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European journalists slam plans to curb press freedom

A coalition of European journalists' associations and press publishers have issued a joint statement and letter for the attention of European Union (EU) ministers, strongly criticising data protection reform plans.

Their comments are timed to fall just before a meeting of the EU Justice Ministers Council which will take place on 6 December.

The coalition, which together employs more than 750,000 people and comprises 64,000 companies across Europe, has argued that the proposed changes "would threaten the digital ecosystem and fail to provide meaningful rights or protections to European citizens."

The group goes on to say that many of the provisions "would increase red tape and jeopardize the competitiveness of European companies - and for media organisations even their very existence - without improving the protection of privacy for European citizens."

According to the European Commission, the comprehensive reform of the EU's 1995 data protection rules aims to "strengthen online privacy rights" and "boost Europe's digital economy."

The commission apparently hopes that a single law for the whole EU will do away with much of the bureaucracy and costly administrative burdens that currently surround the various supervisory authorities, and will provide a "much needed boost to growth, jobs and innovation in Europe."

The "one stop shop" principle is central to the proposal put forward by EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, and ensures that companies in the EU will have to answer to only one data protection authority rather than 28.

However, Ricardo Gutiérrez, general secretary of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), said, "If the current text of the data protection regulation is adopted, it will be in direct conflict" with the "right of journalists to protect their sources" and the need to "protect journalists from undue influence."

David Hanger, president of the European Magazine Media Association (EMMA) and one of the three names on the signed statement, said that "a directly binding exemption in the draft regulation for journalistic data processing is essential to ensure that both journalists and publishers can continue fulfilling their democratic mission as regards investigating, reporting, writing and publishing editorial content without any obstacle, and to guarantee that sources are adequately protected."

The joint statement takes as its tenet that "the essence of media organisations is to underpin democracy through their journalistic work," and that their work should therefore not be hindered.

The meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council will be held over two days on Thursday and Friday 5-6 December. The discussion of data protection judicial reform will take place on Friday. The summit will be chaired by Juozas Bernatonis, Lithuanian Minister for Justice and Dailis Alfonsas Barakauskas, Lithuanian Minister for Home Affairs.

The council will also discuss the counter-terrorism implications of foreign fighters returning from Syria, and the question of enlarging the open-borders Schengen Area to include Bulgaria and Romania.