New York, October 27, 1999 — A Northern Irish journalist does not have to hand over his notes on the 1989 murder of a Belfast lawyer, the province’s senior judge ruled today.
Ed Moloney, the Northern Ireland editor of the Dublin-based Sunday Tribune, had faced up to five years in jail and unlimited fines for refusing to comply with an earlier court order to hand over his notes to British authorities.
Scotland Yard Deputy Commissioner John Stevens had asked the courts to compel Moloney to hand over his notes after the journalist published a story on June 29 in which he reported that Alfred Stobie, the man charged with the 1989 murder of Belfast lawyer Patrick Finucane, was a double agent working for the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
In August, the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote to Stevens urging that he abandon all efforts to compel Moloney to hand over his notes. “Democratic countries do not jail journalists for carrying out their professional responsibilities,” the letter noted. “For Great Britain to do so . . . would send a terrible message to repressive governments throughout Europe that use laws guarding ‘state secrets’ or ‘national security’ to silence journalists and suppress investigations.”
In an e-mail message sent to CPJ today, Moloney hailed the court ruling as “a landmark decision for journalism in Ireland and Britain. It ends the power the authorities had until to now to go on fishing expeditions through journalists’ filing cabinets and by so doing enhances the watchdog role of the media on this side of the Atlantic.”