Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Is press freedom in the EU our business?

Apparently not, according to Her Majesty’s Government. Replying to Lord Tebbit’s question about the case of Hans-Martin Tillack, the investigative journalist, who had been manhandled by the Belgian police and whose files and computer have been confiscated [see German journalist's office is raided by the Belgian police ... Again ], Lord McIntosh of Haringey reiterated several times that this was a matter for the Belgian courts and we could not intervene.

When Lord Lamont asked whether “we should not be concerned” that “the Belgian police or OLAF were in any way more interested in the suppression of evidence about fraud, rather than in combating fraud”, Lord McIntosh merely suggested that nobody would like it if “the parliament of another member state were to start to intervene in the activities of a British court”.

Of course, the situation is not the same at all, as a number of peers pointed out. We are not talking about the British parliament intervening in a purely internal Belgian matter, say, the Dutroux case, which is still rumbling through the courts. Tillack was investigating fraud and irregularities in the Commission’s anti-fraud unit. Its remit ought to be the investigation of how our money among others’ is spent or mis-spent. Instead of which, they merely want to suppress a journalist’s legitimate right to report on these matters.

As we, too, contribute and rather a lot to the funding of the EU, we ought to be materially interested in the fate of those funds; as we are part of the EU, we ought to be materially interested in freedom of speech and press in it. This is not, pace Lord McIntosh of Haringey and his advisers, an internal matter for the Belgian courts to decide on.

To read the full debate click here.

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