Anonymous sources in journalism are occasionally essential. In a democracy, the function of a free press is to hold government to account by providing the public with the facts.
So if a source who can prove government wrongdoing requests anonymity out of fear of retribution by the authorities, journalists should honor that request and sources should be confident that it will be honored. Otherwise, such sources will dry up, and the public loses.
For that reason, the attempt by the Prosecutor General’s Office to force, via court order, to investigative journalist Ivan Verstyuk to turn over his emails so that authorities could identify a leaker is dangerous. It is ironic that the leaked information concerned the luxurious lifestyle of a notorious ex-prosecutor arrested for bribery in 2015. The prosecutor remains free while his trial drags on. Authorities here show more urgency in going after journalists than corrupt officials.
The court should take into account the wider public interest. In the scales of justice, the seriousness of the corruption case should have outweighed the seriousness of the leaker’s breach of confidence.
Corruption flourishes for many reasons. One of them is that it is not exposed to proper public scrutiny by a free press. Moreover, Ukraine’s judiciary has shown it protects corrupt elites rather than deliver justice.
It is good, therefore, that weekly news magazine Novoye Vremya, which published Verstyuk’s article, will fight to protect his source all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.
The motives are obvious: Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko in his two-and-a-half-year tenure has failed to secure a single conviction for high-level corruption. He has proven incapable of fighting corruption. In going after Verstyuk’s emails, he appears determined to cover up corruption. Lutsenko should resign and let investigative journalists in Ukraine get on with their work. They’re doing a much better job of fighting corruption than he is doing.