A legal bid to force The Age to reveal its sources for a series of articles that alleged a Melbourne man was a local Calabrian Mafia head has failed in the Victorian Supreme Court.
Antonio Madafferi, owner of the La Porchetta restaurant franchise, is involved in a defamation action against the newspaper over the articles, published between March 2014 and April 2015.
The Age reported justice John Dixon ruled that he did not believe the identity of the sources was critical to Mr Madafferi’s defamation case and dismissed his application. The defamation trial is set down to begin on August 1 next year.
The decision has been hailed by publishers as a major victory for the right of journalists to protect their sources when defending defamation suits.
It also represents the first major test of Victoria’s shield laws for protection of journalists’ sources which were passed by parliament three years ago.
“It’s an excellent result,” The Age editor-in-chief Andrew Holden said. “It supports investigative journalism that, by its nature, can rely on confidential sources for crucial information. It’s a fundamental part of our ethics that we do not reveal sources if we have promised confidentiality.”
Mr Madafferi claimed the articles defamed him, listing a number of imputations, including that he was a Melbourne mafia leader, was involved in shooting attacks and a large-scale illegal drug trafficking enterprise. He also made application for the newspaper to reveal its sources for the stories.
Justice Dixon said The Age had argued the articles related to matters of significant public interest and scrutiny and accepted that investigative journalist Nick McKenzie was fearful of serious consequences if his sources were named.
“I infer that Mr McKenzie’s fear is caused by police suspicion about the plaintiff’s activities and by the beliefs that Mr McKenzie genuinely entertains about the plaintiff,” The Age reported him saying. “Whoever is the true head of the Calabrian Mafia in Melbourne, if that position truly exists, is likely to be interested in knowing who is informing on the activities of the Mafia.”