Constitutional Court: Journalists must reveal sources

  • 2002-10-31
  • Natalie Nerandzicova

The Constitutional Court ruled Oct.23 that journalists will have to reveal their sources of information upon a court order.

At the same time the court upheld the media's right to publish information about a person's private life without his or her permission as long as the publication does not harm the person and the news bears importance for society.

According to experts, the court's rulings are in harmony with overall European practice.

The court found that the Law of Provision of Information to the Public contradicted constitutional law in that it gave reporters exceptional rights compared to other segments of the population.

The law allows journalists to conceal their sources of information, said the court.

The constitution, on the other hand, clearly states that all citizens are equal before the law.

"We expected this to happen," said Rimas Eilunavicius, chairman of the Journalists' Union of Lithuania, who had feared worse.

"We were worried that the court would rule that journalists are not allowed to write about private life of a politician," he said.

A group of Lithuanian parliamentarians had argued before the court the constitutionality of the stipulation allowing journalists to publish information about the private life of public figures.

Eilunavicius stressed that he doesn't see any danger in the Constitutional Court's ruling to journalists' work or freedom of speech in general.

He added that, "We have to put up with the law as it is though it really is contradictory to the constitution."

However, Eilunavicius added that the Law of Provision of Information to the Public is "nonsense".

"It has to be changed," he said. "It should be similar to the laws in such countries like Sweden or Norway, where a journalist has absolute right to veil his source of information and has to reveal it to the court only under exceptional circumstances, such as when the country or the public are threatened."

Constitutional Court Chairman Egidijus Kuris pointed out that the right of the journalist to protect his source of information is indisputable.

"It is allowed only in very exceptional cases when the interest of the public is superior to the interest of the journalist; a clear example of such situation are recent events in Moscow," said Kuris.

"However, the journalist would be the last person to be asked to reveal his source of information," he said, adding that the ruling fully meets European standards.

"It is regrettable that some journalists commented on the ruling before actually reading it," added the chairman, referring to the wave of controversy raised immediately after news of the court's ruling went public.

"My understanding is that for Europe this is not unusual," said Aidas Palubinskas, an international lawyer from Klaipeda.

According to Palubinskas, in Belgium, for example, it is a long-standing practice that in special circumstances the court can order a journalist to reveal his source of information.

"Europe is a bit different from the United States," explained Palubinskas. "In the United States, the whole concept of freedom of speech and protection of a journalist is much stronger."