Judge to decide if journalists testify

Last updated 15:22 21/12/2012

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A Supreme Court judge will decide whether two Australian Fairfax journalists should give evidence over the banknote bribery scandal after a magistrate said the journalistic principle of protecting sources was not recognised by the law.

The Age journalists Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker have been subpoenaed to give evidence over a story related to the committal hearing for Reserve Bank of Australia subsidiary executives alleged to have been involved in a conspiracy to bribe public officials at foreign banks in a bid to secure contracts to make plastic banknotes.

But Fairfax's defence lost a fight on Thursday against the summons to give evidence, prompting them to go to the Victorian Supreme Court to have the decision reviewed.

The parties appeared before Justice Kevin Bell on Friday, who ordered the matter be heard on January 10.

The journalists' reports on the scandal since 2009 have been credited with triggering police investigations into the conspiracy allegations.

The subpoenas were issued to the journalists following a report on December 8 which said Indonesian businessman Radius Christanto had agreed to testify that the executives had used him to pay bribes to Indonesian officials in return for contracts.

In the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Thursday, Fairfax barrister Matthew Collins SC argued the witness summons should be set aside on the basis that they served no legitimate forensic purpose, or alternatively, because they were premature, given the prosecution was still unable to inform the court of whether  Christanto would be called to give evidence.

He said the journalists were bound by The Age's code of conduct, as well as the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance code of ethics, not to reveal the identity of sources to whom they had promised anonymity.

However, Magistrate Phillip Goldberg said he did not propose to set aside the subpoenas because the journalistic principle of protecting sources was not recognised by Victorian law.

The former executives from RBA subsidiaries Securency and Note Printing Australia are alleged to have paid multimillion-dollar commissions to middlemen with connections to high-ranking public officials at foreign banks in Indonesia and Malaysia between 1999 and 2004.

Large portions of the commissions were allegedly passed on to the officials as bribes to obtain and retain contracts for the banknote companies.

The committal hearing will resume on February 4.

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- AAP

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