Rinehart urged to rethink legal move on finance journalist

Lawyers for Fairfax Media's biggest shareholder, Gina Rinehart, have denied they are trying to force senior Fairfax journalist Adele Ferguson to reveal her sources.

Lawyers for Fairfax Media's biggest shareholder, Gina Rinehart, have denied they are trying to force senior Fairfax journalist Adele Ferguson to reveal her sources.

The apparent back-pedal by Australia's richest woman came after opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull called on her to "reconsider" her legal attack on Ferguson.

Mrs Rinehart has obtained a court order forcing Ferguson to hand over details of contact with Mrs Rinehart's estranged son, John Hancock.

Ferguson risks jail if she does not comply with the subpoena, issued by the West Australian Supreme Court.

Mrs Rinehart's lawyer, Corrs Chambers Westgarth partner Mark Wilks, said Ferguson had acknowledged Mr Hancock as a source in her unauthorised biography Gina Rinehart: The Untold Story of the Richest Woman in the World.

"No one is seeking to force her to reveal her source," Mr Wilks said. He also complained of "sensationalist and inaccurate reports" of the subpoena.

On Wednesday, Mr Turnbull took to Twitter to offer Ferguson his support. "Adele Ferguson is doing [the] right thing protecting her sources and Gina Rinehart w[oul]d be well advised, given her media interests, to reconsider," he said.

In addition to her 15 per cent stake in Fairfax, Mrs Rinehart sits on the board of Network Ten. Ferguson said she would not bow to pressure from Mrs Rinehart to reveal her contact with sources. "Mrs Rinehart is demanding that I hand over a vast amount of confidential information," she said.

Mrs Rinehart's subpoena gives Ferguson until March 29 to produce records of interviews, emails and text messages to court-appointed arbitrator Tony Fitzgerald, QC.

Journalists are bound by the industry code of ethics to "where confidences are accepted, respect them in all circumstances".

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