Netherlands: Misuse by journalists might lead to law changes
Dutch Minister of Home Affairs Piet Hein Donner has announced law changes in order of prevent ”misuse” of freedom of information. Critics call the statement a declaration of war.
In a speech on Press Freedom Day 3 May the minister took a shot at journalist’s use of the WOB (Wet Obenbaarheid van Bestuur) – the Dutch Openess of Government Act.
"Dozens of civil servants now often have the daily task of dealing with the WOB requests. This is the result of the hail shots fired by journalists at the government in the hopes that one shot yields a scoop. I do not consider this efficient use of time," the Christian democratic minister said.
Talking about amendments of the existing law Donner rejected the notion of putting press freedom in jeopardy.
”Of course, the openness of government act is a nice instrument for journalists for news-gathering. But we also had press freedom in the Netherlands before the act existed”, he said according to Dutch news service NIS.
In his speech Piet Hein Donner did not specify what paragraphs in the law he wants to change but indicated that documents showing positions before government decisions should be kept outside the public domain.
"Civil servants and ministers are rightly cautious with disclosure. One wrong remark by the Finance Minister can yield millions in damages nowadays," he said.
The minister also seems to want to restrict the amount of wobbing request by introducing different kind of thresholds such as an upper limit of request per year, or a limit of the number of documents per request. Having heard the speech in Amsterdam Icelandic parliamentarian Brigitta Jonsdottir said she was surprised to see that journalists present did not rise up in protest.
Roger Vleugels, a Dutch expert on wobbing and publisher of the newsletter Fringe describes the announcement as the 2nd Dutch Freedom of Information War, referring to the 1970’ies when politicians opposed the introduction of an access law as the first war of that kind.
”Perhaps this one too will take a couple of years, that is no problem: we, the requesters, the people, will win. We are now in the phase of anger and letters. First debates in parliament are asked. A lot more will follow. We will Wob till he drops, ” Vleugels writes in a comment.