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An Australian Supreme Court called for three journalists from Australia’s The Age newspaper to identify three anonymous sources in order to allow a libel suit to go through, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, two February 2010 articles by The Age’s Richard Baker, Philip Dorling and Nick McKenzie by claimed that “Chinese-Australian businesswoman” Helen Liu “paid Joel Fitzgibbon $150,000 as part of ‘a campaign to cultivate him as an agent of political and business influence.'”

Fitzgibbon filed a libel lawsuit against the newspaper over the story and Liu “claims  the documents are forged or falsely attributed to her by a person or people with a vendetta against her” and wants to sue the sources for libel,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Liu “has also issued a writ of defamation against the Age.” According to Stuff.Co.Nz, that writ “has not been served.”

The Supreme Court judge noted that “the documents, particularly three handwritten documents, may be falsely attributed to Ms Liu,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported.  According to News.com.au, Liu’s lawyer suggested the documents and story were a “hoax.”

The Australian reported that the judge found “the interests of justice” outweigh source protection. The judge, Justice McCallum, is quoted as saying

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“The newspaper rule operates as a judicial practice of refusing to compel discovery by a journalist of his or her confidential sources.  It does not amount to a privilege or immunity, and it has always been the case that disclosure of a source when it is necessary in the interests of justice.   The defendants’ submissions have not persuaded me that the constitutionally prescribed system of government requires absolute protection of journalists’ sources.

“In my view, the constitutionally prescribed system of government is likely to be adversely affected by the automatic exclusion of all confidential sources of political information, including sources of lies and misinformation, from the operation of the rule,”

In a separate article, The Australian noted that the three Age journalists “only ever dealt with via e-mail” one of the sources, who also asked for money for the documents.  According to The Australian, The Age agreed to pay $10,000 to the source as a “research fee” despite the original request of $120,000.  “The request for payment was eventually withdrawn.”

The newspaper will appeal and its editor Paul Ramadge defended their reporting, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Ramadge is quoted as saying “We stand by our journalists and the detailed analysis and fact checking that occurred prior to publication. And on the central issue of sources, we pledged to protect them and we will.”

We have written to The Age to ask for more information about this and to see if the newspaper did pay the source. We will update with any response.

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3 Anonymous Sources to be named for Australian Defamation Suit

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