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23 June 2022

Bill Of Rights: NMA Welcomes Stronger Protections For Journalists' Sources

The News Media Association has welcomed stronger protections for freedom of speech contained within the Bill of Rights by introducing a higher test for courts to consider before they can order journalists to disclose their sources. 

This will provide that no court may require a person to disclose a journalistic source unless there are “exceptional and compelling reasons why it is in the public interest for the disclosure to be made.”

Published this week, Ministry of Justice said the Bill will give freedom of speech “greater weight in law” and “empower people to express their views freely.” The government recognises that “the public interest is overwhelmingly assisted by the protection of freedom of expression and a free and vibrant media."    

In a submission to a consultation on the Bill, the NMA said that the Human Rights Act had played “a central role in protecting freedom of expression” but added that some of the protections for freedom of speech had not functioned as originally intended.

The NMA suggested a number of ways in which reform could enhance freedom of speech including strengthening protections for journalists’ sources and reexamine the worrying trajectory privacy laws have taken, which make it harder for the media to name individuals under criminal investigation.

Government could also take the opportunity to revisit and strengthen the journalism exception in the data protection regime by removing the requirement for case-specific consideration of the exemption, the NMA said.

Following publication of the Bill this week, NMA legal director Sayra Tekin said: “The Bill of Rights provides an important opportunity to reassert the importance of freedom of speech in law and roll back the worrying creep towards secrecy. However, government must ensure that other, more misguided, provisions in the Bill do not undermine these efforts.

“We welcome the proposed stronger test for courts to consider before they can order journalists to disclose their sources and look forward to working with government to explore other ways in which freedom of speech can be enhanced by the reforms.”