08 September 2000

EFJ Position on the Data Protection Directive 1995/46/EC

Contribution to the European Commission's first report on the implementation of the directive

The European Federation of Journalists representing about 280.000 journalists in 31 European countries welcomes the opportunity to comment on the implementation and review of the data protection directive. The directive has a direct impact on the work of journalists.

As the EFJ stated in its position in 1993 after the adoption of the proposal by the Commission, legislation on data protection must ensure that the proper collection and evaluation of information by journalists and their report on questions of public interest are not restricted or endangered.

The EFJ strongly believes that the legitimate concern to protect privacy and personal data by legislation should not infringe on the fundamental right of freedom of expression and freedom of information as laid down in Article 10 of the European Convention of Human rights, which states:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This freedom shall include the right to hold opinions and receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers."

National or European legislation should create a framework in which journalists and media organisations are free to fulfil their task of informing the public in a transparent, ethical and accountable editorial environment.

The following contribution will focus on Article 9 1 of the directive, which according to the EFJ in its current wording, severely undermines freedom of expression.

The EFJ and member organisations from EU countries believe that the ways in which the Member States have implemented the exemption reflect the imbalance between private and public interests. There are no express exemptions from the application of the directive to the media in Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Belgium, in Denmark and in Germany only for psb.

We urge the Commission to pay special attention to the incompatibility with Article 10 of the ECHR and certain national implementing regulations. This is partly but not solely because of the way in which sensitive personal data - which includes any information contained in the data - must be treated in some Member States (e.g. UK, Portugal and France). If journalists must seek prior, explicit consent before publication of material containing sensitive personal data this leads to severe limitations on the freedom of expression.

Laws on data protection must also take into consideration the principle of protecting the confidentiality of journalists' sources of information. Data protection legislation can be used as a means to prevent investigative journalism.

Exemptions granted to the media in data protection laws, which are designed to ensure the right of the public to be informed are also linked to the journalists' right to professional secrecy and the right of an information source to anonymity. Journalists consider it an ethical duty to informants to protect their sources.

Brussels, 8 September 2000

1 Processing of personal data and freedom of expression
Member States shall provide for exemptions or derogations from the provisions of this Chapter, Chapter IV and Chapter VI for the processing of personal data carried out solely for journalistic purposes or the purpose of artistic or literary expression only if they are necessary to reconcile the right to privacy with the rules governing freedom of expression

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