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IFJ welcomes verdict as ECHR backs Dutch battle over sources

(IFJ/IFEX) - 15 September 2010 - The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European group of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), has joined its affiliate in the Netherlands, the Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten (NVJ), in celebrating a victory for protection of sources at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in a case brought by media professionals in the Netherlands and the EFJ.

The Finnish-owned Sanoma publishing house had taken the case to the European Court with the support of the NVJ and the EFJ for the magazine Auto Week concerning photographs to be used for an article on illegal car racing. The paper was compelled to hand over information about its sources to police investigating another crime, despite the journalists' strong objections to being forced to divulge material capable of identifying confidential sources, supported by the EFJ.

Now the Grand Chamber of the ECHR has ruled that there was a violation of the principle of protection of sources according to Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, and that the police interference was not "prescribed by law".

"This is an important decision that confirms the European Court's commitment to this benchmark principle of press freedom," said Arne König, the President of the EFJ. "This decision is all the more welcome as other cases are pending at the European Court and new threats to the protection of sources are emerging."

Just two days ago journalists' unions in France, backed by the EFJ, joined forces to condemn a case involving Le Monde where the government is implicated in an attempt to expose journalists' sources in a salacious scandal involving the L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

The EFJ will discuss the question of protection of sources next week in London at a meeting hosted by the NUJ in Great Britain and Ireland. "The battle lines in defence of this cardinal principle of journalism are drawn," says König. "All EFJ unions will make their voices heard in the coming weeks."

The NVJ is also "delighted with this judgement." Thomas Bruning, general manager of the Persvrijheidsfonds (Free Press Fund), said: "In the Netherlands source protection has been insufficiently laid down by law. A bill to this end is being prepared. The bill will need to be tightened as a result of this ruling of the European Court, and that is a good thing."

The editor of Auto Week, Tonie Broekhuijsen, also said: "It was a matter of principle and I am therefore very happy with this judgement. The protection of sources and source material, which is necessary for journalism, was breached by the judicial authorities."

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