European newspaper publishers are calling on the Swedish EU Presidency to protect press freedom in Europe following recent attempts by the Italian and Czech governments to restrict journalists’ access to wiretapped information, such as police documents.
In a letter to Swedish Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association (ENPA) expresses concern that new laws in Italy and the Czech Republic “could have grave consequences for journalism and in particular investigative journalism”.
A new law banning the media from accessing wiretapped data entered into force in the Czech Republic on 1 April 2009, although the new legislation is currently being challenged in the country’s constitutional court.
Offending journalists and their publishers face fines of as much as five million Czech crowns (€180,000) and even up to five years’ imprisonment for breaching the new legislation.
Meanwhile, a new law currently being discussed in the Italian Senate could see publishers and journalists face fines of up to €5,000 and a maximum of 30 days in jail for publishing wiretapped information related to criminal investigations.
ENPA, which represents over 5,200 newspapers in 23 EU member states plus Norway and Switzerland, wants governments to condemn the practice of jailing and fining journalists for using such data.
Newspaper publishers are “extremely concerned” that the Czech and Italian examples may have set precedents for other countries, and are calling on EU leaders to explain why Prague and Rome were allowed to pass laws “with such a lack of respect for press freedom”.
ENPA is demanding that the EU’s Council of Ministers “initiate mechanisms” against the two governments. At the very least, it wants ministers to adopt an official statement condemning the laws and warning other countries against pursuing similar measures.
“The need for journalists to be able to publish in the public interest should be better protected in Europe,” reads the letter.