The Age investigative reporters Nick McKenzie, left, and Richard Baker. Photo: Rebecca Hallas
THE Age has lost its appeal to prevent two journalists being forced into the witness stand in a bribery case that centres on Reserve Bank banknote subsidiary Securency.
Fairfax Media's Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie were subpoenaed in December by lawyers defending former banknote executives accused of bribery. The lawyers are seeking to identify the source of the journalists' December 8 report that an alleged bagman from Indonesia will testify against the accused as a prosecution star witness.
The executives' defence lawyers were set to begin their final arguments the Monday after the article was published, arguing that there was insufficient evidence for the former banknote executives to be committed to trial and that charges should be dismissed because of misbehaviour of investigators - including the use of the media to create prejudicial publicity.
Lawyers for The Age had argued there was no forensic purpose in revealing the sources and also that the sources were not federal police officers.
On Friday Supreme Court judge Michael Sifris said it was not his place to determine ''the correctness of the decision'' by the magistrate, Phillip Goldberg, to issue the subpoenas, but decided that Mr Goldberg had ''acted properly and within jurisdiction''. He said: ''This case is not about the protection of sources by journalists. It is an assessment as to whether correct procedures were followed and the law was complied with.''
He said the phrase ''investigating officers'', whose behaviour defence lawyers had questioned, referred to a broader category than federal police alone.
Victorian laws to protect journalists from revealing their sources came into effect this month but do not apply to the bribery proceedings, which had already begun.
Age editor-in-chief Andrew Holden said the paper would not seek to appeal the matter further but would prepare its reporters for the resumption of the committal hearing on February 4.
''While I fully understand and respect Justice Sifris' decision, and indeed the original judgment by the magistrate hearing the committal, this is a disappointing situation. We now have a shield law in Victoria that would protect Nick and Richard from this subpoena … which was passed with the support of every party in State Parliament.
''The community clearly wants journalists to be able to chase and publish information that is of public interest, even if that means they have to provide confidentiality to a source.''