In an important test case on the rights of journalists to protect their sources, Channel 4 Television is contesting a court order under the Prevention of Terrorism Act to disclose the name of an informant who supplied material for the programme, The Committee.
Channel 4 Television claims that to disclose the name would be in breach of its agreement with the man - referred to in court as 'Source A' - and that it could put his life in danger.
Andrew Collins QC, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, said that under the Prevention of Terrorism Act the company was obliged to provide names of anyone who had alleged information about terrorist activity. The programme, part of Channel 4's award-winning Dispatches series, broadcast in October, alleged that a conspiracy of the security forces, loyalist paramilitaries and senior members of the professional classes in Northern Ireland was responsible for the deaths of more than 20 IRA terrorists over the past three years.
The group, known as the Ulster central co-ordinating committee, singled out IRA members and arranged for their murder.
The programme investigated four loyalist murders of suspected IRA terrorists and appeared to conclude that there was some evidence to back up the claims.
The chief source for the story was a man who claimed to be a member of the 'committee', who was not identified and was seen only in silhouette, his words read by an actor. Channel 4 claimed that he put himself at considerable risk by coming forward.
Mr Collins said the RUC issued a statement saying the programme was 'an unjust, unsubstantiated slur'. It approached Channel 4 with a request for details in order to carry out its own investigation.
The programme-makers supplied a dossier of information and a transcript of the interview with 'Source A', but this had been edited to prevent his identification. A researcher had since disclosed that much of the material had been taken abroad.
Channel 4 Television and Box Productions, which made the film, have been held in contempt of court and risk unlimited fines and sequestration of assets.
Liz Forgan, Channel 4's director of programmes, has said that the evidence could only be broadcast after undertakings to sources not to reveal their identities.
The case continues today.Reuse content