Press freedom: Other countries shout notice 
Danish verdict and stop harassing journalists

 

06/12/2006

The Danish flag Dannebrog has one of her proud moments after the decision by a Danish court to acquit three journalists accused of illegally publishing intelligence secrets about Denmark's decision to go to war.


Executive summary: The World Association of Newspapers has welcomed the decision by a Danish court to acquit three journalists accused of illegally publishing intelligence secrets about Denmark's decision to go to war in Iraq. "This verdict is a victory for press freedom, for the public interest and for the media's role as watchdog over governments and their agencies," said Timothy Balding, ceo of WAN.

By Peter Horn

Did Denmark decide to go to war in Iraq based on false informations on Iraq's chemical waepons? This question is raised by more and more Danes and according to the latest opinion tolls most Danes think Denmark shoulds withdraw from Iraq - the first aggression warfare Denmark has participated in for 139 years.

The World Association of Newspapers has welcomed the decision by a Danish court to acquit three journalists accused of illegally publishing intelligence secrets in newspaper reports about Denmark's decision to go to war in Iraq. More cases are on their way in other countries, but the Danish court decision might encourage judges in those countries to respect their constitutions and base their views on law and not politics.

"This verdict is a victory for press freedom, for the public interest and for the media's role as watchdog over governments and their agencies," said Timothy Balding, Chief Executive Officer of the Paris-based WAN. Timothy Balding testified at the trial as an expert witness for the defense.

"We hope that other countries that are using secrecy laws to prevent embarassing disclosures take note of the Danish decision and stop harassing journalists."

The Editor-in-Chief of Berlingske Tidende, Niels Lunde, and reporters Jesper Larsen and Michael Bjerre Rasmussen were acquitted today on charges resulting from articles published in 2004 that assessed information about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They had been charged with disclosing classified information, and could have been sentenced to prison for between six months and two years.

The intelligence officer who leaked the reports and was subsequently jailed for six months, reduced on appeal to four, said at his trial that he felt Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen had exaggerated the information to convince Denmarkıs Parliament to go to war in Iraq.

Mr Balding had been a defence witness in the trial of the journalists. He testified that the information was "of high public interest" and that the newspaper had published the leaked information, after taking precautions that it was true and that it would not endanger lives, in the legitimate public interest of informing its readers and other Danish citizens of the basis for the engagement of Denmark in war.

"We are very concerned about the growing use and abuse of national security and secrecy legislation by governments and other authorities intent on preventing publication of matters of vital importance to the citizens of their countries", he testified.

An act of ethics
Mr.Frank Grevil, former major of The Danish Military Intelligence and an expert of chemical weapons, who leaked the story to the reporters, was sentenced prison for four months. He defended his action as an act of ethics as he though the government Fogh Rasmussen lied towards better knowledge. After the sentence, leading left wing politicans claimed the law should be changed. According to their view, Mr. Grevil deserved a medal for his brave action.

The Paris-based WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom world-wide. It represents 18,000 newspapers in 102 countries. 

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Read more: 
www.wan-press.org
www.wan.asso.fr
www.berlingske.dk


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