IFJ Vows to Carry On Fight for Protection of Journalists’ Sources After European Court Defeat

The International Federation of Journalists today said it was determined to continue the fight in the case of an investigative journalist seeking to protect his sources despite a court decision that could see his confidential files falling into the hands of European Union officials, even before the police investigation of his case is completed.

The President of the Court of First Instance in Luxembourg on Friday dismissed an application for interim measures by Stern investigative reporter Hans-Martin Tillack, to prevent the European Union’s anti-fraud office (OLAF) from inspecting material seized in a raid on his offices in Brussels in March this year.

He was directed by the Court to take his case to the Belgian courts which, according to the Luxembourg judges, are “considered to provide sufficient relief in his situation”.

“This decision fails to protect journalists from officials fishing through their confidential files,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “It fails to deal with our concerns and passes the matter over to a legal regime in which, to be frank, journalists have little confidence. It is a regrettable decision and a blow to the campaign to protect journalists’ sources of information.”

In June, the IFJ joined Tillack in a submission to the European Court against the European Commission to prevent OLAF from inspecting material which, says the IFJ, “is just none of their business.” Under present arrangements OLAF could in theory have access to all documents seized by police, even those which have nothing to do with the original complaint against Tillack.

Tillack was informed in 2002 by an OLAF official that the suspicion he had paid for information had been raised by a Commission press official, Joachim Gross. This led to a complaint to the Belgian authorities who raided his office and home for documents.

The IFJ says offering the case to Belgian courts is not helpful given the poor levels of legal protection for journalists’ sources in Belgium. Ironically, the Belgian Parliament is currently discussing new rules that include protection of sources, but it will be weeks or months before this draft proposal is ratified and brought into force.

Tillack was responsible for originally exposing the scandal at the European Union statistical agency, Eurostat, which saw millions of Euro siphoned off into secret bank accounts. His actions as a Brussels reporter over the years have irritated senior officials within the Commission and his work has come under close scrutiny.

“This decision comes after unorthodox court proceedings and the reasons given for dismissing the case are technical and weak,” said White. “We will continue to campaign to have the case against Tillack thrown out.”

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries