EU Shield Laws Unevenly Enforced

While France recently enacted a press shield law, the French newspaper Le Monde accuses French President Nicolas Sarkozy of ordering counterespionage agents to find the sources for news stories that embarrassed the president.



In January 2008, Sarkozy declared that protecting reporters from having to disclose the names of their sources was essential for free media to thrive.

"A journalist worthy of the title does not reveal his sources," he said at a news conference. "Everyone must understand this, must accept this."

Yet critics already accuse Sarkozy of breaking the shield law. According to the New York Times, the French shield law can be circumvented in cases where the there is "an overriding public interest."

The counterespionage agency, DCRI, acknowledged investigating the source of the leaks after information from closed-door testimony appeared in Le Monde. The French government denies having given such orders to DCRI, which is the French secret service (the Guardian compares them to the UK's MI5 division). When pressed by opposition party members and journalists, government spokesperson Luc Chatel stated that the DCRI had been commissioned to "protect the state" from a rogue employee who had been divulging confidential information.

According to the Guardian, the leaks concerned a judicial investigation into tax evasion and improper political favors between France's richest woman, L'Oreal heiress Lilianne Bettencourt, and French labor minister Eric Woerth. Le Monde is seeking legal action against the French government over the "flagrant violation of journalist-source confidentiality."

Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights recently ruled that journalists could not be forced to hand over information unless the police can prove that disclosure is essential to investigation of a serious http://Victoria-Lawson.easyxblogs.com crime and obtain a warrant. The European court was reversing an earlier decision made by a Dutch court about a police raid of the Dutch auto magazine Autoweek.

The magazine's editor, Tonie Broekhuijsen, had refused to give the police pictures of an illegal auto race and was arrested until Autoweek's publisher, Sanoma Uitgevers, released the information, after authorities threatened to shut down all of Sanoma's publications.

Geoffrey Robertson, who represented a group of media organizations that supported Sanoma called the decision "an acid test for the court and for media freedom across Europe."

The controversies in France and Holland come at a time when the U.S. is poised to pass its own federal shield law, and shield laws have been decided at a state level up to this point. While many states have some sort of journalism shield law in place, 15 states, including Virginia and Connecticut, do not have any shield laws, according to the journalism ethics institute Poynter.

New York State Senators Charles Schumer and Dianne Feinstein are in the process of drafting a special amendment to ensure that the U.S. shield law does not apply to Wikileaks, the Sweden-based site that releases confidential documents. Shield laws are unusually strong in Sweden, where reporters are not only largely protected from releasing their sources but are generally forbidden to do so.

Political controversies throughout Europe and the U.S. prove that shield laws are never iron-clad, particularly if a government can prove that a journalist's sources involve a national security threat.

By: Rebecca Baird-Remba

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