Sunday, May 27, 2007

No legal privilege of protecting sources in Singapore

Journalists and even bloggers who write stories containing anonymous sources should take note that in Singapore, they do not have legal privilege of protecting their sources unlike their counterparts in other countries. A journalist working with Reuters was recently forced by the courts here to reveal her confidential source or face a jail term. From AsiaOne:
Mia Shanley, a reporter with Reuters' bureau in Singapore, agreed in court Thursday to identify an anonymous source she cited in a report about a settlement agreement between two money brokerages, said Eileen Wise, a Reuters spokeswoman.

Reuters had challenged the order up to Singapore's highest court of appeal, where it was rejected Thursday, Wise said.

Wise said Shanley faced being jailed for contempt of court if she refused to comply with the judicial order to name the source and said the reporter agreed to do so only after the source decided to release her from confidentiality...

"We believe that confidentiality of anonymous sources must be protected as it is that trust between source and reporter which brings to light vital information and helps to provide the transparency so necessary for the efficient working of markets in a free and vibrant society," a Reuters statement said.
The case also involved two local newspapers, the Straits Times and Business Times. Both agreed to reveal their confidential sources to the court. From TODAYonline:
When asked why BT had revealed its source, Mr Vikram Khanna, BT's Associate Editor, said: "It is not the newspaper's position to reveal or not to reveal (the source). The source belongs to the reporter, the source does not belong to the newspaper."

The Straits Times could not be reached for comment. Huntington, Ms Wee and Mr Poon declined comment when contacted.
So should there be a reporter's privilege in Singapore? The reporter's privilege - the right to protect one's anonymous source, is a right accorded to journalists under the laws of many countries, as well as under international law. Unfortunately, we do not have this in Singapore.

The problem this case brings is that more people in Singapore will be afraid to talk to journalists about revealing confidential information that will lead to a news story. And journalists too will be less likely to accept tips from confidential sources for fear it will lead them to a court case like the above. I think this will only be bad for press freedom in Singapore. Oh wait, do we have one in the first place?

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