Stichting Ostade Blade v. Netherlands
Closed Mixed Outcome
- Mode of Expression
Press / Newspapers
- Date of Decision
May 27, 2014
- Case Number
- Region & Country
Netherlands, Europe and Central Asia
- Judicial Body
European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)
- Type of Law
International/Regional Human Rights Law
Rights of Others, Anonymity, Search Warrant
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Case Summary and Outcome
A Dutch magazine’s application before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that claimed its freedom to receive and impart information under Article 10 of European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) had been violated was found to be inadmissible. The ECtHR declared that the magazine’s informant could not be considered a journalistic source because he or she intended to make use of the anonymity offered by the editors in order to claim responsibility for a crime, while simultaneously avoiding punishment.
On May 3, 1996, the Dutch magazine Ravage revealed in a press release that its editors had received a letter from an organization, Earth Liberation Front (ELF), claiming responsibility for a bomb attack carried out earlier that year in the town of Arnhem. The next day, the police searched the magazine’s premises with the aim of retrieving the letter, which was regarded as important evidence in the investigation into the attack. The search went on despite editors’ claims that the letter had already been destroyed. The police seized a large quantity of material in order to investigate potential links between the magazine and ELF.
The foundation responsible for publishing the magazine, Stichting Ostade Blade, presented a request for compensation, which the Ministry of Justice rejected. The foundation subsequently appealed to the Regional Court of The Hague and was awarded 10,000 Netherlands Guilders for pecuniary damages related to the police search. The Court, however, held that there had not been a violation of the magazine’s right to freedom of expression. On this basis, Stichting Ostade Blade brought proceedings before the Court of Appeal of The Hague and, following the Court of Appeal’s rejection, at the Supreme Court and the Amsterdam Court of Appeal. The Amsterdam Court of Appeal found violations of Articles 10 and 8 of the ECHR, but only with respect to the search conducted for the purpose of finding links between ELF and the magazine, because these allegations had not been sufficiently specified by the authorities.
Stichting Ostade Blade filed an application with the ECtHR, claiming that the police search at Ravage’s premises amounted to a violation of the freedom to receive and impart information as granted by Article 10 of the ECHR. The ECtHR declared the application inadmissible because it was “manifestly ill-founded.” [para. 73] Further, the ECtHR did not accept the magazine’s claim that it had a right to protect its journalistic sources and, thus, a right not to hand in the letter to the police. While the law affords protection to those who provide information of general interest to the public, such protection cannot be extended to someone who is claiming responsibility for a crime. Here, the informant was using the anonymity accorded by the magazine to both evade punishment and give publicity to ELF’s cause.
After analyzing the circumstances of the search, including the crime’s inherent dangerousness, the ECtHR found that the interference with the right to freedom of expression could be justified under the provisions of Article 10, Section 2 of the ECHR. The search had been conducted for a legitimate aim (the prevention of further crimes and was necessary in order to retrieve an important piece of evidence (the letter). Stichting Ostade Blade’s claim for compensation was also dismissed.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The decision of the ECtHR recalled Recommendation No. R (2000) 7 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which defined a journalistic source as “any person who provides information to a journalist.” [para. 38] The Recommendation further noted that the right to the protection of sources can be restricted for the cases specified by law and when necessary in a democratic society, as stated by Article 10, Section 2 of the ECHR.
Most importantly, with this decision, the ECtHR advanced the jurisprudence behind the theory that an informant claiming responsibility for a crime cannot be considered a journalistic source and, thus, is not granted protection under Article 10, Section 1 of the ECHR.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Table of Authorities
Related International and/or regional laws
- Rec., COE, Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, On the Right of Journalists Not To Disclose Their Sources of Information, No. R (2000) 7 (03/08/2000)
- ECHR, art. 10
- ECHR, art. 8
National standards, law or jurisprudence
- Neth., Code of Criminal Procedure, art. 98
- Neth., Code of Criminal Procedure art. 99
- Neth., Code of Criminal Procedure, art. 111
- Neth., Code of Criminal Procedure, art. 113
- Neth., Code of Criminal Procedure, art. 218
- Directive, Board of Procurators General, Directive on the Application of Coercive Measures to Journalists (04/01/2002) (Netherlands)
- Neth., Minister of Justice, Guidelines on the Position of the Press in Relation to Police Action (05/19/1988)
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.
ECtHR decisions are binding on the parties to the case.
The decision was cited in:
Official Case Documents
Official Case Documents:
Reports, Analysis, and News Articles:
- Hugh Tomlinson, Stichting Ostade Blade v Netherlands, The Limits of the Concept of “Journalistic Source," Informm’s Blog (06/22/2014)
- Emily MacKenzie, European Court of Human Rights Denies Journalist Source Protection to Perpetrator of Bomb Attacks, American Society of International Law (06/27/2014)
- Gill Phillips, On Protection of Journalistic Sources, European University Institute
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.