St Mary’s University College – which runs journalism training courses – went to the High Court today (Monday 11 November) to try to force a reporter to reveal her sources using a legal method condemned by the European Court of Human Rights. The target of the action is a not-for-profit religious news website run by volunteers.
The Independent Catholic News published a reader’s letter critical of St Mary’s, withholding the author’s name at their request. St Mary’s is to apply for what is called a Norwich Pharmacal order requiring the wesbite’s editor, Jo Siedlecka, to identify the writer of the letter.
A Norwich Pharmacal order was originally used by a pharmaceutical company to make a third party reveal the identity of companies breaking patent laws. It has more recently been used to force ISPs to reveal the identity of peer-to-peer file sharers. This order was used against the Financial Times in 2001 in a case that was only resolved in 2009 when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the order would have breached the right to freedom of expression.
If the order is granted Ms Siedlecka may have her computers seized, face financial penalties and may ultimately be sent to prison. She has said she is prepared to do this to protect her source.
St Mary’s University College is the oldest Catholic college in the UK and is based in Strawberry Hill near Twickenham in South West London. It has a large media studies department and offers journalism training accredited by the National Council for the Training of Journalists. It is currently seeking full university status.
St Mary’s has nearly 6000 students and 600 staff and is represented by Wiggin, a leading media law firm. The ICN website has no paid employees and Jo Siedlecka, who is personally named in the action, cannot afford to pay for a lawyer. ICN was set up by volunteer journalists in response to the Catholic Church’s call for lay people to play a more active role in its work. Jo Siedlecka was named in June as one of the Catholic women of the year.
Jo Siedlecka said: “I’ve been a journalist for nearly 25 years. There are sensitive stories where people’s lives or jobs would be at risk if they were named. I have never revealed a source and don’t intend to start now.”
“After super-injunctions this is an attempt to revive a discredited way of stifling the legitimate exercise of freedom of speech. It is a serious threat to journalists and publishers in every field. If this order is granted it will have a profound chilling effect: journalists will no longer be able to protect their sources,” said Martin Sims, Managing Director of PT Publishing Ltd. “We are very proud to be able to provide whatever support we can to Jo.”•
1. For further details on the Norwich Pharmacal Order against the FT see here
2. PolicyTracker has no business link with The Independent Catholic News but is supporting them because of the threat this action poses to journalists and publishers generally.
3. For an excellent article on this story please see also Iptegrity.com: Copyright industry tactics tried against Catholic news website