26.1.04

Should Bloody Sunday journalists be sent to prison over sources?

While Andrew Gilligan and the BBC brace themselves for the judicial wrist-slapping expected in Lord Hutton's report, two other journalists are weathering the final gusts of an equally serious storm that could see them sent to jail for contempt.

Alex Thomson and Lena Ferguson who interviewed various soldiers about the Bloody Sunday shootings for news reports on Channel 4 have maintained a consistent silence over their sources saying they would rather face prison than name names.

The 1972 Bloody Sunday shootings saw 13 civilians shot dead by army soldiers. There followed widespread dissatisfaction about the Widgery Inquiry held after the shootings and after public campaign and media coverage, Tony Blair in 1998 ordered a new Inquiry be set up with Lord Saville as Chairman.

Having been asked to give evidence before the Inquiry, Thomson and Ferguson were also asked to reveal their sources - the names of the soldiers they had spoken to. Both refused, saying they had promised those interviewed they would not to reveal their identity.

The Inquiry insisted they disclose their sources and they were told that failure to do so would result in them being reported to the High Court as being in Contempt of the Tribunal.

This was two years ago since when both journalists have been left with Lord Saville's Damacles sword of contempt hanging over them.

As the Inquiry resumed sessions this week, the pair had hoped to be told of their fate. As BBC reports both still insist they they would rather face jail than betray their sources.

Lord Saville has apparently been considerig the matter and promised they will not have to wait 'too long' for his decision - which in the context of a Inquiry that has already lasted four years is open to interpretation.

Surely there is sufficient substantive material for the Inquiry to examine without having to continue threatening journalists over their sources. It would seem perverse to sanction the very journalists whose work contributed to highlighting the need for the Inquiry they find themselves before.


No comments: