The Age and three of its journalists have been denied a final bid to keep their sources confidential by the High Court of Australia.
The High Court rejected application for leave to appeal by the Fairfax Media masthead, which was seeking to overrule a February 2012 NSW Supreme Court decision that granted Chinese-Australian businesswoman access to documents, which purported that she paid $150,000 to former Labor defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon.
In the 2012 judgement, Justice Lucy McCallum found that a journalist’s pledge to keep sources confidential was “not a right or an end in itself” and could be overridden “in the interests of justice”.
The Age’s solicitor Peter Bartlett said Justice McCallum’s decision had already resulted in more attempts to make journalists give up their sources.
“There has been a significant increase in the number of applications for disclosure of sources against the media,” Mr Bartlett said.
“On that basis this decision is disappointing.”
In February 2010, The Age published two articles by journalists Richard Baker, Philip Dorling and Nick McKenzie alleging Ms Liu had paid Mr Fitzgibbon $150,000 as part of “a campaign to cultivate him as an agent of political or business influence”.
The articles were supported by quotes from 135 pages of documents, said to be her personal and business records, including a list of “money paid” for unstated purposes to 22 people, including Mr Fitzgibbon.
Mr Fitzgibbon denied receiving the payment and launched defamation action, while Ms Liu claimed the documents were forged, or falsely attributed to her, and asked the court to compel the journalists to reveal the identity of their sources, so she could launch defamation action against them.