Court to rule on CBC reporter’s right to protect sources

In a unique case for media law, next week Fred Kozak, president of the Canadian Media Lawyers Association, will defend a CBC reporter’s journalist-source privilege — against another media outlet.

The case is complicated, with three separate-yet-connected issues: a small-town doctor’s reputation, a libel suit against a Yukon newspaper and the CBC’s right to protect its sources.

J-Source reported on the case in December, and the judge is expected to rule on the reporter’s portion of the case on Monday. From our original piece:

“This story began in 2004, when CBC
reporter Nancy Thomson interviewed residents of the Yukon’s Watson Lake
for a series about drug and alcohol abuse in the small town.
Her high profile story enraged at least two Watsonians, Maclean’s reports.

Secerbegovic, a Watson Lake physician that also owns the community’s
only private pharmacy, dubbed the reporter a “National Enquirer
journalist” while Yukon Premier and Watson Lake MLA Dennie Fentie walked
out of the CBC studio mid-interview.

“The Yukon News
wrote an editorial criticizing these outbursts, calling Thomson’s
report as “a masterful bit of journalism” and an important public
service. Maclean’s writes that
the editorial  “also noted that Fentie’s wife worked for Secerbegovic,
and the doctor had a contract to buy property from Fentie.”

Secerbegovic launched a lawsuit against The Yukon News in 2005, claiming libel. The paper then requested Thomson’s notes, in order to identify her sources, which she has refused to hand over.

Kozak says he will “vigorously defend” Thomson, suggesting that the Supreme Court ruling on the Globe and Mail reporter Daniel Leblanc case will work in their favour. In that case, Maclean’s
reports, “Canada’s highest court maintained that journalist-source
privilege must still be determined on a case-by-case basis, but it
instructed lower courts that privilege should be denied only when all
other avenues have been exhausted, and the identities of sources are
essential in the quest for justice.”