News - “EU should work on source protection, whistleblowing and access to information”
(All pictures (c) Jan Crab)
The event started with Dirk Voorhoof outlining the state of protection of sources legislation in the EU. Over the years, a large number of cases have been reported in several countries of actions in which public authorities have forced, or attempted to force, journalists to disclose their sources.
The situation in Belgium was discussed in particular, since legislation there, affecting all EU correspondents, was significantly widened after a case involving Hans-Martin Tillack. In the 2004 case, Tillack was suspected of having bribed a civil servant in exchange for confidential information concerning the European institutions. Tillack's home and workplace were searched and many documents and work tools were seized. Ultimately, however, the accusations against him were deemed vague and uncorroborated and he was acquitted.
The case prompted the European Court to emphasise that a journalist's right not to reveal their sources cannot simply be considered a privilege to be granted or taken away, but is part and parcel of the right to information, to be treated with the utmost caution. As a result of the case, a more inclusive protection of sources law in Belgium came into force on 7 May 2005.
Moderator Kristof Clerix (Flemish monthly MO*) then breached the topic of encryption and put forward the question if in this day and age every journalist should know how to use encryption tools like PGP. Both Tillack and Voorhoof agreed, although they stated the skill is less important for journalists covering things like local businesses. Also, journalists being able to encrypt their messages should in no way be an excuse for intelligence services to simply keep their often illegal surveillance going.
To protect himself from surveillance, Tillack claimed to use a variety of methods, from using prepaid SIM-cards and phone booths, over going to internet cafés, to using a shared e-mail account and communicating via unsent messages. But he also urged not to become too paranoid either: “quite a big part of our work can still be done via regular phone lines, mobile phones and e-mails. “
Finally, both speakers were asked for recommendations to the EU’s legislative bodies that would advance investigative journalism in Europe. They urged the European authorities to work on a number of issues: protection of sources, but also clearer laws on whistleblowing and better access to information.
Before the debate, Tillack had been presented as a former jury member of Journalismfund.eu. From 2009 to 2013, after every application round and together with three other jury members, he assessed the applications that had been submitted for Journalismfund.eu’s cross-border grant programme and decided which ones Journalismfund.eu should support.
Tillack is a strong believer in support structures such as Journalismfund.eu to stimulate international journalism: “national media still mostly cater to a national audience, which is why there is almost no money for transnational investigations and stories.”
By Rafael Njotea