European Federation of Journalists

Draft EU trade secrets law threatens press freedom

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) has joined a group of civil society organisations – Corporate Europe Observatory – across Europe opposing the hasty push by the European Commission for a new European Union (EU) Directive on Trade Secrets.

Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, the EFJ President said, “The draft directive poses some serious threats to the work of journalists and trade union representatives.”

The European Commission draft does not provide a clear exemption for journalists and whistleblowers who publish or reveal information that is in the public interests. Journalists and whistleblowers must show that “…the alleged acquisition, use or disclosure of the trade secret was necessary for such revelation and that the respondent acted in the public interest”.

In addition, the limitation of the right to disclose and use trade secrets to reveal “wrongdoing”, “misconduct” or to protect a “legitimate interest” would allow for sanctions to be applied even when the information ought to be in the public domain, such as planned redundancies and detrimental effects on health and the environment.

 “This may also prevent the work of trade union representatives or employees who may reveal information about the wrongdoing and unethical practices of companies in the public interest,” added Blicher Bjerregård.

Recently, the French government has withdrawn a trade secrets clause from the economic bill as a result of the outcry from the journalist community. The EFJ affiliates (SNJ, SNJ-CGT, and CFDT) have long been campaigning against the trade secret law in France.

The EFJ said, “The European Commission should learn the lesson from France and ensure that the draft proposal comply with other European laws on freedom of expression and information.”

The EFJ together with a coalition of civil society organisation has urged the Council and the European Parliament to amend the directive by limiting the definition of what constitutes a trade secret and strengthening safeguards and exceptions to ensure that data in the public interest cannot be protected as trade secrets. The right to freely use and disseminate information should be the rule, and trade secret protection the exception.

The EFJ supports the latest draft discussed by the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee which contains amendments  (10b) safeguarding media freedom and media pluralism including protection of sources in reference to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The amendments will be voted possibly late April. The EFJ is also working closely with other media organisations (ENPA and the EBU) supporting the amendments guaranteeing media freedom.