23 March 2005


Belgium's Parliament has passed a law that protects the confidentiality of journalists' sources and bars authorities from monitoring their phones or searching their homes, reports the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

On 17 March 2005, the Chamber of Deputies voted unanimously to pass a law under which journalists cannot be forced to reveal their sources in court unless the information "prevents crimes that represent a serious attack on the physical integrity of one or several third parties" and there is no other way to obtain that information. This protection applies to professional journalists and media support staff.

The law also prohibits authorities from conducting home searches and seizures, and monitoring journalists' telephone conversations. Journalists are also protected from being sued for "illegal detention of stolen documents or for complicity in the violation of professional secrecy by a third party," according to IFJ.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, has welcomed the new law, saying the ability of journalists to collect information "in full confidence of their sources" is a precondition for media freedom. Haraszti adds that this has been affirmed in rulings by the European Court of Human Rights.

The OSCE rapporteur says the United States should adopt similar legislation to protect journalists.

As many as nine journalists face prison sentences for refusing to name their sources in contempt of court rulings, including "New York Times" journalist Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper of "Time Magazine". A proposed Free Speech Protection Act that would give federal protection to journalists is currently being considered in the Senate.

"The United States is well known for its investigative journalism," Haraszti said. "Therefore I call upon lawmakers in the U.S. to pass legislation to protect the very foundation for investigative journalism, namely the protection of sources."

- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=3026&Language=EN- OSCE: http://www.osce.org/news/show_news.php?id=4799- Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: http://www.rcfp.org/news/mag/28-4/_contents.html


IFEX members working in this country 1

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