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UN tribunal hears arguments on reporter's refusal to testify

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         THE HAGUE         Confidentiality/Privilege         Oct 7, 2002    

UN tribunal hears arguments on reporter’s refusal to testify

  • News organizations plead their case, but prosecutors say the point might be moot.

Lawyers speaking on behalf of more than 30 news organizations argued Oct. 3 that journalists should not be forced to testify in the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

The court heard several hours of argument on the issue of whether Jonathan Randal, a former correspondent for The Washington Post, must respond to a subpoena from prosecutors to testify against Radoslav Brdjanin, a former Bosnian Serb officer on trial for war crimes.

First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams of New York argued on behalf of the news media coalition, which includes The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, and The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Geoffrey Robertson, a London-based international media lawyer, represented Randal.

The media attorneys argued that the neutrality and independence of war correspondents would be compromised if journalists are required to respond to subpoenas before the war court, according to accounts from the hearings. Journalists’ safety also could be jeopardized, the lawyers argued.

The media coalition would like the tribunal to adopt a limited privilege for journalists, requiring them to testify only when the information sought from them is absolutely essential and cannot be obtained from other sources.

Prosecutors argued that reporters are not entitled to special privileges.

However, the arguments may be moot, because prosecutors now say Randal’s testimony may not be necessary, according to reports.

Prosecutors originally subpoenaed Randal because they want to question him about an article the reporter wrote about Brdjanin in 1993. In June 2002, a lower court ruled that Randal could not choose not to testify.

It is uncertain whether the tribunal will make a decision on the privilege issue if prosecutors withdraw the subpoena of Randal.

If a decision is made, lawyers do not expect the decision for at least a month.

(Prosecutor v. Radoslav Brdjanin; Media amici counsel: Floyd Abrams, Cahill Gordon & Reindel, New York, N.Y.) WT

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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