Thomson, left, and Ferguson
Channel 4 News has reaped immediate benefit from Lord Saville’s decision not to pursue contempt charges against two television journalists for refusing to reveal their sources to the Bloody Sunday inquiry.
Whistleblowers, buoyed by Saville’s announcement, have approached the programme with story leads.
On Friday, the inquiry ruled that to continue to press Alex Thomson, chief correspondent, former Channel 4 News producer Lena Ferguson and ITN to reveal which soldiers they interviewed in 1997 and 1998 was “unlikely to produce new information of any real value and, furthermore, would cause substantial delay in completing the inquiry”.
It is also understood that Daily Telegraph journalist Toby Harnden’s lawyers are moving to have contempt proceedings against him dismissed from the Northern Ireland court and to recoup his costs.
Thomson told Press Gazette that Lord Saville’s ruling was significant because “any whistleblower that goes complaining anonymously this week will have seriously more protection in law, by precedent, than they had last week. I think that’s a really good thing and I have a real hope that now the judiciary is going to think twice before it goes down this route.”
He added: “I’ve had people phone up on three different stories: one, an industrial scandal, another involving serious medical people who maintain that Dr David Kelly couldn’t possibly have committed suicide, and, third, serving soldiers with extraordinary tales to tell, anonymously, about kit shortages in Iraq.
“All of those disparate people, with disparate stories, said, ‘one of the reasons why we came to you is because you are now known as people who just don’t foul up on sources, whatever the cost may be’. That’s a great personal spin-off from this.”
Expressing his relief at the lifting of the contempt threat, Thomson paid tribute to the whistleblowers, “who lubricate our whole business”.
“It’s not about myself and Lena, journalism or Channel 4 News. It’s more about protecting the public whistleblowers. It’s about giving them the confidence to come out and continue doing what they do. There’s no huge risk to us [journalists]. It’s a real risk to ordinary jobs, ordinary livelihoods and ordinary families but people speak out and continue to do it. People never cease to amaze you.”
Ferguson, now head of political programmes at BBC Northern Ireland, said: “Prison wasn’t something I worried about. For me the ordeal was dealing with the inquiry on such a regular basis. As well as the two appearances [at the hearing], there was just this endless round of work, a relentless trawling of notes. That’s what I found much more tiresome, tedious and time consuming.”
By Wale Azeez