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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Rules Reporters Can Shield Sources

BRUSSELS -- Europe's leading human rights court ruled Wednesday journalists have the right to protect sources and ordered the British government to pay damages to a reporter fined for refusing to name an informant.

The European Court of Human Rights overturned a "potentially chilling" British court order that fined journalist William Goodwin ?5,000 ($7,500) for refusing to reveal the source of a story.

"It's a landmark judgment," said Aidan White, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists.

The court ordered the British government to pay Goodwin costs and expenses totaling ?37,595 ($56,392).

"Protection of journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions of press freedom," the court ruled. "Without such protection, sources could be deterred from assisting the press in informing the public in matters of public interest."

The ruling is the latest blow by European legal authorities against Britain.

A string of recent judgments by the Strasbourg human rights court and the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice on issues ranging from fish catch quotas to anti-terrorism measures have outraged "euro-skeptics" opposed to the interference of European institutions in British affairs.

Goodwin had been working as a trainee reporter at The Engineer magazine for just four months when he took a call in November 1989 that would place him at the center of a legal storm. The caller told him the computer company Tetra Ltd. was facing losses of ?2.1 million.

When Goodwin called the company to confirm the information, Tetra obtained a court order banning publication of the article and telling him to name his source. When Goodwin refused, he was fined for contempt of court.

British courts sided with the company, which argued the information given to Goodwin had been obtained from stolen company documents.