Court hears battle over sources
Johannesburg - A discovery application forcing the Mail and Guardian and a journalist to reveal their sources will be damaging to the public interest, the South Gauteng High Court heard on Monday.
Advocate Wim Trengove, for the newspaper and investigative reporter Adriaan Basson, said that without the guarantee of confidentiality sources would "dry up".
It was the function of the media to fulfil a "watchdog role" and "it is the purpose of this function to expose corruption, whether in the private sector or in government", Trengove argued.
Bosasa Operations lodged a complaint of defamation against Basson and the Mail and Guardian after the newspaper published a story alleging that the company had been awarded contracts through corruption and bribery.
It wanted Basson to disclose his sources for the story. He has refused to do so.
Trengove said the confidentiality of sources should be compromised only where the public interest was better served by the revelation than the protection of sources.
However, this had not been proven in this matter.
"Investigative reporters, in particular, would be significantly less efficient if they could not rely on confidential sources," Trengove told the court.
The attempt to compel Basson and the Mail and Guardian to reveal the sources would impact on the constitutionally enshrined rights of freedom of expression and media freedom.
These included the right to receive and impart information and ideas, Trengove said.
As such, it was not for the media's own sake that confidentiality be maintained in the general course, but for the sake of the public interest.
Earlier, Bosasa's Advocate Jeremy Gauntlett contended that there were no exceptional circumstances for the article to be based on undisclosed sources.
Gauntlett described as "too glib" the sources' claim - to Basson - that they needed confidentiality as they feared for their jobs and physical safety.
The case continues.