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EFJ condemns proposed legislation on protection of sources

(FIJ/IFEX) - The following is an abridged version of a 12 December 2005 media release by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), an IFJ affiliate:

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) has warned against a Belgian bill that would put journalistic sources at risk in the name of the fight against terrorism and organized crime by allowing "a discrete visual monitoring" of editorial offices. The EFJ argues that the bill is "out of proportion" and that despite existing legal protections there is a danger that a police presence in newsrooms could become routine.

The EFJ recalls that in April 2005, laws were adopted concerning the protection of sources that are more than sufficient and that these laws established an acceptable balance between security concerns and the necessity to protect journalistic sources for a democratic society.

The Belgian Chamber and Senate are considering a text that would permit police, with the authorization of only the Prosecutor's Office to conduct "discrete visual monitoring" in professional locales, including editorial newsrooms. Previously police required authorization of an investigating judge. In a letter to Belgian senators, the Belgian Journalists Union (Association des Journalistes Professionnels de Belgique, AGJPB) calls for the restoration of legal guarantees to protect sources, including the return to the law passed earlier this year.

The EFJ is also concerned that this law is being reviewed at the time when the European Parliament is in the process of adopting a text on the withholding of information. It is imperative that the protection of sources, a pillar of freedom of the press, is guaranteed in such a context.

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