Tuesday, October 19, 2004

EU court ends protection of press sources.

As noted by both Samizdata and the EU referendum blog, the Telegraph has reported a disturbing development in EU law, whereby the European Court has made a ruling that will seriously undermine investigative journalism.

The case concerns Hans-Martin Tillack, a journalist whose articles for Germany's Stern magazine have exposed fraud and corruption in the EU, relying on inside testimony. Tillack's computer, address books, telephone records and 1000 pages of notes were obtained by the European Commission, after being seized by Belgian police acting on EU instructions. By perusing the information held by these, the Commission could find out who Mr Tillack's sources were.

Mr Tillack had been arrested in March and held incommunicado for 10 hours, for allegedly bribing an official to obtain internal EU documents. However, according to the Telegraph, leaked EU anti-fraud office documents have since shown the allegation was concocted by two European Commission spokesmen.

Mr Tillack filed a lawsuit at the European Court, backed by the International Federation of Journalists to block commission access to his records on the grounds that it was a flagrant violation of European Convention law for press protection, established over decades.

However the European Court has ruled against Mr Tillack on the grounds that the case was a strictly Belgian matter! Yet the request for the arrest was made by the EU and the European Commission had been shown to have orchestrated the raid from the start.

The bottom line is that the European Court has backed the European Commission in a blatant attempt to seize a journalist's documents in order to find out their sources. For anyone else considering investigating or exposing corruption in the European Commission, or elsewhere in the EU, this is a rather chilling development.

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