From Iceland — Protecting Sources Called Into Question

Protecting Sources Called Into Question

Published January 18, 2014

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
rahego - Flickr/Creative Commons

Whether and when a media outlet may reveal the source of their information has been brought into question lately, in particular regarding the investigation of the Interior Minister.

DV reports that media analyst Egill Helgason wrote on the leaked memo regarding Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos – specifically, the fact that select members of the media were given this memo, and have claimed the journalistic right to protect their sources. At the moment, police are investigating the Ministry of the Interior as the possible source of the leak.

Egill points out that the memo contained “wrong and misleading information from a public source – unless an unscrupulous individual played at sending out an ‘informal memo’ in the name of the Interior Ministry.” This is a key point, he says, because it calls into question whether Icelandic media sources are still beholden to protecting their sources in this case.

The Canadian Association of Journalists, in their own guidelines on protecting sources, state in part:

When journalists use confidential sources, their contract and their obligation is, as always, first and foremost to the public, not to the source. Revealing a source would be justified, for example, if a government source or agency leaked erroneous information – but only if they knew it to be wrong, not if they too were fooled or misled. Governments, police or other groups often leak information with the deliberate attempt to “spin” the news. If they have lied to you to get their version of the story out, they deserve to be exposed. That is why it is all the more important to check your sources and their motives.

RECOMMENDATION: If a source knowingly lies or hides an important part of the truth about a major issue or fact in the story, your obligation is to the truth, not the source. He or she has broken his contract with you and you can break your promise of confidentiality to the source.

Reporters for and Fréttablaðið, who received the memo, have only revealed that their respective media directors gave them the information that they published. The actual source of the leak is still under investigation.

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