Organizations urge repeal of provision compelling journalists to disclose sources

Maldives Journalists Association (MJA)'s executive committee convene for a meeting. (Photo/MJA)

Five media rights and press freedom organizations have called to repeal the provision in the Evidence Bill – submitted to the Parliament by the Government – which allows courts to compel journalists to disclose their sources in some circumstances.

Accordingly, the five organizations which released a joint statement today are; Maldives Journalist Association (MJA), International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Amnesty International, Maldives Editors Guild and Transparency Maldives.

In their statement, the five organizations noted that Article 136 of the proposed Evidence Bill – sent to the Parliament for debate on August 30, stipulates two exceptions under which the courts can compel journalists to reveal their sources.

The two exceptions specified in this regard are;

  •            if the court decides that there is no negative impact or significantly less negative impact to the source or others even if the source is revealed and
  •           if the impact of revealing a source does not significantly impact the ability of journalists to find sources of factual information

They further emphasized that these exceptions were contradictory to Article 28 of the Constitution which states that “no one can be compelled to disclose the source of any information espoused, disseminated, or published by that person” – noting that the exceptions significantly restrict these freedoms. It was also pointed out that the two exceptions contravene Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – which the Maldives is a party to.

The five parties to the joint statement stressed that the two exceptions are not something that can be easily objectively quantified – especially as the courts will not know the identity of the source when determining if the vague criteria outlined in the exceptions fit a particular case. Accordingly, they stated that the vagueness of the criteria set in the exception alongside the near-impossibility of reaching an objective and qualitative assessment on an anonymous source will lead to a significant reversal of press freedom in the Maldives and carries the risk of generating a wider effect of fear and self-censorship.

In concluding their statement, the five parties reiterated that the enactment of this bill into law will have a dramatic impact on the work of journalists – including losing important sources out of fear of being exposed at a court of law.

Prior to this, Maldives Media Council (MMC) has raised concerns over the provision on the Evidence Bill which allows courts to compel journalists to disclose their sources in some circumstances – and called on the Government and the Parliament to omit it from the bill.