OSCE defends Guardian in British police hacking probe

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Global security watchdog OSCE called Monday for British police probing the phone hacking scandal to drop legal moves to force a whistle-blowing newspaper to disclose its sources.

The Guardian newspaper has come under pressure from London's Metropolitan Police Service who are seeking a court order to identify the source of its reports on alleged voicemail hacking at the now-defunct News of the World.

The Vienna-based Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said such a move could have a "chilling effect" on investigative journalism and has written to Foreign Secretary William Hague calling on the British government to ask police to abandon the court move.

"I am concerned that, if approved by the attorney general, this attempt by the Metropolitan Police to apply the Official Secrets Act could create a precedent with a chilling effect on investigative journalism and could impede media freedom," said media freedom spokeswoman Dunja Mijatovic.

"The right of journalists to protect the identity of their confidential sources has been repeatedly declared a basic requirement for freedom of expression by the OSCE."

Mijatovic added: "The European Court of Human Rights in its case law makes it clear that the potentially chilling effect of such an order is not compatible with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights unless justified by an overriding requirement in the public interest."

The Guardian was at the forefront in exposing the scandal at media baron Rupert Murdoch's Sunday tabloid.

The paper said Saturday that police intended to go before a judge at London's Old Bailey, England's central criminal court, on September 23 to apply for an order under the Official Secrets Act 1989 requiring it to hand over documents relating to the source of information for a number of articles.

It said police thought the act could have been breached in July when the Guardian revealed that the voicemail of a teenage murder victim had been hacked into. The story led to a public outcry and the News of the World closed shortly afterwards.

Editor Alan Rusbridger has condemned the move as "vindictive."

"We shall resist this extraordinary demand to the utmost," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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