20th May 2019

Tillack ruling hands ace to Commission

The European Court of Justice has given the European Commission the all clear to "go fishing" in journalists' files whenever it likes, according to the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ).

The move could turn off potential sources and whistle-blowers from acting on their conscience for fear of discovery and reprisal, the EFJ's secretary general, Adrian White explained to EUobserver.

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  • "This ruling is a licence to lie for EU officials," says Hans-Martin Tillack (Photo: EUobserver)

"It's a shocking invasion of journalistic rights," he said.

The court's recent (April 19) decision to quash an appeal by Hans-Martin Tillack, the former Brussels correspondent of Stern magazine, prompted the remarks.

Tillack appeal fails

Mr Tillack had appealed against an earlier (15 October 2004) Court of First Instance judgement absolving the European Commission's anti-fraud office, OLAF, from inciting the Belgian police to raid the reporter's flat last March.

The appeal also asked the European Court of Justice to block OLAF from seeing over 1,000 pages of documents and thousands of emails seized in the raid.

Mr Tillack alleges that OLAF workers sparked the raid, by telling Belgian police that he had bribed their colleagues and was about to flee to the US.

"This ruling is a license to lie for EU officials," he said.

The investigation is ongoing, but the Belgian prosecutor's office has not brought charges against the journalist to date.

Hans-Martin Tillack and Stern now plan to take the Belgian authorities to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to try and recover his work.

Commission stands back

The European Commission has not asked to see the seized documents so far.

"For the moment the question does not arise, as the matter is still under investigation," a spokeswoman for the administrative affairs commissioner, Siim Kallas, said.

"Press freedom and the right of journalists to protect their sources are enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights. But press freedom is not granted without limitation," she added.

"If a journalist himself becomes a suspect or is linked to an investigation, it is for the individual national authorities to decide which measures can be justified and whether they can be jutsified."

The spokeswoman added that under EU staff regulations, officials are obliged to blow the whistle if they see evidence of wrongdoing.

EFJ pushes for new law

But the EFJ is unhappy with the staus quo.

"The fact that they have this power is unacceptable," the federation's secretary general indicated.

"The OLAF people are now carrying on as normal, retiring and so forth, while a cloud continues to hang over Mr Tillack's career."

The EFJ is pushing for a Europe-wide freedom of information law that would give journalists'sources and whistle-blowers a funadamental right to confidentiality.

The European Commission has not taken up the proposal.

But Belgium tightened up laws protecting its journalists late last year.


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