A large group of young people pelts the police present with stones and fireworks in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 25 January 2021. EPA-EFE / Killian Lindenburg / MediaTV Library

Netherlands should better protect privacy of freelance journalists

Netherlands should better protect privacy of freelance journalists

Despite new regulations, personal information of freelance journalists still accessible via Dutch Chamber of Commerce, potentially risking journalists safety

IPI Contributor Anne ter Rele

A little more than two years ago, a stone was thrown through Chris Klomp’s window by an anonymous perpetrator. Although Klomp, a freelance Dutch journalist who is very active on social media, had received many online threats before in his 20-year career, it was the first time someone actually came to his house and used physical violence.

Klomp also found a letter tied to his door, threatening that if the journalist did not remove all his social media accounts, the perpetrator “would come back”. “After that happened, I received an emergency button that brings me in immediate contact with a private security company when needed”, Klomp told IPI. “I always carry it with me.”

Finding Klomp’s home was relatively easy for the perpetrators, as his business is registered with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce (KVK), which is mandatory for all companies, including freelance journalists. Registration includes the company’s address, but also home addresses of the owners, phone numbers and VAT tax numbers. Despite criticism, the chamber has been legally allowed to sell this information to third parties, regardless if a company prefers this or not.

The publication of the information has long been criticized by Dutch opinion makers and journalists, since it means they can be easily traced to their homes and threatened there. Derk Wiersum, a Dutch lawyer, was murdered for doing his job in 2019. His address was found via the database of the Chamber of Commerce.

“There is a real threat for journalists to experience violence in their personal homes”, Peter ter Velde, coordinator of the journalists’ safety project PersVeilig, told IPI. According to Thomas Bruning, secretary of the Dutch journalists’ association NVJ, reports of intimidation against journalists have doubled the past year. “This shows: you can say the threats are just online, until they aren’t”, Ter Velde added.

The fact that the Dutch Chamber of Commerce does not protect home addresses creates a feeling of danger, Klomp said. “People will simply look for you at the Chamber of Commerce and they know where you live. It’s scary. I receive many online threats. But you never know when they will actually stop by.”

Changing the mandatory registration of freelancers’ home addresses has been on the Dutch political agenda for the last couple of months, following renewed criticism from politicians, journalists and opinion makers.

Now, change is on its way. From 2022 onwards, the Dutch Council of Ministers agreed that third parties can no longer access freelancers’ personal information anymore, such as home addresses and phone numbers: only government organizations can still access this. The decision was long overdue, as the Dutch parliament had already accepted several resolutions to hide freelancers’ personal information in January 2021, but the responsible secretary of state refused to implement the resolution in practice, stating it would contradict EU law.

Now, ministers have decided to protect personal information but not the company’s information. “A step in the right direction, but far from enough”, Bruning responded. He emphasized that companies’ addresses will still be accessible to all. For freelancers, this is a problem, since their companies are mostly registered at their home addresses. “Only when freelancers hire an office this can be avoided, but not all freelancers want this or can afford this”, Bruning explained. Freelance journalists therefore remain vulnerable, even under the new law.

Compromise

After previous discussions on the safety of freelancers, two years ago the journalists’ association arranged that Dutch freelancers can register the NVJ address as their company address, but only after individual journalists request this. “Especially after the debate in Dutch parliament the number of freelancers who came to us has grown”, Bruning explained.

Currently, around 50 journalists have registered the NVJ address at the Dutch Chamber of Commerce. Klomp is one of them. Although the number of requests usually rises after parliamentary debates on the issue, Bruning explained, the exception is specifically targeted at freelancers who experience threats or intimidation. Registration in advance is not always possible.

It is therefore a temporary solution, Bruning emphasized. “This measure is far from optimal”, he said. “It does not tackle the most fundamental problem: that it cannot be arranged preventively: journalists need to experience fear, threats or intimidation, physical or online. But then you are, in fact, too late. Those with bad intentions may have already succeeded in finding you. And when that information is on the internet, it is not easy to remove it afterwards.”

After the stone broke through his window, Klomp has increased security around his house, adding cameras. “I have thick skin, I can handle some negative comments and online intimidations. But the fact that people could find out where I live is scarysince you don’t know when online harassers will actually come to your house, like they did before.”

This article is part of IPI’s reporting series “Media freedom in Europe in the shadow of Covid”, which comprises news and analysis from IPI’s network of correspondents throughout the EU. Articles do not necessarily reflect the views of IPI or MFRR. This reporting series is supported by funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and by the European Commission (DG Connect) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response, a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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Slovenian government eroding media freedom as it takes over…

Slovenian government eroding media freedom as it takes over EU Presidency

The Slovenian government of Prime Minister Janez Janša is overseeing an increasingly systematic effort to undermine critical media, a coalition of press freedom organisations and journalism groups warn today in a new report.

The report concludes that Slovenia, which assumes the rotating presidency of the EU on July 1, has seen press freedom deteriorate ever since Janša returned to power in March 2020. Since then, the ruling SDS party has embarked on a multipronged campaign to reshape the media landscape in favour of a pro-government narrative, renewing tactics successful during previous administrations and forging ahead with new forms of pressure.

The front line of this campaign is an aggressive attempt to seize greater control of the country’s public service broadcaster and national news agency using a mix of legal and administrative pressure, as well as vicious, often highly personal smears aimed at undermining the integrity and independence of these institutions.

The Slovenian Press Agency (STA), the lifeblood of the media market, has been drained of state funding since the beginning of the year in a calculated effort by the Government Communication Office (UKOM) to subdue the organisation and cement greater control over its financial and managerial operations.

Though the recent announcement that the government will finally pay an advance of €845.000 for 2021 costs is welcome, serious concerns remain over the conditionality of this agreement and its detrimental effects on the independence of the agency. We believe the government is only making this move because of the sustained criticism it has received for its actions and the need to remedy the situation before assuming the EU Presidency.

More broadly, leading government officials, including Janša himself, are stoking the toxicity of public debate by insulting and denigrating journalists – including via official government channels. This inflammatory rhetoric has led to rising self-censorship and an upsurge in threats against the press, both online and offline. Women journalists are particularly targeted with misogynistic and sexist insults.

Behind the scenes, an effort by SDS is underway to limit critical journalism at mainstream media and strengthen a network of partisan outlets linked to the government. Propaganda media are being rewarded with lucrative state advertising contracts, while government officials have sought to pressure editorial offices and reduce challenging coverage at some of the country‘s biggest commercial outlets.

These tactics raise alarm as they reflect elements of the media capture strategy employed by Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán. Moreover, an influx of Hungarian capital linked to Orbán’s Fidesz party is being used to prop up Slovenian pro-government media. Recently, Slovenia’s state-owned telecoms company suspended the sale of a media company after a Hungarian pro-government media outlet was outbid, raising questions about market manipulation and efforts to sell state media assets to SDS‘s political allies in Budapest.

The Janša administration has defended its media policy as necessary to “rebalance” a media landscape it claims is dominated by a historic leftist ideology. Aside from the fact that governments have no business interfering with the editorial lines of media outlets, SDS’ actions and rhetoric do not indicate a genuine interest in fostering greater pluralism but rather in delegitimizing independent media in favour of government-friendly coverage. The depiction of the press as beholden to a political ideology is used to divide the journalistic community down political lines and taint watchdog reporting as biased “opposition journalism”.

While legitimate concerns remain regarding post-independence media ownership concentration and transparency in the Slovenian media market, plans by the ruling SDS party would exacerbate those issues or pose new problems. Legislative proposals to tackle alleged bias at the STA would likewise increase political control over its oversight bodies, rather than lessen it.

While a fragile governing coalition and pushback from civil society and the journalistic community have so far limited the worst of the government’s attempts to erode critical journalism, significant damage has already been caused to the STA and media freedom more widely is once again under sustained threat.

The report follows a two-week online mission to Slovenia carried out by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) between 24 May and 2 June 2021. Jointly led by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the International Press Institute (IPI), it was joined by MFRR members Article 19, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, Free Press Unlimited and Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa. Representatives of Reporters without Borders, European Broadcasting Union, South East Europe Media Organisation and the Public Media Alliance also participated

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Mapping Media Freedom: A Four-Month Snapshot

Mapping Media Freedom: A Four-Month Snapshot

EFJ and IPI, supported by ECPMF, have compiled a report analysing the first 4-months of the MFRR, charting a worrying decline in media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries

The monitoring report compiled by European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and International Press Institute (IPI), with support from ECPMF, gives unprecedented insight into the threats to media freedom in EU member states and Candidate Countries. Within the monitored period from March to June a total of 126 alerts were registered on the Mapping Media Freedom platform from two-thirds of the countries covered by the MFRR.

Key trends including the COVID-19 Pandemic (and governments’ responses to this crisis) and the dangers from demonstrators and police officers for journalists and media workers covering protesters and demonstrations.