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Editorial: Wise decisions

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Judges in both Northern Ireland and California were singing off the same hymn sheet in recent days on the matter of press freedom.

The verdict in L.A., which arose from a racially-charged murder case and went in favor of a reporter named Trish O’Kane, was not entirely surprising given the constitutional guarantees enjoyed by the press in the United States.

The decision in the Ed Moloney case, however, came as a surprise to many given that such guarantees are far less well defined in the North, Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Moloney’s decision to refuse his notes to a police investigation linked to the Pat Finucane murder case was correct from the start, The journalist’s deep experience and gut sense told him that his handing over of notes arising from his interview with loyalist gunman William Stobie was unlikely to further what has been from the start a corrupt investigation. It would also, in his view, have effectively ended his career as a journalist covering the Northern Ireland Troubles, a conflict with all too many dark secrets.

It’s not the case that a journalist is always obliged to automatically refuse assistance to a police investigation, in Northern Ireland or anywhere else. There are times when such help may well be appropriate and desirable. But it should never be compulsory. The individual journalist and his media organization must be allowed make the decision based on the circumstances of each case.

The Moloney decision, meanwhile, is not all-embracing. It applies to one case only. But it is an important legal step forward in the battle to give journalists, often working in potentially life-threatening situations, greater formal protection under the law.

From the outset, police investigators threatened and treated Moloney almost as an accomplice to a crime. Those investigators had lost sight of their investigation’s primary aim. The court decision will, hopefully, point them in the right direction again, one that will lead to the arrest of all responsible for Pat Finucane’s death.

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