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European court delivers landmark judgment on protecting media sources

Unanimous decision overturns ruling that had forced Dutch journalists to reveal the names of partici

The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday delivered a landmark judgment strengthening the protection of journalist's sources, in a case fought between Dutch law enforcement authorities and a magazine.

All 17 judges of the Strasbourg-based court agreed on overturning a ruling that had forced journalists of Autoweek magazine to reveal the names of participants in illegal car races to the police.

The magazine had assured anonymity for participants in an illegal car race in 2002, in exchange for being allowed to send a reporter and photographer.

Police investigating the race then demanded photos taken by journalists that would reveal the identities of their sources. However, the investigators, without adequately stating their need for the photos, threatened the magazine's editor and arrested him, forcing him to hand over the images.

The Dutch Supreme Court later upheld the law enforcers' right to demand the photos.

However, the European Court of Human Rights has overturned that ruling, reaffirming the "vital importance" of protecting sources to press freedom. The ruling will be binding across Europe and could see changes in laws, especially by allowing judges to decide whether law enforcement demands to reveal media sources are reasonable.