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IFJ welcomes move to adopt law on protection of sources, concerns remain over exceptions

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 27 March 2004 IFJ media release:

Journalists Welcome Belgian Professional Secrecy Law But Fears Remain Over Security Exception

The International Federation of Journalists and its regional body, the European Federation of Journalists, have welcomed moves in Belgium to adopt a long overdue law on protection of journalists' sources, but warned that the bill still had exceptions that worry reporters.

"This is an important step forward," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ and EFJ. "Certainly, it would have caused second thoughts over the police raid on the home and office of a Brussels reporter last week."

He said police action against Hans-Martin Tillack, a reporter for the German magazine Stern, caused anger among the Brussels press corps, the largest in the world, because it raised fears of political pressure on journalists. The reporter, who writes extensively on corruption within European Union circles, was targeted following a request to the Belgian authorities from OLAF - the European anti-fraud unit. The IFJ condemned the move as a "fishing expedition" to get access to the journalists' sources of information.

Journalists in Belgium were generally satisfied that the legal committee of the Belgian Parliament unanimously adopted a draft law on protection of sources on March 24, but they are fearful over exceptions dealing with state security, the royal family, and spying.

"We have to ensure that the principle of protection of sources has the widest recognition possible," said White. "And while we understand the need for exceptions regarding national security and public welfare, political exceptions are another thing. However, the Belgian authorities will no longer be able to ignore the principle of protection of sources."

The Belgian journalists' union, the Belgian Association for Professional Journalists (AGJPB/AVBB), an IFJ and EFJ affiliate, is calling on the Belgian Parliament and Senate to delete exceptions of a 'political' type when the draft law comes up for further debate in the coming weeks.

In recent years attacks on journalistic confidentiality have occurred more often in Belgium than in any other western European country. Because there is no legal framework for protection of sources, cases have been taken to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the latest being a landmark case, Ernst and Others v Belgium, where judges voted to uphold confidentiality of sources.

A debate on protection of sources, including the Tillack case, is being organised by the IFJ and EFJ with the support of Belgian reporters and foreign correspondents at the headquarters of the IFJ/EFJ, the International Press Centre, Résidence Palace, on April 2nd at 10:30 a.m.

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries.

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