(by Claire Grady, Sunday Tribune)
Legal attempts to force Sunday Tribune journalist Ed Moloney to hand over notes of a sensitive interview to the RUC have been described by an international human rights group as a 'diversionary tactic'. This newspaper's Northern Editor will appear in a Belfast court in eight days time to fight a court order directing him to part with notes relating to his coverage of the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane.
The journalist, who says he will go to prison in order to protect his sources, faces a jail term of up to five years and a fine if the court order stands and he refuses to comply.
A number of US-based human rights organisations have added their voices to those of civil rights groups here expressing their concern at the action being taken against Moloney.
Mike Posner of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, a respected New York-based group which has taken a keen interest in the Finucane murder said Ed Moloney had played an important role in stimulating public debate about the murder and it was "critical that he and people like him have the latitude to get at the truth".
The records referred to by the court order are of interviews Moloney conducted with William Stobie, the man charged in June with the 1989 murder of the solicitor. Stobie was a member of the UDA who acted as an agent for the RUC Special Branch and he insists he gave his 'handlers' sufficient information for them to have prevented Finucane's death. His account of events leading up to and following the murder, and his description of police involvement was published in the Sunday Tribune in June.
Within days of the article appearing, its author Ed Moloney was contacted by the Stevens inquiry which recently began a fresh criminal investigation into the murder and into allegations of British army and/or RUC collusion. An RUC Chief Inspector asked the journalist to make a statement and to hand over his notes. Moloney's refusal was followed a short time later by the serving of the court order which the journalist is now seeking to have overturned.
The legal pursuit of Moloney has been heavily criticised by civil and human rights groups.
"We are very, very concerned about the (UK) government's willingness to actually get to the actors responsible for the Finucane murder. Going after a journalist who has information the government already has appears to be diversionary tactics", said Julia Hall of the Human Rights Watch organisation in the US.
"We have always been concerned with the emergency legislation in Northern Ireland, this is a further abuse of the emergency laws".
Media commentator Roy Greenslade said the journalist's life could be at risk if he was forced to reveal his sources. "No journalist should ever be compelled on any occasion, at any time, to reveal his or her sources especially in a war situation. Even if we are in a so-called period of peace it is still a volatile situation in which he still would be putting his life in danger", he said.
Matt Cooper, editor of the Sunday Tribune, said the newspaper was giving its full support to its Northern Editor.
"We believe that this action is unnecessary and unjustified and we will continue to stand by Ed Moloney", he said.
The National Union of Journalists, which is supporting the journalist's challenge to the court order, said the organisation was "extremely worried" by the implications of the case. Journalists would not only compromise their ability to work if they were to reveal their sources, in certain circumstances they would also be putting their lives at risk.
"The protection of sources is of fundamental importance to all journalists but the nature of the conflict in Northern Ireland is such that it takes on an added dimension and any pressure on journalists to reveal sources not only interferes with their ability to do their work but can be a real threat to their lives", said NUJ National organiser, Seamus Dooley.