It was the third time in recent months that the Dutch judicial authorities have violated the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.
In the latest case, reported by public TV channel NOS on 4 July and confirmed a few hours later by the Amsterdam public prosecutor’s office, prosecutors allowed police to bug a reporter’s conversation on 29 March without first seeking permission from an oversight board. The reporter had been trying to get information about the murder of the brother of a member of the Dutch mafia.
Despite the ensuing outcry about the case, the reporter has not been identified on security grounds.
“We firmly condemn the use of methods that, despite the regulations in effect, violate the right of journalists to protect their sources and can have a chilling effect on the work of Dutch reporters,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk.
“The Dutch authorities must adhere strictly to the established procedures, especially after parliament’s recent adoption of a law guaranteeing journalists the right to preserve the secrecy of their sources when called as witnesses in a criminal case.”
Just weeks before the latest revelations, it emerged that prosecutors illegally obtained the phone records of Jos van de Ven, a reporter for the regional daily Brabants Dagblad who was investigating the procedure used to appoint a new mayor in the city of Den Bosch.
By getting the records from his phone company, the prosecutors were able to identify his sources and bring criminal charges of “divulging confidential information” against two persons. And after last week’s revelations, the Rotterdam prosecutor’s office admitted on 6 July to having spied on a third journalist. This was Joey Bremer, a photographer with the MediaTV agency who works for leading Dutch news organizations.
As part of a criminal investigation, prosecutors obtained Bremer’s phone records from October 2017 to February 2018 with the aim of identifying a police officer suspected of passing him sensitive information. Bremer says he is thinking of taking legal action against both the police and judicial authorities.
Although ranked 3rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index, the Netherlands has not escaped the general downward trend in Europe in respect for press freedom.