When can a court ask a journalist to divulge a source of information?
The case of Mazetti Management Services v amaBhungane  2023-050131 (GJ) (the Mazetti case or Mazetti) explores the circumstances in which a court can request a journalist to reveal their confidential source of information. This summary provides an overview of the case and its implications for the balance between journalistic freedom and the public interest.
Mazetti obtained an ex parte (without notifying the other party) and in camera (in private) order from the urgent motion court. The order demanded the return of digital documents allegedly stolen from the company by a former employee, which were believed to be in the possession of the respondents, an investigative journalistic enterprise, and its individual journalists. Additionally, the order prohibited the journalists from publishing any information derived from or related to the documents.
Importance of Anonymous Sources in Investigative Journalism:
The court acknowledged the significance of investigative journalism in receiving information from sources who wish to remain anonymous. It emphasized the need for courts to strike a balance between safeguarding privacy and confidentiality in private matters and the public’s right to access news, particularly news that exposes wrongdoing.
Evaluation of the Ex Parte Application:
The court deemed the ex parte application by Mazetti as an abuse of the court process. It criticized the decision to seek the order without notifying the journalists and concluded that there was no justifiable reason for such an approach.
Protection of Journalistic Sources:
The court recognized the essential nature of protecting sources for investigative journalism to function effectively. It stated that journalists have the right to refuse to disclose their sources unless doing so would conflict with the public interest.
Proper Notice for Restraining Publication:
The court clarified that any attempt to restrain or forbid a journalist from publishing an intended article must be brought with appropriate notice, allowing the journalist to present their case.
The court set aside the order granted to Mazetti, deeming it invalid. It placed the responsibility for the costs of the respondents (amaBhungane) and the amici (additional parties supporting the journalists) on Mazetti, including the fees for legal representation.
The Mazetti case reaffirms the significance of protecting journalistic sources and emphasizes the need for courts to carefully consider the public interest before compelling journalists to reveal their sources. It also highlights the importance of providing journalists with proper notice and an opportunity to present their case when seeking to restrain publication.