Full Text

Source Protection

Anthony L. Fargo

Subject Law
Communication and Media Studies » Communication Studies
Media System » Communication Law and Policy

Key-Topics rights

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


Journalists sometimes get information from sources who, for various reasons, wish to keep their identities secret. The use of confidential sources raises a number of complex ethical and legal issues (→  Ethics in Journalism ). To begin with, the idea of keeping information secret seems anathema to the basic purpose of journalism, which is to disseminate information to an audience. Also, some sources wish to remain confidential to hide their participation in questionable behavior, putting journalists in the awkward position of helping people escape social, political, or legal responsibility for their actions. If the identity of the source becomes a central question in a criminal investigation or civil trial, the journalist may have to choose between identifying the source and facing imprisonment or fines for refusing to do so. A journalist who voluntarily reveals a confidential source's identity can face serious professional and legal repercussions (→  Journalism: Legal Situation ). Often, however, confidential sources who want to remain anonymous to protect their jobs, families, or safety have helped journalists expose substantial government or corporate wrongdoing. Perhaps the most famous example is “Deep Throat,” the source who helped guide Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward as they uncovered the →  Watergate scandal in the early 1970s, which led to Richard ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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