Saville inquiry finally takes off its blinkers

There can hardly be a more clear cut case to illustrate why journalists need to protect their sources than that of the Daily Telegraph’s Toby Harnden in resisting the demands of Lord Saville’s Bloody Sunday inquiry.

Harnden had interviewed two British ex-paratroopers who would only speak to him if they were granted anonymity. To reveal his sources could have put their lives in danger.

A threat of a jail sentence was hanging over Harnden for four years until last week when the High Court in Belfast heard Lord Saville had discontinued contempt proceedings against him. Only last February the threat of contempt proceedings against Alex Thomson, Channel 4 News chief correspondent, and Lena Ferguson, head of BBC political programmes in Northern Ireland, who also refused to name their sources to the Saville inquiry, was lifted.

The shadow of court action hung over Harnden even though Martin McGuinness and other former IRA members had refused to answer questions to the inquiry without facing, or being threatened with contempt proceedings.

It seems that the judiciary has a real problem with journalists refusing to name their sources, as if in some way it believes they are siding with informants.

Nothing else can explain why the politicians and the former terrorists who refused to answer questions were not put through the mill of contempt proceedings while a lone journalist was.

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