PETALING JAYA: Malaysia should have a law to protect journalists from being forced to reveal their sources, similar to the “shield law” in the United States.
Malaysian Press Institute (MPI) chief executive officer Datuk Chamil Wariya said that under current laws, journalists were forced to disclose their sources if the court demanded it.
“This is why I have been advocating shield law, where journalists will be protected. Just like in Britain, if the court says reveal, we have to unless we introduce a progressive law,” he said.
Shield law is practised in several states in the US, where journalists are protected from revealing information, including their sources.
Chamil said that although the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) code of ethics was practised, it was only a guideline and had no legal standing.
“We are not above the law,” he said.
NUJ (peninsular) president Chin Sung Chew said it had always been the union’s stand that journalists should be given the right to refuse to reveal their sources.
“For media workers, our stand is very clear. We have to protect our sources. Otherwise, it interferes with media freedom,” he said.
On Monday, the High Court dismissed The Star journalist Tarshini Sukumaran’s application to be released from testifying in the terrorism trial of Yazid Sufaat and Muhammad Hilmi Hasim.
Justice Mohd Azman Husin also ruled that the NUJ code of ethics had no legal binding.
Lawyer Yee Mei Ken said those in the industry tended to operate with the misinformation that there was a special privilege that protected journalists, and this had to be corrected.
“The only protection that journalists have is at the pre-trial stages when it comes to libel suits, where a journalist can argue fair comment.”
He added that for cases such as Tarshini’s, lawyers usually approached the case on the basis that the information would not be relevant to the case.
“If the court can be convinced that the information would not affect the outcome of a particular case, the journalist can avoid giving testimony,” he said.