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Journalists sign up with publishers against Rome II: Constant threat of legal action would seriously undermine press freedom

Key vote: 20 June

Journalist and publishers' groups have come together to protest about ROME II, the draft regulation on applicable law to non-contractual obligations that would apply in cross border cases of defamation, violations of privacy and the right of reply. The current text would create a charter for claimants to "shop" around for the law and jurisdiction of their choice - in any EU member state. A key vote takes place on 20 June in the European Parliament's JURI Committee.

European Publishers Council (EPC) Chairman, Francisco Pinto Balsemão said: "We are seeking practical solutions which balance press freedom with the rights of Europe's citizens, including their right to access to information from a wide range of sources from across the European Union. As it stands, this regulation would see publications gagged by court orders and our editors prevented from publishing articles - despite the publication having complied with their national laws on defamation and privacy. Journalists and their publishers will be forced to check compliance with every possible national law and regulation before going to print or face the threat of injunction. This level of legal uncertainty has a chilling effect on our journalists' ability to express themselves freely and makes a mockery of the "internal market" justification for this proposal. Without some amendment, the current text clearly flouts the European Convention of Fundamental Rights that guarantees us this freedom. All media will be affected, but the degree of legal uncertainty for any online publication and its journalists will be untenable. "

The EPC, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ); the European Newspaper Publishers' Association (ENPA), the European Federation of Magazine Publishers (FAEP) and the Federation of European Publishers (FEP), are calling on the EP's JURI committee to support amendments that would provide for solutions ensuring legal certainty whilst respecting the freedom of expression across the EU. Publishers believe that it is vitally important to dispel the myth that the current drafting somehow protects the common citizen from inequality with large media groups when, in practice, the majority of cross border cases of defamation and privacy are brought by politicians and well known personalities. Already, the media offer the right of reply or similar remedies through a combination of statutory and self-regulatory mechanisms all over Europe which are open to all citizens at no cost.

Whilst these groups have been arguing the case for the adoption of the "country of origin" principle for cross border conflicts of law disputes for the past two years - which would mean that publishers need comply only with the law in which their works originate, they are now calling on MEPs to agree to a practical compromise solution. They propose that the rule should apply in the country for which the publication (or broadcasting service) is mainly intended - this to be determined by the language used, sales figures, or audience size, for example. In the case of more international distribution, the law of the country in which editorial control is exercised should apply.

The vote in Plenary on ROME II is expected to take place in July.

For further information, please contact Heidi Lambert on Tel: +44 1245 476 265 or Angela Mills Wade on Tel: +44 1865 310 732.