The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European regional group of the International Federation of Journalists, today called on the European Union to put in place procedures to protect journalists from unsubstantiated allegations of wrong-doing by Brussels officials.
The call follows the European Court of Human Rights verdict last week that condemned the Belgian state for acting illegally when it raided a journalist’s home and office three years ago following a complaint by the European Union that he was bribing officials for access to secret documents.
No evidence was found to justify the complaints, which were dismissed by police investigators in Germany, the home base of the reporter. Belgian police have still to make known their findings after almost four years.
Journalists have complained that the action taken against Hans Martin Tillack, who worked in Brussels for the German news magazine Stern, was an attempt to manipulate evidence and silence criticism. And they want procedures to be put in place to prevent other journalists suffering the same fate.
In letters to European Commission President Manuel Barroso, Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini, and head of administration Siim Kallas, the EFJ says, “We look for action to reassure media that there will be in future a special procedure to deal with complaints against journalists, with proper regard for their rights and without the possibility of intimidation.”
A similar request has gone to Franz Hermann Bruner the Director of the Commission’s anti-fraud unit OLAF, which called in German and Belgian police.
“It’s time to draw a line under this case, to reassure journalists that their rights are respected and to avoid actions like this in future,” said Aidan White, EFJ General Secretary.
Tillack was held by Belgian police at the behest of OLAF and was accused of bribing an unknown EU official with up to 8,000 Euro in return for secret files. Police seized his computers, address books, telephone records and documents that exposed his sources inside the EU machinery.
The EFJ has also written to Belgian prosecutor Bruno Bulthe, with the support of Belgian journalists, demanding the return of all the material confiscated in the illegal raids.
In the letters White has outlined questions to be answered by the Commission and OLAF over the case as well as seeking clarification over plans for future dealings with journalists.
“This affair is a test case of whether the European Union can be trusted to handle its investigative and embryonic police powers,” said White. “The facts show that on the basis of hearsay a journalist has been denied justice and subject to intimidation. It is essential it never happens again.”
For more information contact the EFJ at 32 2 235 2200
The EFJ represents over 250,000 journalists in more than 30 countries