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ERC sets out principles applicable to journalists' right of access to public places

Following a request for information from the Portuguese Journalists’ Professional License Committee on journalists' right of access to spaces open to the public, ERC’s Regulatory Board, on 9 November, adopted the Decision ERC/2023/408 (DJ) summarising the legal framework and the general principles applicable to the exercise of the right of access that have been governing ERC's decisions.

The regulator explains in the document that the right of access to information is the very core of the freedom of the press and journalists’ fundamental right. As general principle, journalists performing their work, and because of it, therefore have freedom of access to the information sources needed to achieve the right to information in its threefold form: the right to inform, to obtain information and to be informed.

As such, preventing journalists from accessing to or staying in public places to cover an event or to prohibit, in those places, the use of technical and human resources required for them to perform their activity, consist of conducts that are legally comparable, in a negative way, to denying the exercise of the right to inform and, ultimately, the freedom of information itself.

In the Decision ERC/2023/408, ERC clarifies that the scope and manner in which the powers comprised within the right of access to information are exercised is neither absolute nor unlimited. In the view of ERC, it is related, on the one hand, to the compliance with the legal and ethical rules applicable to journalistic activity, and, on the other hand, to the attachment to secrecy obligations and confrontation with other rights, particularly rights relating to personality, which might create potential or apparent conflicts potentially legitimising the compression of the exercise of that right to a greater or lesser degree. Furthermore, ERC points out that the reconciliation with fundamental rights will always require a case-by-case assessment of the interests and rights involved, which is primarily up to the journalists themselves to make.

Read the full text of Decision ERC/2023/408 (DJ) here.