Journalists and press publishers play a crucial role in our democratic society informing citizens about important issues of public interest. A key part of this work is investigative journalism, which has resulted in unearthing countless revelations of concern to our society and which remains a vital part of the process of holding those in power to account.
Professional secrecy is a cardinal principle of journalism and requires that journalists protect the anonymity of the source of information including sensitive data obtained in confidence. Journalists and press publishers are guided by this professional ethics to take great risks as well as responsibilities to publish information that is in the public interest.
But press and journalistic freedom will be under threat if journalists and press publishers are being punished by using certain data in their investigative reporting. We fear that (self) censorship will become a common practice if the EU adopts either proposals awaiting vote in the European Parliament or those currently under discussion in the Council of Ministers, to amend a draft European General Data Protection Regulation (Article 80).
These proposals would restrict the possibility for journalists and publishers to serve the public interest and fulfill their democratic mission as regards being able to investigate, report, write and publish editorial content without any obstacle, and to guarantee that sources are adequately protected.
Our concerns have been adequately reflected in the amendments adopted by the Parliament Committees for Legal Affairs (JURI opinion)and for Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE opinion) as part of the opinions on the draft Regulation, and tabled in the Committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.
We call on your support to sign the following petition letter asking members of the European Parliament, Council of Ministers and the European Commission to guarantee the freedom of expression and information under Article 80 of the draft General Data Protection Regulation.
How does Article 80 of EU data protection law affect your rights?
Without the explicit exemption for journalists and publishers to process data there is a risk that:
• Journalists will not be able to process certain data for use in their reports or investigations, even though the data are integral to the report and concern an issue of public interest.
• Publishers will not be able to publish articles including such data, even though it is in the public interest to do so, and will face huge fines for a breach of the rules.
• An EU Citizen’s right to be informed about important issues of public interest will be undermined, as will democracy in Europe.
For further details of the specific problems relating to the approaches to Article 80 of the draft Data Protection Regulation, see the joint statement of EFJ, EMMA, ENPA and EPC here.
This petition is initiated by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European Newspaper Publishers' Association (ENPA), the European Magazine Media Association (EMMA) & the European Publishers' Council (EPC).
A directly binding exemption in the draft Regulation for journalistic data processing is essential to ensure that journalists and publishers can continue fulfilling their democratic mission as regards investigating, reporting, writing and publishing editorial content without any obstacle, and to guarantee that sources are adequately protected. It has to be ensured that with the change to a Regulation, the current level of protection will not be lowered in each Member State.
The European Commission’s proposed text addresses many of our key concerns in this regard, although the effectiveness of its approach is weakened by leaving it in the hands of Member States to implement these provisions.
It is of fundamental importance that any European Data Protection Regulation clearly safeguards press freedom by:
1) Guaranteeing that the exemption is directly applicable and legally binding and not for Member States to apply on an optional basis, whenever they deem to be necessary.
2) Ensuring an explicit exemption for data processing for journalistic purposes, rather than simply referring to “reconciling” data protection with freedom of expression;
3) Having a clear reference to “journalistic” purposes in order to ensure that journalism is explicitly covered by such exemptions;
4) Ensuring that, as a minimum, all articles and chapters from the Commission’s proposal are exempted, including the provisions on sanctions.
These concerns have been adequately reflected in the amendments adopted by the Parliament Committees for Legal Affairs and for Industry, Research and Energy as part of the opinions on the draft Regulation, and tabled in the Committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.
We call upon journalists, publishers and citizens across Europe to sign this petition to support urgent action by European decision-makers to ensure that the future Data Protection Regulation will truly safeguard press freedom and rights of journalists, which are of fundamental importance to our democratic society.