Ed Moloney, the Northern Editor of the Dublin-based Sunday Tribune, will learn this week whether he’ll be fined or jailed for defying a court order to turn over his notebooks to police investigating the 1989 murder of lawyer Pat Finucane.
Though the Moloney case, before it is over, may well shed new light on claims of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and security forces in Northern Ireland, a more immediate concern is this blatant attempt to silence the press.
In what clearly is a desperate effort to salvage what remains of the already sullied reputation of the RUC, the British government, through the courts, has targeted Moloney, who for years has been one of the fairest and most respected chroniclers of the Northern scene.
But they may have gone after the wrong man. Moloney well understands that what is at stake here is nothing less than the ability of reporters to collect and disseminate the news. As he himself said, "If I were to hand these notes over, we [reporters] would all theoretically become information gatherers for the RUC."
Without sources, a reporter can’t do his job. And without being able to guarantee confidentiality, that well of information would quickly run dry. The victims would be the public, who would be deprived of the search for truth. Time and again, American courts have recognized the potential danger of placing restrictions on a free press. Sadly, the British have no such tradition.