Belgium has a good record of press freedom but two cases of censorship - one concerning a publisher and the other the closure of a blog under pressure — spoiled it in 2007.
The national constitution says “the press is free and censorship cannot be imposed” (article 25) but a court in October 2007 banned the broadcast of part of an RTBF programme that used a hidden camera to show that Nick Rodwell, the administrator of the firm Moulinsart, which holds the rights to cartoonist Hergé’s character Tintin, maintained a blacklist of people he did not like.
Rodwell and Yves Février, a Moulinsart consultant, won a last-minute court order forbidding its broadcast on pain of a €10,000 fine. RTBF refused to cut the sequence and decided not to show the programme at all and to appeal the ruling.
Community blog forced to close down
Mehmet Koksal, a journalist for Courrier international, La Tribune de Bruxelles and Journal du mardi, and also a member of the board of the Belgian journalists association, AJP, shut down his outspoken blog in October after physical attacks and threats by Turkish extreme nationalists. The blog (http://allochtone.blogspot.com) had for several months covered events in the Turkish community in Belgium and had also annoyed mainstream political parties because of its revelations about some of their immigrant officials.
After being physically attacked on 21 October by members of the extremist Turkish group Grey Wolves as he was covering an unauthorised demonstration in front of the US embassy in Brussels, his blog began to be flooded with hate mail. He was threatened and insulted, his family exerted pressure on him and he was abused in cafés and by community associations. He then shut down the blog.
European Human Rights Court backs whistleblower
Belgium was once more condemned in late November for violating the European Convention on Human Rights (article 10) by not respecting the secrecy of journalistic sources and was ordered to pay German reporter Hans-Martin Tillack €40,000 damages. Police ransacked Tillack’s home and office in March 2004 and seized his files after he wrote articles about corruption in European institutions and about an investigation by OLAF, the EU’s anti-fraud body.
OLAF got the police to act in an effort to find Tillack’s sources and also accused him of bribing an EU official. The scandal occurred as the Belgian parliament was debating a bill to protect journalistic sources, which has since become law and is one of the best in the European Union.