Protect The Source

No. 2 of #50cases.

Mr Goodwin was a journalist. On 2 November 1989 he received information from a source about a company called Tetra. Tetra was in the middle of negotiating a £5 million loan, but the company was also in serious financial difficulty. Mr Goodwin’s source revealed the extent of Tetra’s problems, but the information had to have come from Tetra’s confidential corporate plan. Only eight copies of the plan were made. One copy was with Tetra’s accountants, in a room at Tetra’s premises. Between 3pm and 4pm on 1 November 1989 the room was left unattended. During that period the file disappeared.

The UK court ordered the newspapers not to publish the confidential information. The court also ordered Goodwin to reveal his source, so Tetra could bring a claim against the source and prevent further disclosure of the leaked information. Mr Goodwin refused to name his source and was fined £5,000 for failing to comply with a court order.

Mr Goodwin went to the European Court of Human Rights. He argued that the order to reveal his source, and the punishment for failing to do so, violated his right to free journalistic expression. He won his case. The Court emphasised the importance of free expression as one of the essential building blocks of a democratic society. It stressed that the protection of a journalist’s sources is one of the basic conditions for press freedom. If press sources are not protected, they will be reluctant to help the press inform the public on matters of public importance.

Free expression is not just about expressing your own opinion. It also includes the right to receive and share information. Punishing journalists like Mr Goodwin for refusing to identify a source would harm this free flow of information. Instead, the result highlights the importance of a liberated press in a democratic society.

This story is a short summary of a legal decision. You can read the full text here

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