The International Federation of Journalists today called on European leaders to investigate whether or not there is systematic spying on journalists by security officials across the European Union following recent reports from Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands of prosecution of journalists, use of paid informants in media and telephone tapping.
”It is becoming increasingly clear that there are not sufficient measures in place to protect legitimate journalism from intrusive and potentially chilling surveillance by police and security forces within the European Union,” said Aidan White, General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists.
In letters to Manuel Barrosso the President of the European Commission, Franco Frattini, the EU Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, and Josep Borrell, President of the European Parliament, White said that a culture of routine surveillance appeared to be developing which could be dangerous for independent journalism and press freedom.
”It’s time for a clear and unambiguous statement from the European Union about the threats to press freedom when security services invade a reporter’s space in the newsroom,” said White.
He asked the Commission and the Parliament to investigate whether there is any co-ordinated policy of surveillance of media in Europe, whether police forces were co-operating in actions directed at media or journalists and whether the European Union will intervene to remind member states of their obligations to provide support for the right of media to report freely and the right of journalists to protect sources.
The IFJ action was provoked after its Dutch affiliate the Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ) and the country editors’ association this week called for protection for journalists from eavesdropping by the country’s national intelligence service after it emerged that two journalists had their communications tapped by security services.
The row broke after Interior Minister Johan Remkes told the Dutch parliament that journalists were not shielded from investigation by the security agency the AIVD and the prosecution service in response to the revelation that journalists working for the leading daily De Telgraaf had had their telephones tapped.
The IFJ is supporting a process of official complaints being made to the Dutch government by both De Telegraaf and the country editors’ association.
Meanwhile, in Germany, the government has begun to pull the spies out of German media after a scandal erupted two weeks ago over reports that correspondents had been put under surveillance to stop leaks to the press. The government says the Federal security agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), has been ordered not to undertake operative measures against journalists after revelations that the BND had monitored reporters and even paid journalists to spy on their colleagues.
The reports have created a political storm and outrage among journalists in a country that is particularly sensitive in the postwar period to any abuses of power at the security services or violations of press freedom.
And last month the IFJ protested over the violation of press rights in Denmark after the decision to put on trial two journalists who exposed the Government’s lack of credible evidence for its decision to back the invasion of Iraq. Jesper Larsen and Michael Bjerre two journalists from the newspaper Berlingske Tidende have been charged with "publishing information illegally obtained by a third party" under Article 152-d of the Criminal Code. If convicted they face lengthy jail terms.
Their “crime” was to tell the truth about the lack of information justifying Government claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the invasion of Iraq. The prosecution is a violation of press rights says the IFJ which, although not a matter of surveillance as in the other cases, shows how reporters are being victimized for having made public vital information which embarrassed the government.
“It is unconscionable that journalists in Europe should be spied upon, that security services should be using paid informants inside media, that our telephones should be routinely tapped and that reporters should be prosecuted for doing their professional duty,” says White.
The IFJ last year published a detailed report on Journalism and the Threat to Civil Liberties arising from the global war on terrorism and warned that security concerns were being used as a cover for a wider and deeper attack on civil liberties around the world.
The IFJ has also protested over recent reports that United States journalists are having their telephones tapped by security services (more click here).
In particular, the IFJ says that the ability of journalists to protect their sources of information is being compromised. “Governments are trying to enforce new standards of secrecy that are a violation of press freedom and the peoples right to know,” said White. “It’s time for governments at national and international level to change direction in favour of protection of fundamental liberties.”
The IFJ is calling on the EU to uphold key principles of quality journalism enshrined in previous decisions taken by the European Court of Human Rights, "cornerstone of the press freedom", (case "Goodwin" and "Canard enchaîné"), and the recommendation of the Council of Europe R (2000) 7 on the right of journalists not to disclose their sources of information adopted on March 8th 2000.
IFJ Press release: http://www.ifj-europe.org/default.asp?Index=3862&Language=EN
Website of Danish Union of Journalists:
IFJ Press release: http://www.ifj-europe.org/default.asp?Index=3917&Language=EN
DJV Press release: http://www.djv.de/aktuelles/presse/archiv/2006/12a_05_06.shtml
JU in ver.di Press release: http://dju.verdi.de/pressemitteilungen/showNews?id=549771a6-ecd3-11da-47f8-000e0c672486
Letters on Website of Dutch Union of Journalists:
Background in English:
For further information please contact: +32 2 235 2215
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries