27 February 1998


Clinton advisor's testimony breaches international law

Incident details


(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - ARTICLE 19 condemns the action which, on 26 February,
forced President Clinton's advisor, Sidney Blumenthal, to disclose to a
federal grand jury names of journalists and contents of his discussions with
the media.

Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel, served a wide-ranging subpoena on Mr
Blumenthal, claiming that he needed details of Mr Blumenthal's
communications with journalists to investigate a possible obstruction of
justice. ARTICLE 19 is unable to see how private communications could, in
themselves, bring this about. Additionally, most democracies do not find it
necessary to breach the confidential relationship between journalists and
their sources for this purpose; in this type of case, means which are less
harmful to freedom of expression should be used.

Frances D'Souza, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19 said: "Protection for the
confidential relationship between journalists and their sources of
information is one of the basic conditions for press freedom, central to
ensuring a flow of information to journalists, which in turn enables them to
pass that information on to the public. This action clearly breaches the
fundamental principle of press freedom and hence the obligations of the
United States under the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights. ARTICLE 19 calls on Mr. Starr to stop using his power to breach
press freedom in this way. We also call on judges in the United States to
apply the First Amendment, protecting free speech, to prevent forced
disclosures of this sort."

In a landmark case on precisely this issue, Goodwin v the United Kingdom,
the European Court of Human Rights stated that:

Having regard to the importance of the protection of journalistic sources
for press freedom in a democratic society and the potentially chilling
effect an order of source disclosure has on the exercise of that freedom,
such a measure [breaches the guarantee of freedom of expression] unless it
is justified by an overriding requirement in the public interest.

In that case, a company was seeking to expose a disloyal employee. This was
not considered sufficient to warrant an order for source disclosure.

Although cases usually involve an order for journalists to reveal their
sources, it is the confidentiality of the relationship which merits
protection. This interest is equally important where the order to disclose
is directed at a potential source.


ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression
6-8 Amwell Street
United Kingdom
info (@) article19.org
Fax:+44 20 7278 7660
United States

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