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New law threatens "integrity of journalism"

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 25 September 2007 press release of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), an IFJ regional group:

EFJ Says New Portuguese Law Threatens "Integrity of Journalism"

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), regional group of the International Federation of Journalists, today condemned the adoption by the Portuguese Parliament of a law that strips journalists of their right to protect their confidential sources and to be fairly paid for the use of their work.

"We are flabbergasted by Portuguese lawmakers' lack of consideration for the President's decision and for the case law of the European Court of Human Rights," said Arne König, EFJ Chair. After the President's veto, the European Federation of Journalists had called on the Portuguese Parliament to review the Journalist Statute in line with the rulings of the Strasbourg-based European Court, which has upheld the notion of the journalists' right to protect their sources as a "cornerstone of press freedom."

On September 20 the Parliament passed the law in a second round of voting. After a first adoption on 21 June 2007, the Portuguese President had vetoed the new Journalist Statute early August, sending it back to the Parliament.

The new Portuguese law says that courts investigating criminal offences may order journalists to disclose their confidential sources, on the grounds that it would be difficult to obtain information by other means. The President of Portugal had acknowledged that this provision contradicted provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure on professional secrecy, leading to legal insecurity in a field he himself described as "particularly delicate to the journalist's activity".

The Portuguese Parliament only made a cosmetic change so as to comply in the form with the President's decision: the provision is now included in the Code of Criminal Procedure, but the EFJ believes it still amounts to judges recruiting journalists to do police work.

Lawmakers also maintained a provision allowing employers to use the works of staff journalists in any manner within their media holdings during a period of 30 days following the date of first publication and without any additional payment. The new Statute also permits editors to modify journalists' works without their consent.

"These provisions will prevent journalists from receiving fair payment for re-use of their work and weaken journalists' essential rights to determine where their work is re-used and to defend their work against damaging alterations, posing a threat to the integrity of journalism," said König.

According to the Portuguese Constitution, the President cannot veto a law after it has been adopted for a second time by the majority of the Parliament.

The Portuguese Union of Journalists is considering the next steps for action.

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

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