Furthermore, in terms of the Constitution of the South African Society of Journalists it is required of every journalist to protect his or her confidential sources of information. This article examines the question whether journalists have a legally protected right to refuse to disclose confidential sources of information, and if not, whether they should have such a right and the extent of such protection.

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