Wednesday

1st Apr 2020

Journalist group questions Belgium's suitability as EU capital

The Secretary General of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Aidan White, has said that Belgium's poor legal protection for journalists makes it "quite inappropriate" for it to host the EU institutions.

Speaking at a conference in Brussels today, (2 April) Mr White said, "the very thing we have to demand here, in Belgium, is the highest possible standards of freedom for journalists to do their work".

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"It seems to me", he added, "that for Belgium to be one of the worst countries in terms of legal protection at national level for protection of sources makes it quite inappropriate to be the centre of the European Union political institutions which are responsible for the legal and economic administration of a region of 25 countries".

It is especially important to maintain press freedom in Brussels, he concluded, given that there are more foreign correspondents reporting on more vital decisions than anywhere else in the World.

According to the IFJ, more attacks on journalistic confidentiality have occurred in Belgium in recent years than in any other Western European country.

And the Federation, which represents 500,000 members in more than 100 countries, along with the International Press Association and the Belgium journalists' union is set to draft a joint letter demanding a better legal framework for protection of journalistic sources.

Spotlight on Brussels

The situation in Belgium has been highlighted recently by fears of political pressure on journalists after a Brussels-based reporter was arrested by Belgian police.

Hans-Martin Tillack - a correspondent for Stern - was arrested at his home on Friday 19 March and taken to his office where computer equipment, mobile phones and files were seized.

He was questioned for ten hours without legal representation but was eventually released without charge.

The raid was triggered by allegations that Mr Tillack had paid for information relating to the EU's anti fraud body OLAF.

The investigative journalist has been a thorn in the side of Brussels officialdom for some time. He was the first journalist to report investigations into irregularities at the EU statistical arm, Eurostat, which led to the removal of the responsible officials.

More recently, he has written about MEPs allegedly falsifying signatures qualifying for daily allowances and MEPs employing their wives and family members.

He continues to protest his innocence.

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