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Vice President of Colombian Supreme Court criticizes ruling that requires a newspaper to reveal its news sources

A member of the Colombian Supreme Court expressed his disagreement with the ruling of his court’s Civil Chamber that upholds a decision forcing media company Publicaciones Semana to reveal the sources behind one of its publications’ articles.

The new vice president of the court, Álvaro Fernando García said the Supreme Court Civil Chamber’s recent decision to deny a tutela [a resource in the Colombian justice system to restore fundamental rights] from Publicaciones Semana S.A. was “an error.” The court upheld a decision from the Superior Court of Bogotá asking the media company to reveal the evidence behind its claim, including crossing information between the author and the source of the article from magazine Dinero, according to El Espectador.

"I accept that the media have the right to act, to work, and if the source is not taken care of, where would that leave the society? We need a free society, not tied up, not gagged and that teaches us that we have to recover values for a democratic society," García told Colprensa. The judge added that the Court could protect the specific evidence to protect the exercise of journalism.

The judicial decision is based on the claim of civil liability filed by the former vice minister of water Leyla Rojas against magazine Dinero, of Publicaciones Semana, for the publication of the 2013 article “Los Pecados de Eike” (The sins of Eike). The former minister said that the article harmed her, according to El Espectador.

Following the decision of the Supreme Court’s Civil Chamber, Publicaciones Semana was going to bring the case to a second chamber of the Supreme Court.

According to García, the controversial ruling is being reviewed in the second instance, by the Labor Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice, where he anticipates the decision regarding the tutela will be revoked, Colprensa reported.

The Colombian Media Association rejected the Supreme Court’s initial ruling. The organization considered that since the right to source confidentiality and professional secrecy is not protected, Colombian journalism would be forced to disclose sources and evidence, thus establishing "a nefarious and unforgivable antecedent," El Espectador published.

The Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP, for its initials in Spanish) also rejected the court’s decision. Also, the organization warned that this case is not an isolated event since they registered six cases in Colombia in 2017 in which independent journalists received requests from judicial entities to reveal their journalistic material.

Regarding the ruling, former Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Catalina Botero said via Twitter that "it is a violation of international law for them to ask Publicaciones Semana to reveal its sources. It is an essential guarantee of the right to freedom of expression." She added that all social communicators have the right to confidentiality of sources, notes, personal and professional files.

According to El Espectador, if the decision was revoked at the second instance of the Supreme Court it would go to the Constitutional Court for its final review.


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