Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF) > Academic Seminars > 30 September 2013 - Whistle-blowing and the Right to Freedom of Expression and information under the European Human Rights System.

Whistle-blowing and the Right to Freedom of Expression and information under the European Human Rights System

Photo credits: Pamela Drew


Monday 30 September 2013
09:00 - 11:00 - Seminar Room 4, Badia Fiesolana

CMPF Academic Seminar:

Whistle-blowing and the Right to Freedom of Expression and information under the European Human Rights System.
Prof. dr. Dirk Voorhoof (Belgium) - Ghent University

Bradley (Chelsea) Manning: sentenced to 35 years imprisonment for leaking military information to Wikileaks and news media. Now appealing for a presidential pardon in the US. Edward Snowden: on the run after having leaked information about the NSA to news media. Now seeking asylum in Russia. Julian Assange: hunted by US authorities as founder of Wikileaks that made public millions of confidential or secret US documents. Now having found temporary asylum and “locked up” in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. These are three well known and actual examples of whistle-blowers being “hunted”, prosecuted  or convicted under US law for leaking information or for bringing secret military or diplomatic information under the public eye. Do the US authorities neglect the interest of society in having abuse of power, military crimes and human rights violations being brought under public scrutiny through media reporting? Is the situation different in Europe?

The EUI seminar will focus on the legal framework in Europe regarding whistle-blowing, leaking confidential information, “illegal” newsgathering and protection of journalistic sources. In its Recommendation 1916 (2010)on the protection of whistle-blowers, on 29 April 2010, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, referring to its Resolution 1729 (2010) on the protection of whistle-blowers, has stressed the importance of whistle-blowing as a tool to increase accountability and strengthen the fight against corruption and mismanagement. In Guja v Moldova the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights considered the dismissal of a civil servant who had leaked information - more specifically, a letter to the press, revealing political pressure on the judiciary in a corruption case - to be an unlawful restriction of the right to freedom of expression, guaranteed under Article 10 of the Convention. The Court noted that a civil servant, in the course of his work, may become aware of in-house information, including secret information, whose divulgation or publication corresponds to a strong public interest (Guja v Moldova, AppNo 14277/04, 12 February 2008). In cases related to sanctions for leaking military information the Court did not find a violation of the European Convention, such as in Pasko v Russia (App No 69519/01, 22 October 2009).

During the seminar the policy of the Council of Europe will be analysed and discussed, and special focus will be on the case law of the European Court of Human Rights guaranteeing special protection for whistle-blowers under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The seminar will also highlight the importance of the protection of journalistic sources as a legal tool protecting whistle-blowers, and it will explore the legitimate restrictions or limitations on leaking, gathering, imparting or publishing classified, confidential or secret information. The crucial question is what is most necessary in a democracy: having whistle-blowers protected or having them prosecuted, severely sanctioned, dismissed or imprisoned ?



Prof. dr. Dirk Voorhoof obtained Master degrees in Law (1979) and Communication Sciences (1980) and a PhD in Law in 1990, Ghent University. He was a lawyer at the Brussels Bar from 1990-1992 and member of the Federal Commission for Access to Administrative Documents from 1994-2005. He is a member of the Flemish Regulator for the Media (since 2006) and was a member of the Flemish Media Council (2005-2012). He lectured at Antwerp University (1991-1993), Brussels University KUB (1993-1998) and he is teaching Media Law at Copenhagen University since 2004. He is a professor at Ghent University since 1992, with courses in Media Law, Copyright Law, Journalism & Ethics and European Media Law, both in the Law Faculty and in the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences, Communication Studies. From 2002-2007 he lectured at the University of Oxford, MLAP (Media Law Advocates Programme). He also recently lectured in Summer School Programmes on Human Rights, Journalism and Freedom of Expression at Europa Universität (Frankfurt/Oder, Viadrina) and European University Institute (Florence, EUI). He is a member of the research groups Center for Journalism Studies (CJS), Faculty of Political and Social Sciences and Human Rights Centre (HRC), Law Faculty at Ghent University and he is supervisor of a research project at Ghent University on freedom of expression and chilling effect (2011-2014). He regularly reports on developments regarding freedom of expression, media and journalism in Iris, legal newsletter of the European Audiovisual Observatory (Strasbourg), Auteurs & Media (Larcier, Brussel) and Mediaforum (VMC/IVIR, Amsterdam).

For more information,  www.psw.ugent.be/dv and https://biblio.ugent.be/person/801000461819

Presentation Slides

Page last updated on 30 July 2015