Risking eight days in jail

A Danish journalists risks a fine of 5000 Danish Crowns (€ 670) or eight days in jail, because he wants to protect information obtained from sources. The decision to fine the journalist, if he did  not witness in a court case, was appealed to the Danish High Court (Højesteret), where it is currently pending.

Morten Frich works for one of Denmark’s large dailies Berlingske Tidende and last year won the most important Danish journalism award for unveiling shortcomings in the Danish Police.

Since then he has been covering an ongoing fight between criminal gangs and was recently called to witness in a case involving a former gang-member, who now is a principal witness.

In this case the name of one source appears to be known, as one of the articles of Frich is presented as an interview with the principal witness. However the court wishes to obtain further details of information, which Morten Frichs denies to give, as they could reveal his source or sources.

“Just because a source is mentioned, there still are many things in the relation between a journalist and a source that need to be protected. The court attempts to bypass the protection of source, which is serious, as we thus risk that sources stop talking in these very important cases,” says chairperson of the Danish Union of Journalists, Mogens Blicher Bjerregaard, to Berlingske Tidende.

Morten Frich in his articles described, how the detention facilities for the principal witness are much worse than for gang members, and how the ex-gang witness is suffering from that.

In the decision by the court Vestre Landsret the law safeguarding protection of journalists’ sources when witnessing in court cases is mentioned (Retsplejeloven article 172). The wording explicitely mentions, that journalists and editors are not obliged to mention, who are their sources. However the law also states, that this protection only can be applied if the source is not identified.

Read more about protection of journalists’ sources in Europe: European Federation of Journalists, Privacy International, University Ghent