The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) today called for European-wide action to strengthen the rights of journalists after a court in The Hague ordered the release of two newspaper journalists who were jailed on Tuesday for refusing to reveal sources.
“It’s time for European countries to agree to a common position that puts an end to legal uncertainty and dispels the intimidating atmosphere surrounding reporters when they carry out investigative work,” said Aidan White, EFJ General Secretary.
On Monday, Bart Mos and Joost de Haas, veteran reporters for the Netherlands largest newspaper de Telegraaf, were detained when they refused to name their sources when they were called as witnesses in a case against the agent who is suspected of leaking secret dossiers from the AIVD, the Dutch intelligence service, to the underworld. The two reporters had written a story about the affair.
Their detention led to a storm of protest in the Netherlands. Dutch Labour MP Aleid Wolfsen wants to introduce legislation defining the circumstances under which journalists are allowed to protect their sources. The EFJ and the global journalists’ group the International Federation of Journalists backed protests over detentions by the Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ) and the Dutch Society of Chief Editors.
While the EFJ welcomed the decision to release the journalists, it claims that across Europe there is increasing concern among journalists over pressure from police, security forces and governments to name their contacts.
“In the Netherlands, Latvia, Britain, Ireland, Germany, Italy and Denmark we have witnessed actions, legal and illegal, by officials trying to discover who journalists are talking to,” said White. “This intimidating atmosphere is intolerable and it is time for a common commitment in Europe to create national conditions recognising a journalists’ right to confidentiality, which is already protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
The EFJ says the European Human Rights Court has underscored this right, but at national level there is still not enough legal protection. The EFJ was commenting as a landmark decision is awaited on Monday in Denmark, where three journalists working for Berlingske Tidende newspaper will hear the verdict in a case where they are accused of publishing confidential documents, which exposed as false government claims over the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The journalists face fines or up to two years in prison if they are convicted.
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The EFJ represents more than 260,000 journalists in over 30 countries