Is Reporter-Source Confidentiality More Important Than National Security?

by Sam D. on September 12, 2016 - 9:22pm

In the National Post article "Pundit War: Should Journalists Be Forced to Divulge Information about Their Sources?” four members of the Post’s staff debate about a recently brought up ethical issue concerning a reporters refusal to divulge information pertinent to a police investigation related to national security. The reporter was court ordered to release transcripts of an instant messaging conversation between him and a suspected terrorist but refused to cooperate based on his “right” to protect his source due to the “freedom of the press”.

The two staff members in favour of the reporter withholding the information began their argument by stating that the police force should not turn journalists into a civilian investigative force. Here the staff members are addressing the ethical principle that people should not be used as a means to an end. They then argue that the “freedom of the press” prevents tyrannical governments by allowing the news media to inform the public about the government’s affairs and should thus have some legal protections to keep “the government from walking all over” them. We can see here that some of these staff members’ values are accountability and collective responsibility. They also state the differences between legal obligations and ethical obligations and how “bad laws create bad ethics”. They add that someone has to make a decision based on ethics before they make one based on laws. This demonstrates the principle that people should always act in accordance to their own best interest. They also mention that if journalists wish to have the trust of all their sources, they “can’t pick and choose” which they want to protect and which they don’t. This shows that these staff members also value loyalty.

The opposing staff members argue that journalists have no more rights to withhold information that any other citizen would have to relinquish, which shows that these two staff members value equality of condition and fairness. They mention that if someone chooses to break the law because they believe that it is the most ethical course of action, then they should expect and accept the consequences of their actions such as going to jail, as Martin Luther King Jr. did. We can see here that these staff members also value integrity. They add that going to jail would allow for the individuals that chose to break the law based on their ethics, to gain the public support needed to bring upon a change in the law that they believe unethical because many will see them as being unjustly punished. This shows us that these staff members value justice as well. The identities of the sources are also argued to have a deciding factor in whether they should be protected, such as a “whistle-blower over political corruption” being protected over a suspected terrorist, which tells us that these staff members value accountability as well. They also state that there is already a solution in the legal system to the issue of protecting the press’ right to investigate the government; “the courts decide”, allowing for a sort of “check on the power of the state”.

In my opinion, national security prevails over journalists’ “right” to withhold information to protect their sources. I value security over individual freedom, especially when it acts for the greater good. I also value fairness, integrity and justice more than self-interest and blind loyalty.

Reference:

"Our 'Right' To Protect You; Four National Post columnists debate a recent court ruling ordering a reporter to co-operate with the police." National Post, Don Mills, Ont., 2016.

Comments

I checked this article out because I was curious about what both sides would say to defend themselves, but I did not expect such a specific explanation. Good Job!

I can understand those who are on the side of withholding information since I am an advocate of autonomy. That being said, I agree with you on the point of national security being more important. While I do like having individual freedom, my value of security, especially in cases such as these, trumps it completely. After all, there is nothing to be independent about if we aren't safe to exert it (to the point of a possible terrorist attack).

The journals who are supporting confidentiality should think about what they would feel like if they were the general public, Maybe then they would understand. Why can't the journalism industry just be more transparent?

Your title is what drew me to write a post because it sparks controversy. I agree with the idea that national security is more important than individual freedom. Justice should be put upon those who break the law. At the same time though, i understand why journalist want to protect their sources. They do it to demonstrate their loyalty to that source. If there was no trust between the two, then it would be difficult for the journalist to expose certain stories. Yet in the cases where lives are at risk, then the confidentially is worthless compared to the security of those people. Do you think that there should be laws put into place which forces journalist to give out their sources if it involves national security?

National Security is always a sensitive topic, and the role journalism has in our security is interesting. I find that this a great topic and the fact that the article you wrote was based off an interview styled article makes it interesting. Both sides have their representatives and it's not easy to find two sides equally fight it out in an article (which you have done also btw).

I feel that national security is extremely important, and people should not obstruct justice for petty reasons. However I understand the importance of the freedom of the press and the role journalism plays in deterring tyrannical governments. I agree with you in that security is important and that greater good is more important than individual freedoms. Sometimes hard decisions must be made to keep the peace. On the other hand though, I do agree that journalist have integrity to hold up to. If they cannot hold their sources' anonymity, then few would ever go to journalist to get their story told. Some people are afraid of the public eye and don't want to be judged and they agree to speak out on terms that they are kept anonymous. This anonymity is essential in journalism, however I do understand that it must be broken if it obstructs justice. Justice ultimately, should triumph this secrecy

This article asks the question however, how much should the government control in our lives?