Belgium9 November 2008
Weekly censored, ordered to withdraw all copies from sale
Reporters Without Borders condemns a Brussels court ruling on 4 November ordering the weekly Humo to immediately withdraw all copies of its latest issue from sale on penalty of paying a fine of 250 euros for each copy left on sale. The summary judgment was issued in response to an action brought by the federal police chief about a satirical photo-montage showing his head, and that of his secretary, super-imposed on naked bodies.
Humo learned of the court order from press reports on the morning of 4 November but was not officially notified until 9:30 pm. After the newspaper filed an appeal, the court put a ceiling of 25,000 euros on the fine.
“We deplore the court’s ruling and the disproportionate nature of the legal procedure used,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Satire is by definition an inalienable part of freedom of expression. Morality and good taste cannot under any circumstances justify media censorship in a country that belongs to the European Union.”
The press freedom organisation added : “We are surprised by the increasingly frequent use made of summary proceedings in order to censor - even if only temporarily - news media which are, as a result, unable to defend themselves. Such proceedings may be justified for certain matters but we do not think they are appropriate when news and information are concerned.”
The satirical section of Humo’s 4 November issue, called the “Het Gat van de wereld” (Backside of the world), had photomontages of federal police chief Fernand Koekelberg frolicking naked with his secretary, Sylvie Ricour, who had been suspended after several newspapers suggested there was something irregular about the way she got the job - only to be reinstated on the orders of the Council of State.
Humo put a new version of the issue on sale today with a black strip across the cover page and the words “Humo censored.” Page 175 with the photomontages was kept, only now the photos were covered with a black strip and the word “Censored.”
Humo issued a statement yesterday commenting on the court’s ruling. “One of the most important reasons given by the court for confirming its decision was that the people portrayed in the photo-montage were not public figures and that it was a violation of their privacy. We are of the view that Mr. Koekelberg, as head of the federal police, is a public figure. Ms. Ricour has given lengthy interviews to the press in the recent past, from which one can conclude that she does not resent media attention - quite the contrary.”
Link to website showing the offending photo-montage :