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IFJ condemns statement by European Commission's security services hinting that journalists may provide cover for potential spies

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 12 February 2009 media release from the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), an IFJ regional group:

EFJ and API Blast "Spies" Smear As European Commission Targets Journalists

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the International Press Association (API), representing foreign press correspondents in Brussels, today condemned a recent statement by the European Commission's security services which hints that journalists and lobbyists can provide cover for potential spies to search for sensitive and classified information.

"This sort of loose talk ends up smearing everyone working in journalism by casting a cloud of suspicion over them," said EFJ General Secretary Aidan White. "Security concerns are one thing, but this sort of comment puts journalists at risk and makes their job of scrutinising public officials and the work of the Commission more difficult. European Union officials should do their jobs without raising scares about the honesty and integrity of correspondents working in Brussels."

The European Commission fears that its confidential documents are increasingly at risk from spies. "We are not only pointing the finger at journalists. It could be the pretty trainee with the long legs and the blonde hair," Commission spokeswoman Valerie Rampi said yesterday, after a report in the German newspaper the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung quoted from a confidential letter from the director of the Commission's security services to its director of human resources.

"Recent cases show that the threat of espionage is increasing day by day. A number of countries, information seekers, lobbyists, journalists, private agencies and other third parties are continuing to seek sensitive and classified information," said the Commission memo, which dates back to December.

"We need to remind the Commission that investigative journalism is in the public interest. Journalists have to look also for 'sensitive and classified' documents in order to inform the public and to place information in a truthful context. It is a legitimate and essential part of a democracy to allow reporters to ask searching questions and get access to documents some politicians and officials would prefer for their own vested interests to keep out of sight," said Lorenzo Consoli, the President of API.

"The Commission has a poor record of its treatment of investigative journalists. For instance, we are still waiting for an official response from them to take responsibility and apologise over their bogus complaint against German Stern reporter Hans-Martin Tillack, who was cleared last month of wrong-doing in his work to expose corruption in the European Union," said White.

The EFJ has called on the Commission to investigate how its officials came to make the false accusation of bribery against Tillack and to carry out an independent inquiry into the case that for years cast a shadow over relations between Brussels journalists and the Commission. "Now the suggestion is that every journalist is a potential spy -- it's the worst kind of scaremongering," said White.

The EFJ represents over 260,000 journalists in 30 countries.

API represents 500 journalists accredited to the EU Institutions.

For further information on the Tillack case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99732

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