Bill strengthens journalists' ability to protect sources

Tuesday 6 March 2012, 6:22PM
By Judith Collins

A Bill to modernise and clarify search and surveillance laws would also significantly improve journalists’ ability to protect the identity of their sources by enhancing ‘journalistic privilege’ in New Zealand law.

Justice Minister Judith Collins says the Search and Surveillance Bill recognises the media’s important role in a free and democratic society.

“Currently, the media cannot prevent material from being seized during a search and therefore viewed and accessed, although they may subsequently challenge its admissibility in court or seek an interim order to prevent it from being used or viewed.

“The Search and Surveillance Bill recognises ‘journalistic privilege’ and provides greater protection for journalists’ sources.

“A journalist can claim privilege over information contained in documents preventing the documents from being searched. The documents would then be secured and taken to the High Court for safekeeping until the claim of privilege can be determined.

“Journalists can also refuse to answer questions that would identify a source therefore ensuring the information cannot be disclosed until a judge has made a determination.

“This is a huge improvement in journalists’ ability to protect the identity of their sources from the current situation,” Ms Collins said.

Improvements to the Bill aimed at further strengthening the principles of ‘journalistic privilege’ were introduced to Parliament on Monday through a Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) to improve the procedure when journalistic privilege is considered.

“Previously, the Bill allowed for a judge of the District Court to consider claims of journalistic privilege. This has now been changed to the High Court.

“It is important that we preserve the principles of media freedom and a journalist’s right to protect sources and this Bill and the SOP enable that,” Ms Collins said.