SINGAPORE, May 25 (Reuters) – Reuters identified an anonymous source on Friday after Singapore’s Court of Appeal ordered a reporter for the international news agency to disclose the name and the source gave permission to do so.
The source released the reporter from her duty of confidentiality when it became clear that the reporter would face jail unless she complied with the court order, confirmed by the appeal court on Thursday.
Singapore law does not recognise the right of journalists to protect the identity of their sources, which is enshrined in the laws of many countries protecting freedom of expression, as well as recognised by the European Court of Human Rights.
“It is Reuters policy to protect the confidentiality of our sources,” Reuters Editor-in-Chief David Schlesinger said. “To defend this principle we challenged the order in court and fought it all the way to Singapore’s Court of Appeal, the highest court in Singapore.”
The reporter had been called to give evidence in a commercial case between two brokers in the city-state, Tullett Prebon and BGC Partners. Tullett Prebon had asked the reporter to identify a source quoted in a story about how the two brokers settled a dispute over the hiring of a team of traders.
The court order obtained by Prebon, and upheld by the appeal court, warned the reporter she faced imprisonment to compel her to comply with the order. Under these circumstances, the source did not want the reporter to break the law and defy the court. The source therefore consented to the disclosure.
“We believe confidentiality of anonymous sources must be protected as it is this trust between source and reporter that brings to light vital information and helps provide the transparency so necessary for the efficient working of markets in a free and vibrant society,” Schlesinger said.
“I regret that the courts ruled against this principle that I believe is so important not only for a free press but also for a clean, orderly and transparent market.”
Reuters uses anonymous sources only when it believes they can provide necessary information that cannot be obtained in another way.
Updated at 0920hrs with the following news report
Who is the source?
• Court orders media to reveal name • ST, BT give in after initial fight • Reuters refuses; case goes to highest court
Weekend TODAY • May 26, 2007
AN out-of-court settlement between two rival broking firms has put two Singapore newspapers, a foreign news agency and a public relations company in a spot over protecting sources and client confidentiality.
The Straits Times and The Business Times agreed to reveal to the High Court the source of their reports relating to the confidential amount on that court settlement: An employee of public relations agency Huntington Communications, which services one of the broking firms.
But Reuters refused, fighting all the way to the Court of Appeal. On Friday, its correspondent, Ms Mia Shanley, finally agreed to reveal her source to the court – only after her source gave her permission to do so. The identity of Reuters’ source was not made public.
The episode started on Nov 24 after Reuters had published a report by Ms Shanley on an out-of-court settlement between broking firms, Tullett Prebon and BGC International.
Prebon had taken BGC to court, accusing it of conspiring with its ex-regional head of poaching 51 of its staff and claimed $66.4 million for lost business.
Both companies later settled the matter out of court after a four-week trial, with BGC agreeing to pay Prebon an undisclosed sum of money.
Citing a “source”, Ms Shanley, an American citizen who has been working for Reuters for five years, reported the amount of the settlement – “around a fifth of the $66.4 million requested” – in her Nov 24 article.
Ms Wee Li-En of The Business Times and Mr Arthur Poon of The Straits Times, in their reports on Nov 25, wrote that the BGC would pay Prebon “less than half” of $66.4 million.
BGC later refused to pay on grounds that a confidentiality obligation in the deal had been breached by Prebon, referring to the leak of the agreed amount.
Prebon, on the other hand, accused BGC of doing the same.
Subsequently, both companies served court papers on the reporters to reveal their sources.
The court orders placed the reporters in a difficult situation as journalists in Singapore don’t have the legal privilege of protecting their sources, unlike their counterparts in countries such as Australia and United Kingdom.
After initially resisting, ST and BT reporters disclosed their respective sources to the High Court. Both pointed to Huntington,which is Prebon’s public relations firm.
Ms Shanley, however, held on. At a court hearing on May 17, High Court Justice Andrew Ang agreed with Prebon’s lawyers and ordered Ms Shanley to reveal her source.
“I do not think … she can plead her fear of breach of an undertaking of confidentiality between herself and her source as the justification for her refusal,” said Justice Ang. “There is no ‘newspaper rule’ in Singapore.”
But Ms Shanley refused, with her company deciding to fight the case all the way up to the Court of Appeal, Singapore’s highest court. Ms Shanley could not be reached for comment.
Her application was dismissed by the Court of Appeal on Thursday. The next day, Ms Shanley, who could have faced jail unless she heeded the court order, relented.
According to Reuters, the source had given Ms Shanley permission to do so, thus releasing her from her duty of confidentiality.
According to Ms Doris Chia, who has more than 15 years of experience as a litigation lawyer, this is the first time such a case – involving a journalist challenging the need to reveal his source – has gone all the way up to the Court of Appeal.
“The law in Singapore is that if you were found to be in contempt, you will continue to be dealt with. Sitting in jail for two weeks will not cure the contempt … you will still have to spit out the name,” said Ms Chia.
Reuters editor-in-chief, Mr David Schlesinger, said on Friday that the company had fought all the way to the Court of Appeal to defend its policy of protecting the confidentiality of its sources.
A Reuters spokeswoman also told Today: “We believe that confidentiality of anonymous sources must be protected as it is that trust between source and reporter which brings to light vital information that helps to provide the transparency so necessary for the efficient working of markets in a free and vibrant society.”
When asked why BT had revealed its source, Mr Vikram Khanna, BT’s Associate Editor, said: “It is not the newspaper’s position to reveal or not to reveal (the source). The source belongs to the reporter, the source does not belong to the newspaper.”
The Straits Times could not be reached for comment. Huntington, Ms Wee and Mr Poon declined comment when contacted.