Occupational hazards of journalists

Priyashree Sharma Phurailatpam *

We live in a society where Journalists play the important role of the watchdogs. They are the ones trying to bring forth some semblance or at least a nugget of sanity into the chaotic structure of our lives. This responsibility puts them into a myriad of situations where their lives or stability might be at stake. A lot of mismanagement, irregularity, abuse, corruption, wrong doings, and acts potentially dangerous to the public at large are more often than not brought to our attention by the media.

Now, how do journalists gather all these information? It is quite apparent on the face of it that Journalists would find it difficult to access places and situations where they can report things of massive importance to the public without their sources. In the aspect of journalism, a source is an insider informant or a confidential informer. In the United States of America, they are also referred to as a reporter's privilege.

It is quite palpable that a source's first priority is anonymity because more often than not, they are usually an employee or someone working closely with the Government or a Corporation. Everyday an enormous amount of informal flow of information takes place between insiders and journalists all over the world and journalists have a long recognised ethical code to protect their sources' identities.

Many important stories have been revealed because knowledgeable insiders, gave a confirmation or added inputs into an investigation done for the benefit of the public, therefore confirming the already resounding fact that anonymous sources continue to play an important role in providing information to journalists.

According to Privacy International (an organisation at the forefront of research and public education on issues ranging from biometrics and identity cards, police systems and national security arrangements, internet censorship, cybercrime and communication surveillance to freedom of information and media rights) "the quintessential case of protection of sources is of course the Watergate affair in the United States, where reporters revealed the abuses of powers of US President Nixon and his staff which led to his resignation and the imprisonment of many officials."

Lord Denning in British Steel Corporation v Granada Television Ltd, 1981, stated "If [newspapers] were compelled to disclose their sources, they would soon be bereft of information which they ought to have. Their sources would dry up. Wrongdoing would not be disclosed. Charlatans could not be exposed. Unfairness would go un-remedied. Misdeeds in the corridors of power, in companies or in government departments would never be known".

But the paradox here is, while one side wants the informer to be prosecuted and removed, the other side revers them as a whistleblower, a hero doing his part in the interest of the public. This dichotomy is best presented in the form of Julian Assange, or Edward Snowden, or Chealsea Manning high profiled leakers who have not sought anonymity.

Protection of sources is crucial to free expression. The media's ability to gather information andimpart it with the public is dependent on the disclosure of information by confidential sources. But when a journalist is forced to disclose their sources, the most alarming consequence is the inevitable loss of their ability to gather information, the paranoia of the sources of them being revealed, the destroying of unpublished notes which limits future journalism and history writings, and the probable danger which the journalist might face.

Privacy International reiterated this concern in their report entitled 'SILENCING SOURCES' where a part of the discussion was regarding the consequence of the lack strong source protection.

In all the common law system, the general obligation to give evidence is recognized as the historical data proves it. In England, by Act of 5 Eliz, Chap 9, Section 12, it was necessary for a person to testify in the Court of law if they were served or summoned. This obligation stems from the rigid notion which was followed in England where the citizen owed the King their unfailing duty to reveal all his knowledge, including its sources.

But even with all these generalities, the law creates an exception in matters relating to public policies or public interest, towards all those evidences which is protected by a Constitution, a Common Law, or Statutory Privilege. No doubt, all these considerations of public polices and public interest have undoubtedly led to the emergence of certain privileges or immunities which has been created and conferred by special grants to certain class or individuals in derogation of Common Rights.

According to the Law Commission Report prepared by Justice KK Mathew, on 9th of September 1983, to qualify as a privilege, four conditions must be fulfilled:

1) The communication must originate in a confidence that the facts communicated will not be disclosed;
2) This element of confidentiality must be essential to the full and satisfactory maintenance of the relationship between parties;
3) The relation must be one which, in the opinion of the community, ought to be sedulously fostered;
4) The injury that would injure to the relation by disclosure of the communications must be greater than the benefit gained by the disclosure for the correct disposal of the litigation. All these is done in a purely bona fide assumption that certain evidences should not be divulge as it would do more harm than necessary. But the western law has always recognised the principle of anonymity.

It originally emerged in the context of printers publishing anonymous articles and pamphlets. In 1734, an American publisher John Peter Zenger was tried for seditious libel for publishing anonymous columns criticizing the Governor.

In the Indian context, journalistic privilege is not something which is recognised, not even under the Indian Evidence Act albeit it is accorded protection under Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India which assures freedom of speech and expression. The only other act which comes close to protection of source is Section 15(2) of the Press Council Act, but that is only limited to proceedings of the Press Council.

As this is a fairly established position, there isn't any reported Indian decision on this subject. But an attention might be drawn to two incidents which happened in the past, where journalists refused to disclose their sources and went to jail instead, thereby helping cement the concept of lack of journalistic privilege, as long as they are willing to go to jail.

In the first case, Kaliprasanna Kavyabisliarad, the editor of Hitzibadi, refused to reveal the author of a poem published in his paper for which he was charged with libel and was sent to jail for a period of 9 months. In the other case, Pepin Chandra Pall, a journalist was sentenced to six months and imprisonment, because he refused to divulge the name of the author of an article for which Aurobindo Ghose, another journalist, was being tried for sedition. Ghose was subsequently acquitted, but Pall was sent to jail for six months for his refusal to give the name of the author. But Journalists being locked up for sedition, libel, or contempt by the court is not only isolated to Indian Courts.

In 1972, William Farr of Los Angeles Times was imprisoned for 46 days as he refused to identify his confidential sources for an article written on the Charles Manson murder trial. On a similar footing, in 2001, Vanessa Leggett, a freelance writer was imprisoned for 168 days for her refusal to divulge information obtained during her book research based on a Texas Murder case.

When opinions were invited by the Law Commission with regards to whether protection of sources, The Manipur Bar Association has expressed the view that a quali?ed privilege should be granted to Journalists who should not be required to disclose the source identity (of informant) or other confidential communications unless disclosure is necessary in the interest of "justice and public good.

The views of the Manipur Bar Association, District and Sessions Court Compound, Imphal have been thus communicated just as the legal professionals are given the statutory privilege of not disclosing what their clients have entrusted with them con?dentially, the journalists as a professional class should be given some qualified privilege by suitable enactment. The journalists should not be compelled to disclose the source of his information or the identity of their conformant as well as confidential communication, unless the disclosure is necessary in the interests of justice and public good.

According to Privacy International, nearly 100 countries have adopted specific legal protections, either in laws or constitution and 20 countries have adopted absolute protection for journalists' sources.

Nevertheless, the right of protection is more threatened in those countries without absolute protections as those said protection are regularly being undermined by regular use of search warrants on media offices and journalists' homes. In India, the authority of compelling a journalist to reveal his sources lies with the Court.

There are no specific guidelines which a Court needs to follow in order to determine the necessity of compelling a journalist to reveal his sources. This determination is done according to the facts and circumstances of each case. The court has to take into consideration the fundamental right of the journalist and respect the freedom of speech and expression bestowed upon by Article 19(1). The court also has to see whether the need of protection outweighs the need of disclosure in the interest of public at large.

* Priyashree Sharma Phurailatpam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The Writer is a practicing Advocate in the Supreme Court of India
This article was posted on May 09, 2018.

* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.

  • Tuilha Kol waterfall #2: Gallery
  • Eyek Tamba :: Learn Manipuri script
  • Rally against Mob Lynching #2: Gallery
  • Beyond the tragedy of Tharoijam
  • Jarnail's tryst with Manipur :: Review
  • Who killed the looter? (Short Story)
  • Heart OPD & Echo Screening Mission
  • Call for protest against MU crackdown
  • The farce continues at MU
  • Heikru Hidongba #1 : Gallery
  • Heigru Hidongba (Boat Race)
  • Get down to business
  • The Eternal Moment :: Poem
  • Why is oiling good for the hair
  • Jobs at SKY Hospital
  • The Killing Fields 2013-18 : News Timeline
  • Creating Future Media Leaders in NE
  • Understanding Communist ideology
  • Suspended but drama not over yet
  • Arrested for molesting student in Mumbai
  • Manipuri Diaspora in Myanmar #1
  • Chingyainu, Chingnguremba :: eMing
  • Krishna Janma @Mahabali #2 : Gallery
  • Naga-Kuki Conflict: ..Kuki aggression
  • Tibeto-Burman Languages : Book
  • Indian Judiciary no more a caged bird
  • IGAR (S) calls on Governor of Manipur
  • Spirit of Irabot still runs in Journalists
  • Concern should be about mob mentality
  • Tribes, Art & Soul of India #1: Gallery
  • Rally against Mob Lynching #1: Gallery
  • 'Sahnit' an honour or a disgrace
  • Irabot : Socio-Political Challenges
  • Training employees for better governance
  • Blue Ocean :: Poem
  • Sextortion: Making money from shame
  • Condemn murder of Neiphretuo Metsie
  • Social lacunae
  • BJP on poll drive at Imphal, Kohima
  • Mary Kom lost 2 kg in 4 hours
  • Historical Evaluation of Puya Meithaba #2
  • Felicitation of Sportsperson: Gallery
  • ICJ: Investigation of Extrajudicial Killing
  • Legal profession as career option #2
  • Loktak Down Stream HE Project (2x33MW)
  • Protest against mob lynching at DU
  • Ripples of Music :: Poem
  • Memo submitted to CM over lynching
  • Poems of Peace, Resistance ...
  • Helicopter Schedule for Imphal-Jiri
  • Mirabai recommended for Khel Ratna
  • Martyrdom of Haipou Jadonang #3: Gallery
  • Manipur State is still winning..
  • Gazetteer of North-East India :: Book
  • Sunfeast Cup Football Tournament
  • Trip down memory lane
  • Naga Peace Process :: News Timeline
  • Folk Song :: Poem
  • The Endureres at Dwarka Half Marathon
  • Main accused in cop slaying nabbed
  • Naga talks not confined to Nagaland..
  • Trekking to Dzukou Valley #1 : Gallery
  • Rest in Peace Humanity
  • Ph Banti's artwork 'Trafficking of children'
  • Cry of a Dying River - 45 :: Poem
  • Buddhism is not a religion
  • Jobs at R-Square Design
  • Candle Light at DU over lynching
  • Society as a reflection of govt
  • Mobocracy : Shame on Manipur
  • Kuki Black Day @CCpur : Gallery
  • miAoIbgi pNTuH :: Seireng
  • An opinion on Tharoijam killing
  • How Manipur lost internal autonomy, Kabaw
  • Admission for PhD at Tripura Univ
  • Meefam ST at Nambol, Khangabok
  • Importance of Forest & Environment
  • Deep social divide: Two different folks?
  • Kuki Black Day: Kukis Will never forget
  • R & V Art House's First Art Fest 2018
  • Celebrating International Literacy Day, 2018
  • Born a Kuki, die a Kuki :: Poem
  • History of North East India :: Book
  • Will SimpliciTB make TB treatment simpler
  • Meefam chathaduna ST gi issue..
  • Dipankar Talukdar- Mr Model of World Star
  • System error- who will fix Broken Window
  • Reshuffle Talks : Say No to Yes Me
  • India negotiating vehicle pact with Myanmar
  • Chalwa Village, Kangpokpi #2 : Gallery
  • Thien & its downfall in Zeliangrong #2
  • Is FA a self exposed daylight robbery?
  • Nation Needs Small Farmers
  • Who is programming you ?
  • Bandhs as dissent & survival of laziest
  • Looking for Raju :: Poem
  • The cry of the 2nd class citizen
  • Bharat Bandh in Imphal
  • Historical Evaluation of Puya Meithaba #1
  • Sit-In: Naga Peace Talk #2 : Gallery
  • Naga-Kuki conflict: Search for definitions
  • Mega Marathon Manipur : Download Form
  • Legal profession as career option
  • Guv felicitates 5 JAK RIF for flood relief
  • Stored Anger :: Book Review
  • On stepping into the 20th year of TSE
  • Sept - month which reinstated our courage
  • Krishna Janma @ISKCON #2 : Gallery
  • Empty :: Poem
  • Lets beat littering - plastics pollution
  • NEHU Seminar : Urbanization in India
  • Jobs at JCRE Skill Solutions
  • Declaration of Naga Collective Spirit [Sep 8]
  • Akanba Khongjangidamak Yathokpa Loire
  • Support for STDC from UMA, Assam
  • 'Deplorable power supply in Nagaland'
  • Tryst with destiny - Should we accept ?
  • Stand off at MU : Impact on LS Poll
  • Exploring the enthralling Tuilha Kol
  • Kamesh Salam : Outstanding Green Activist
  • The Valley Of Brahmaputra :: Book
  • Development of road database
  • The inner page story :: Poem
  • Kakching WW-II Memorial Run 2018
  • STDC public meeting at Langathel Keithel
  • Maibi Jagoi at Sangai Fest : Gallery
  • My poll without prejudice to anyone
  • MEETAC - Mission for streamlining TK
  • Conditions leading to Marxism
  • Heart Camp at Khelakhong, Thoubal
  • Cyber bully: Crime that follows you home
  • Bhupen Hazarika : Tribute at London
  • AEP & Importance of Myanmar & NE
  • Political pandemonium
  • Students central to MU issue
  • Landscape from Koubru #2 : Gallery
  • Leishangthem Robert for Mr. World 2018
  • Oinam Shilla Chanu at Mrs India Earth
  • North-east Frontier Of India :: Book
  • Thien & its downfall in Zeliangrong #1
  • Cry of a Dying River - 44 :: Poem
  • JRF Post at Mizoram University
  • Honours to Bamboo; a ubiquitous gift
  • Case of hunter now being huntedr
  • Chaklam Khongchat Numit #3 : Gallery
  • Women Empowerment & judicial Activism
  • Narin Chenggum - wild edible mushroom
  • Flying Star at your lips :: Poem
  • Out of the box thinking
  • Call centre fraud: Vicious vishing attack
  • Changing India & its impact on Manipur
  • MU stand off gets uglier
  • Tikendrajit : The Lion of Manipur #4
  • Krishna Janma @Mahabali #1 : Gallery
  • Eastern Frontier of India :: Book Review
  • Remembering Radhakrishnan ..
  • Moments to cherish :: Poem
  • Glimpse of the Buddha's teaching
  • NH7 Weekender Express Editions
  • Rejoinder to NDPP from NPF [05 Sep]
  • Mental equation
  • Are teachers teaching ? Apt, timely poser
  • Sirarakhong Hathei Phanit @Ukhrul : Gallery
  • Sit-In: Naga Peace Talk #1 : Gallery
  • Globalization, Act East Policy & Manipur
  • Review on anthology of Parthajit Borah
  • Inner Line Permit (ILP) Demand :: Timeline
  • Child Friendly Police Stations proposed
  • ADBU Goes Green with Solar Energy
  • Convocation of Assam Don Bosco
  • Fetal Echocardiography - Seminar held
  • Rejoinder to NPF from NDPP [04 Sep]
  • Divide, divert and rule will not work
  • FA, MU crisis : Issues before LS polls
  • Krishna Janma @ISKCON #1 : Gallery
  • Komrem Student Day @Bangalore : Gallery
  • September Calendar for Year 2018 :: Tools
  • The Coils of Pakhangba :: Book
  • Physics Program in Don Bosco, Tura
  • Condemns MU VC's vindictive stance
  • 'Policy of India to suppress people'
  • NDPP congratulates Abu Metha
  • Pandey back at MU! Violating spirit of MoA
  • Exhibition @ Art College #2: Gallery
  • AMWJU Sit-In-Protest : Gallery
  • Shri Krishna Janmasthami :: Book
  • Life's heck :: Poem
  • Environment & lung health are vital
  • Innovation for the common man
  • Humanitarian crisis with NRC in Assam
  • Rejoinder to NDPP from NPF [02 Sep]
  • Jangou Rah : eRang Classic
  • The Story of 40 Pineapple Suckers
  • Rebirth of Manipur Human Rights Comm
  • Yumkhaibam Nanao Eramdam Yaourakhre
  • Lecture: Governance & Public Services
  • X-rated poem :: Poem
  • Ningol Chakkouba Celebration in Delhi
  • Baton changes hands at IGAR (South)
  • Rejoinder to NPF from NDPP [01 Sept]
  • A Wake-up call
  • Lok Sabha polls : More crucial for BJP
  • Martyrdom of Haipou Jadonang #2: Gallery
  • Chaklam Khongchat Numit #2 : Gallery
  • The World of Kuki People :: Book
  • Effects of the Burning of Meitei Puyas
  • Soil Technician required at MaolKeki
  • Jr. Mr. India 2018, Gyanendra Thokchom
  • Rejoinder to HTC & allies' statement
  • Consensual sex..Does it amount to rape ?
  • Need for all to keep their sanity
  • Sanagi Tenawa :: Funga Wari
  • MU: Den of Insurgents or Den of Ideas?
  • Can NRC Update save Assam and NE ?
  • Victim of Enforced Disappearances
  • Admission for Ph.D. at Tripura University
  • Martyrdom of Haipou Jadonang #1: Gallery
  • Physics Program in Don Bosco College
  • Resolution: Right of Human Right Defender
  • Advancing rights of Human Right Defender
  • Dolaithabi Dam , Senapati : Gallery
  • Eid-Ul-Adhaa Festival #2 : Gallery
  • Chaklam Khongchat Numit #1 : Gallery
  • 47th Nagas Annual Meet at Mumbai
  • Transcending Patriots' Day(s) #4
  • Sangai Fest: Fashion Show #2 : Gallery
  • Tikendrajit : The Lion of Manipur #3
  • Dr. Jodhachandra Sanasam : Sahitya
  • Architects announces 1st MADE 2018
  • Expedite FA Rally #2 : Gallery
  • Billie's Book by Ranjeeta Mayanglambam
  • Shougrakpam Bijaya :: A Profile
  • Disputed Myanmar Border Pillar : Gallery
  • Front Page Photo 2018 #3: Gallery
  • Dzuko valley #4 :: 360 Panorama View
  • Manglandasu Nang - OST :: e-pao Radio
  • Temples of Manipur : Gallery
  • Old Manipuri Movie #1 :: eRang Classic