Constitutional Court decided in favour of journalistic source protection

Acknowledging that atlatszo.hu’s claims were right, on the 19th December 2011 the Constitutional Court of Hungary decided that the protection of journalists’ sources is not sufficiently guaranteed by the new, widely criticised 2010 media law. It happened with reference to this law that the organised crime unit of the Hungarian Police summoned Tamás Bodoky, editor-in-chief of atlatszo.hu as witness, after he refused to identify a confidential source.

Bodoky did not identify his source as a witness either, he claimed reporter’s privilege – police seized a hard disk as evidence at the journalist’s apartment. Atlatszo.hu filed several legal complaints against the police obligation to identify a journalist’s source and seizing confidential data, but the Public Prosecution Office – responsible for overseeing criminal investigations and ensuring that the police comply with the law – stated that police claim to reveal our sources was justifiable.

We do not believe that protection of journalists’ sources should overrule all other interests. In case a journalist should find information related to an act of terrorism, the protection of human lives would obviously be more important than the protection of confidential sources. But the regulation in force so far has allowed investigative authorities to decide without any controll whether it is justifiable to oblige journalists to reveal their sources.

The Constitutional Court’s decision confirmed what we had previously stated in our legal complaints sent to the police and the prosecution, namely:

- it is not acceptable that police should be able to oblige journalists basically in any case to identify their sources,

- it is not acceptable that in a specific case not an independent court should decide what is of greater public interest, the freedom of the press or criminal investigation,

- it is not acceptable that with reference to undefined notions the journalists and their sources should technically become unprotected against the authority’s obligation (to disclose).

According to the Constitutional Court’s decision the protection of journalists’ sources has to be ensured in criminal investigations, civil and administrative procedures. Should the legislator decide that there are cases where the journalists’ confidential sources needs to be identified, a court should decide on this matter. The decision states that in individual cases it is the state authority that has to prove in court that identification of the journalist’s source is justifiable, and that this information cannot be obtained in any other way.

To help out lawmakers we have elaborated a piece of legislation to create a regulation of journalistic source protection in accordance with the Constitutional Court’s decision.

Atlatszo.hu’s complaint to the Constitutional Court (Hungarian, PDF)

Atlatszo.hu’s proposed legislation on journalistic source protection (Hungarian, PDF)