Reporters Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus of the Melbourne-based Herald Sun could be imprisoned very soon for contempt of court after judge Elizabeth Hollingworth of the supreme court of the southeastern state of Victoria on 23 August rejected their appeal against a lower court’s order that they name their source for a story about a federal government plan to cut benefits to war veterans.
29.08.05 - Prime minister "respects" position taken by journalists facing imprisonment
Prime Minister John Howard has said he respects the position taken by the Herald Sun’s Canberra correspondents, Gerard McManus and Michael Harvey, who face a prison sentence or a fine for "contempt of court" for refusing to name their sources for a story about government policy when they appeared before a Melbourne district court on 23 August.
"I know them, I respect them and I know they are behaving according to the code of ethics of their profession, and I respect them for that," Howard said on 26 August, adding that it was nonetheless necessary to ensure the confidentiality of government discussions.
Two journalists refuse to reveal their source to Melbourne judge
Gerard McManus and Michael Harvey, Canberra correspondents of the Melbourne-based daily, the Herald Sun, appeared before a Melbourne district court yesterday and refused to name their source for a 20 February story about a government project on the grounds that it would violate their professional ethics. They will probably be charged with contempt of court in the next few days, and will as a result face a prison sentence or a fine. They are due to appear in court again in early September.
Two journalists summoned to reveal sources
Reporters Without Borders is alarmed that witness summonses have been issued against journalists Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus compelling them to appear before a court in Melbourne on 23 August where the two, of the daily Herald Sun in Canberra, will be asked under threat of legal penalty if the defendant is one of their sources.
The two journalists disclosed in a 20 February 2005 article a government plan not to pay war veterans 500 million dollars they had been promised in supplementary benefits. After the article appeared, both men were summoned as witnesses to the trial of government official Desmond Patrick Kelly, who is charged with leaking the information.
"Reporters Without Borders believes that this judicial step is damaging to the principle of the protection of sources. Forcing journalists to reveal this kind of information would constitute an extremely dangerous precedent for press freedom in the country".
"The Australian justice system has to understand that, without the protection of sources guaranteed to journalists before the courts, nobody in possession of sensitive information would any longer dare to make it available," the organisation said.
The two told Reporters Without Borders that they had no intention of giving way to the court’s demand. McManus, who has already been brought before a preliminary hearing, refused to reply to the judge when he asked him if he knew Kelly.
Harvey and McManus both face prison.