European Court ruling protects media sources

New York, September 16, 2010–The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights unanimously held that media premises are exempt from police searches, marking a major victory for press freedom across the continent on Tuesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists said. CPJ had joined in the amicus curiae.

“This ruling was an acid test for the court and for media freedom across Europe,” said Geoffrey Robertson QC, counsel for a coalition of intervening organizations. “It sets a high benchmark for protection of journalistic materials and will force police and prosecutors across Europe, from Russia to France, to change their practices.”

In its decision in Sanoma v. the Netherlands, the court reversed an earlier ruling and held that police cannot search media premises or seize journalistic materials unless they can show it is absolutely necessary in the investigation of a serious crime and have obtained a judicial warrant.

The judgment upholds and builds on earlier rulings such as Goodwin v. UK, which established the right of journalists to protect their sources.

“In this judgment, the European court lays down a clear marker for the protection of journalistic materials,” said Peter Noorlander, legal director at the Media Legal Defence Initiative. “This will force a change in law and practice across Europe, not only in countries like Russia and Romania but also in France and the Netherlands, where new legislation is now required.”

CPJ, the Media Legal Defence Initiative, ARTICLE 19, Guardian News and Media Limited, and the Open Society Justice Initiative intervened jointly in the lawsuit, with support from The Associated Press, Bloomberg News, Index on Censorship, the European Newspaper Publishers Association, Condé Nast Publications, Hearst Corporation, the National Geographic Society, the New York Times Company, La Repubblica, Reuters, Time Inc., The Washington Post Company, and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.