Journalism – Protection of Sources

Journalistic Source

What is meant by a Journalistic Source?

Journalist’s who have been working in the industry for a long period of time often build up contacts whereby they get the information for their articles. These contacts are built up through mutual trust and co-operation by both parties.

Why are they offered protection?

In circumstances where a person provides information on the basis that he will not be named or compromised in any way it is one of the key rules of journalism that this will remain so.

Is the right of protection absolute?

The right of protection of sources is in effect a journalistic principal which does not possess absolute privilege against disclosure as in the case of a doctor or a lawyer.

Often individuals who speak to journalists in this manner are breaching a duty of confidence which they owe to another third party, for example their employer. As a result the journalistic principle of protecting sources can often clash with different principles held by the court. The outcome in a case like this will often depend upon the circumstances of the case but as is often the case the courts are reluctant to order the disclosure of a source.


The main body of legislation governing the protection of journalistic sources is the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

Section 10 Contempt of Court Act 1981

This section of the Contempt of Court Act provides that in a free and democratic society there is a need to protect journalists sources and presumes in favour of those journalists wishing to protect their sources. There are however four exceptions to this presumption where disclosure of the information will be deemed to be necessary. The exceptions are as follows:

  • In the interests of Justice
  • In the interests of National Security
  • For the prevention of disorder
  • For the prevention of crime
  • In the interests of Justice

Whether disclosure of a journalistic source will be deemed to be in the interest of justice is dependant upon the facts of the particular case. Courts are very reluctant to establish that disclosure is in the interest of justice and will often only be found in cases where exceptional circumstances where vital public or individual interest are at stake.

An example of this may be a large company who are in financial difficulties having these financial difficulties exposed by a newspaper using a confidential source within the company.

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For more information on:

  • In the Interests of National Security
  • For the prevention of disorder or a crime
  • Human Rights
  • European Convention on Protection of Human Rights
  • European Court of Human Rights
  • Police
  • Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
  • Section 8
  • Section 9