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Colombian Inspector General will intervene in case before Supreme Court to protect journalists’ sources

Following widespread concern from journalists and press advocates after the Colombian Supreme Court ruled a media company must reveal communication with its sources, the country’s Inspector General said it would intervene in the case.

Cover of the edition of Dinero containing the article in question, “Los Pecados de Eike,” or Eike’s Sins (Dinero)

The Inspector General made the announcement on Jan. 16 and said the court’s ruling “could jeopardize professional secrecy and source confidentiality,” according to El Espectador.

The case concerns a July 12, 2013 article in magazine Dinero about Brazilian business magnate Eike Batista. The article mentioned “apparent irregularities” by Leyla Rojas, former vice minister of water who at the time was responsible for sustainability at the CCX Colombia coal project, which was owned by Batista, according to CNN Español.

Following the publication, Rojas sent Dinero a 26-page reply, El Colombiano reported. Publicaciones Semana said it published parts of the reply in a later edition.

Rojas sued Publicaciones Semana S.A., the media company that owns Dinero and other Colombian magazines, and requested evidence including emails, communications and other documents used for the article, according to the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP, for its acronym in Spanish).

The court of the first instance denied the case. However, the Superior Court of Bogota later admitted it. And, in a ruling dated Dec. 7, the Supreme Court denied a tutela [a resource in the Colombian justice system to restore fundamental rights] from Publicaciones Semana S.A. The media company said that divulging its sources, which support journalistic investigation, would mean the end of any media outlet, but that it could display the documents without the names of recipients, senders or data that would reveal the origin of information, according to El Espectador.

However, in the ruling, the court said the “display of such documents becomes indispensable in the judgement of the applicant, in order to know the authenticity of the allegations made in the journalistic article.”

Publicaciones Semana said it will continue to pursue legal remedies to avoid revealing its sources, according to El Colombiano.

Once the decision was reported, various press advocates rejected court’s ruling and its implications for journalists’ professional secrecy and protection of sources.

According to the FLIP, “the decisions of magistrates Eluin Guillermo Abreo, Superior Court, and Luis Armado Tolosa, of the Supreme Court, violate source confidentiality, an essential figure for the free exercise of journalism, recognized in international law and guaranteed by the Constitution, which provides that ‘professional secrecy is inviolable.’” The organization added that the recent ruling is “not an isolated fact” and that since 2017 it has documented a trend of authorities increasingly ordering journalists to provide protected documents.

The Colombian Association of Information Media (AMI) said “A nefarious antecedent is created against essential elements for the exercise of professional journalism in the country.” The organization pointed out that Article 74 of the Colombian Constitution provides protection for sources.

AMI also gathered information about various news publications and associations that have also expressed concern over the ruling.

Now, the Assistant Delegate for Constitutional Affairs of the Inspector General will intervene in the second instance of the case before a different chamber of the Supreme Court, as reported by El Espectador.

If the media company also loses in this last instance, it could present the case before the country’s Constitutional Court which, if it decides to revise the case, could have the last word, according to W Radio.

In the past, the Constitutional Court has ruled in favor of source confidentiality. In a ruling from September 2017, responding to tutela, the Court denied a plastic surgeon’s request tleo review the journalistic material of an investigation, according to Noticias Caracol.

In the ruling, the Court said that "the confidentiality of sources is a central part of freedom of information, and a fundamental right of those who practice journalism, whose freedom and independence the state must, according to the political constitution, especially protect.”


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