European Federation of Journalists

Netherlands: New ‘Source Protection Act’ finally enters into force

On 1st October, the Source Protection Act in Criminal Cases has finally become effective in the Netherlands. The law provides strengthened protection for the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, which have been recognised in several cases as an essential part of freedom of expression by the European Court of Human Rights. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its Dutch affiliate the NVJ in welcoming the law, defined by NVJ General Secretary Thomas Bruning as “necessary to the correct functioning of journalism”.

With the Source Protection Act, there will always be a preliminary consideration by a judge before the police can have access to the sources data and, only in case of preventing a serious crime. Moreover, the journalists have the right to protect their sources even if these sources do not explicitly demand confidentiality. This means that the police can no longer use their own resources to identify sources of journalists.

“For too long, protection of sources was seen by politics as a ‘journalists’ privilege’ that they would only earn from good behavior. However, the core point is that this is not a privilege for journalists, but a right to protect his or her sources. Whistleblowers often pay a high price for the role they play in the media. This is why guaranteeing their anonymity during their collaboration with the media is essential. Sources must have a voice and these voices should be heard without being vulnerable. Only then journalism will be able to function properly, ” said Bruning.

In 1996, with the so-called ‘Goodwin case’, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of confidentiality of sources in a journalistic context, providing a legal basis for further legislation on the topic within the Member States. In the past, the same court had pointed out several times that the Netherlands should better regulate the exercise of journalists’ rights to confidential sources. 

Credit photo: Flickr/Contando Estrelas.