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Canada8 December 2004

Dangerous precedent as journalist sentenced for protecting his sources

Reporters Without Borders condemned as "a dangerous precedent" the 7 December sentencing of Ken Peters, a journalist on the Hamilton Spectator, for protecting a source of information. He had been found in contempt of court at an earlier hearing.

Peters, a municipal reporter, had refused to name a person present when sensitive documents were passed to him by a source in 1995. The documents related to serious problems at a Hamilton retirement home, which he used as the basis for a series of articles. The retirement home brought a libel action.

"We are surprised that this case was not dropped since the journalist’s source revealed his own identity," said the worldwide press freedom organisation. "In any case Ken Peters should not have been taken to court for this reason".

"This verdict sets a dangerous precedent in a country that until now has been spared legal action against journalists trying to protect their sources," the organisation added.

"Journalists are not court auxiliaries," it said. "In protecting their sources, they protect society’s right to scrutinise what goes on in public life. The protection of sources is an inviolable principle."

Peters was sentenced on 7 December to pay the costs of the case of 31,600 dollars. He has already said that he plans to appeal. The Hamilton Spectator has said that it will pay the money itself. The sentence had been adjourned from 1 December when Peters was found in contempt of court.

Former municipal ald. Henry Merling having already revealed himself to be the journalist’s source, the case was sent to a civil court and the possibility of criminal charges lifted. Peters will not have any official record and moreover escaped going to prison.

During the hearing the judge, David Crane, criticised the Canadian media’s stance on protection of sources, which he said, forced a journalist to act against the law. He repeated on several occasions that no-one was above the law.

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