The Supreme Court Civil Chamber found in a judgment from Monday that a journalist or publication can refuse to reveal the identity of a source in civil court even if the latter has provided false information.
The Supreme Court found that the right to protect sources is an important guarantee of journalistic freedom that creates the premise for a relationship of trust between a journalist and their source. This allows journalists to gain information from sources for whom disclosing it is illegal or would result in other sanctions in matters of public interest.
While the Media Services Act usually prohibits journalists and publications from disclosing information that could lead to the identification of sources without the latter's consent, this ban does not apply to sources who have provided false information.
The chamber clarified that while journalists are at liberty to reveal sources that provide false information, they cannot be forced to do so in civil court. This means that journalistic protection of sources is absolute in civil process.
In criminal process, it is possible to require the disclosure of sources if it is absolutely necessary for solving a severe crime.
The Supreme Court also pointed out that the right to protection of sources does not apply in situations where publications create channels for tips – information without journalistic mediation.
The judgment follows a case where a person demanded Postimees Grupp reveal the author of a tip sent to the Elu24 portal. The publication refused.
Editor: Marcus Turovski