Letter to the Portuguese Parliament on Protection of Sources and Authors' Rights in the draft proposal for revision of the Journalism Law

Assembleia da República

Grupo Parlamentar do Partido Socialista

Grupo Parlamentar do Partido Social Democrata

Grupo Parlamentar do Partido Comunista

Grupo Parlamentar do Partido CDS/Partido Popular

Grupo Parlamentar do Bloco de Esquerda

Grupo Parlamentar do Partido Ecologista Os Verdes

Ministro dos Assuntos Parlamentares - Augusto Santos Silva

Palácio de São Bento

1249 – 068 Lisboa, Portugal


Authors' Rights in the draft proposal for revision of the Journalism Law

The International Federation of Journalists and its European group, the European Federation of Journalists expresses its deep concerns over the proposals to alter the Portuguese Journalism Law presented to the legislative assembly.

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists worldwide. It is alarmed by aspects of the proposals which threaten the free reporting which is essential in any democracy by, as we are informed, weakening journalists' rights to protect their confidential sources; which weaken journalists' essential right to determine where their work is re-used; and which weaken journalists' rights to defend the integrity of their work against damaging alterations.

Protection of confidential sources is essential

The proposal that Courts that are faced with certain alleged offences may order journalists to disclose their confidential sources, merely on the grounds that it would be “difficult to obtain information in any other way”, is completely unacceptable in a democratic society. The journalistic investigations which are most necessary to the functioning of democracy include precisely those likely to involve threats to life, the security of the state and organised crime. These are also among the investigations most likely to depend on “whistleblowers” who fear for their safety and security and therefore insist on anonymity.

If such a measure were passed, such sources would be deterred from coming forward and the public would remain uninformed about vital matters. If it is passed, it will inevitably face challenge in the European Court of Human Rights. There has been a lot of case law at the European Court of Justice undermining the principle of the importance of protection of sources for press freedom (Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights). It would be extremely unwise and destructive of media freedom for Portugal to repeat the experience of the United Kingdom, where this “chilling effect” hampered free reporting for six years before Bill Goodwin won his case at the Court.

Random re-use is not acceptable

The proposal that journalists' employers and clients may assume the right to re-use work in any way for 30 days following their first publication poses a threat to the integrity of journalists and journalism. Codes of ethical conduct, for example, rightly forbid journalists endorsing products through advertising. The suggestion that this presumed transfer should apply to uses which did not exist or were not envisaged agreements is bizarre and is contrary to best practice in European legislation. It inverts the function of the law by removing protection from authors in favour of the clients and employers that have a dominant position in negotiations to overturn this presumption and have an obvious interest in withholding equitable remuneration for such re-use.

Journalists must be able to protect their work

Despite promising protection of journalists' intellectual creations within existing Code, the Government’s proposal introduces serious restrictions that our Portuguese colleagues see as transforming wage-earning journalists into second-class authors. Though the proposal states that journalists may oppose modifications of their work (only) when these may affect their good name or reputation, it would effectively grant their hierarchical superiors the right of free modification or even distortion, since the presumed changes for reasons of formatting, linguistic correction or style, given the vagueness of these terms. The proposal to allow journalists to remove their names from badly-edited pieces is simply impracticable: when modifications are made without the journalist’s knowledge, they will only discover this after publication.

In the face of massive concentration of media ownership, the strictly commercial objectives of these media groups and the growing precariousness of journalists’ work relations, the EFJ and IFJ has launched a global campaign to reinforce authors’ rights protection of journalists. This is not only important to defend the professional dignity of journalists and the conscience clause, but is also essential for the defence of the free, responsible and diverse information necessary responsible citizenship and democracy itself.

The EFJ and IFJ therefore support the Portuguese Union of Journalists in its defence of the rights of journalists and citizens, which would be compromised if the government proposal were approved. We appeal to the President of the Republican Assembly and the Parliamentary Groups to amend the proposal to correct the serious threats it currently contains to the protection of freedom of information and the rights of journalists.

With Kind Regards,

Aidan White,

IFJ/EFJ General Secretary.