European Journalists Call on Brussels to Drop New Legal Threat to Media

“Harmonising the rules on the law applicable so that media can be sued according to different legislations across Europe will cause chaos and endanger press freedom”, warned the European Federation of journalists (EFJ) today, in reaction to last week’s vote in the European Parliament on a proposal for a Regulation on the law applicable to non-contractual obligations (“Rome II”).

The current proposal, as amended last tuesday by the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, says that the law of the country where the damage occurred will apply to privacy infringements, unless a manifestly closer connection may be deemed to exist with a particular country.

“This wording is vague and potentially dangerous”, says Pamela Morinière, project coordinator for the EFJ, “because it could encourage forum shopping, that is someone who is offended by what media say about them choosing a national legal regime which suits their self interest in order to prosecute media. This is unfair and could threaten press freedom. Of course journalists and media companies must take their responsibility in case of privacy infringements. However, Rome II must not be used as a tool to encourage victims of privacy infringements to shop around and select the most repressive EU laws, bearing in mind that most media, either print, electronic or broadcast, are accessible everywhere in Europe ”.

To guarantee legal certainty for journalists and preserve freedom of expression, the EFJ believes that claims for infringement of privacy and rights relating to the personality should be governed by the law of the country for which the publication and broadcast is mainly intended. When a publication or a broadcasting service has an international character, the law of the country in which the editorial control is exercised should apply.

“Journalists must be able to tell their stories in the most independent way, in accordance with Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom (ECHR)”, says the EFJ. “Journalists work according to their national legislation. One should not expect them to check all national legislations in the EU to ensure that their work does not infringe on a legal provision on privacy law in another Member State ”.

“Rome II would, if adopted as it stands, deprive journalists from carrying on their profession in the fairest manner. It will inevitably increase self-censorship thus undermining the public’s right to know”, says Arne König , Chair of the EFJ. “We urgently call on Members of the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council to press the case for equity and fairness in addressing the Rome II Regulation, to preserve independence of the press and democracy within the European Union”.

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The EFJ represents more than 260,000 journalists in over 30 countries across Europe.