Charter for online publications
Regarding the options that media companies offer to citizens mentioned in an online publication.
Data is archived on a large scale on the Internet. Have you been involved in a traffic accident? Have you been involved in criminal proceedings in the past? Then the chances are that, after entering a simple search command, you will come across this information many years after the facts in the result lists of search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo and the like.
The permanent accessibility of these publications on the Internet creates inherent tension between the privacy rights of the person concerned on the one hand, and the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press and the right to information on the other. As a watchdog of democracy, it is the role of the press to report on matters of general interest, to inform the public as correctly and completely as possible, and to ensure that the public has access to this information.
When balancing these fundamental rights, it is important, from a social and historical point of view, to ensure that the information in press archives is not manipulated, and that this information remains accessible, including via search engines. After all, press archives provide an important source of information and feed the collective memory. Any other solution leads to the rewriting of – sometimes even recent – history, and possibly even to the falsification of history.
The media companies involved in this charter are concerned about the protection of the citizens’ rights and, under the conditions described below, are prepared to proceed to correct or complete a publication, or to no longer index it, always taking into account the journalistic code of conduct and the factual elements of the request.
This charter is a voluntary initiative from the written and audio-visual press, and is intended to clarify the options available to citizens if they are mentioned in an online publication, be it an article or a sound or image fragment. The charter has been drawn up on the basis of practical experience gained and must not be read or interpreted in an absolute manner, as it is impossible to take all special circumstances into account. The charter is intended to be a useful tool with regard to most of the requests, but does not grant absolute rights.
II. Concrete options
Anyone who believes that an online publication in which he/she has been mentioned by name or has been implicitly indicated, and which is freely accessible on the Internet, could cause him or her serious and real damage can contact the media companies, including Mediahuis, via firstname.lastname@example.org and request that one of the options below is applied:
B. Update of judicial information
C. Removal of the link to the web page
The request must be made by the person mentioned by name or implicitly indicated. If this person is deceased, the spouse, the legal cohabitant or an heir up to the second degree may submit the request.
The publication in question must be clearly identified in the written request and must always state the URL. If multiple publications are targeted in the same medium, all URLs must be specified. The request must be dated and signed, and be accompanied by proof of identity of the requester (a copy of the identity card or any other conclusive document), always stating the full address and contact details. Any third party that is called upon will be required to submit a signed power of attorney with supporting documents. The request must be accurately substantiated and, if necessary, must include the necessary supporting documents as an attachment. If the media company makes an e-mail address available, the request may also be submitted by e-mail, with the signed letter and/or supporting documents attached.
The media company will carry out a detailed investigation of each request, and will notify its substantiated decision within three months following receipt of the request. The absence of a decision when this period of three months has expired is to be regarded as a refusal of the request.
Rectification is only possible if the information was factually incorrect at the time of the publication, and insofar as the factual inaccuracies are relevant. No rectification can be requested for details that do not cause any damage.
If the media company has published factually incorrect information, a request for correction can be submitted. This information will be rectified by the media company in accordance with the principles of journalistic ethics.
The factual inaccuracy must be clearly proven in the request.
The possibility of rectification is not limited in time, as it is opportune that factual errors can be rectified at all times.
The media company is free to determine the way in which the rectification takes place.
B. Update of judicial information
Any person who is named in an online publication as a suspect, defendant, accused or convicted person can – if a new, significant evolution occurs in the case – submit a request for the addition of an update in the following cases: waiving of prosecution, dismissal of the case, acquittal, revocation, reopening, restoration of honour and rights, pardon or amnesty that has acquired the force of res judicata, release after serving the sentence or conviction for an offence other than the one that was initially published.
The request must be submitted in writing within a period of three months, starting from the day on which the ruling of dismissal or acquittal is no longer subject to objection, appeal or a provision in cassation.
The request to update the information must be drawn up in the same language as the information that gave rise to the request, and must contain the following indications:
1. The identity of the person who was named or was implicitly indicated;
2. Reference to the online publication that led to the request to update;
3. The ruling regarding the dismissal of the case, the acquittal, revocation, reopening, restoration of honour and rights, pardon or amnesty in favour of the requester, the date of this decision and the judicial authority that issued it, or proof of the cessation of prosecution from the judicial authority or a lawyer. The proof of the ruling must be attached to the request.
4. In case of a court decision, the conclusion that objection, appeal or a provision in cassation are no longer possible.
No request to update the information can be made, however, if the media company has already proceeded to update the information in an appropriate manner on its own initiative.
The media company is free to determine the way in which the update takes place.
C. Removal of the link to the web page
1. At the level of the search engine
Any person who is mentioned in an online publication can ask a search engine to remove the link to the web page of the media company (also known as de-indexation or delisting). The requester is required to respect the conditions set by the operator of the search engine and should use the forms that are made available for this purpose (Google, Bing, Yahoo).
This is the first path to be taken. A media company may ask that such a request should first be submitted, and present the proof that the request was made and refused.
When assessing this request, the search engine will examine whether the public interest prevails over the personal interest of the requester, and whether it may be justified that access to this information from the past is not restricted.
This removal only relates to the results of a search command that contains the name of the person. In other words, the de-indexation does not affect the publication as such, which remains accessible in the archives of the media company.
2. At the level of the media company
The media company can only make a publication inaccessible for search engines – if it has the technical capabilities to do so (by adding a “no archive” or “no index” tag) – if the request of the person concerned is not granted by the operator of the search engine(s) and the person in question provides proof of this. This leads to the publication no longer being listed in the results of the search engine. The publication will remain available in full on the website of the media company, however.
The media company may refuse to comply with the request for de-indexation. Such a refusal must be substantiated.
This can happen in the following cases, among others:
- If the publication relates to a fact or event, for example a historical event, that still constitutes information of public interest, and for which there is no indication at the time of the request that it should not remain in the collective memory;
- If the request relates to a public person and/or facts that constitute information of public interest;
- If several people are mentioned by name, and there is only one person who opposes the indexation by (a) search engine(s);
- If the request is manifestly biased, or makes unjustified preferential choices between certain publications;
- If, at the time of the request, the facts remain easily accessible via other channels indexed by search engines without this accessibility being challenged by the requester;
- If the request is manifestly based on claims that are incorrect or untrue.
The media company assesses the request for de-indexation and the existence of a public interest, taking into account the factual elements with which the requester is confronted, specifically the seriousness of the facts, how long ago they took place, and whether or not the requester had actively participated in the disclosure of the facts or had given his consent for their publication.
The media company takes its decision under reservations of a technical nature, as the media company cannot be held responsible for the operation of the search engines and databases of third parties.
Brussels, 15 December 2017
On behalf of:
Vlaamse Nieuwsmedia CVBA, with registered office at 1702 Groot-Bijgaarden, Alfons Gossetlaan 30, which is the umbrella organisation of all Flemish newspaper publishers and represents the media companies Mediafin (email@example.com), Mediahuis (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the Persgroep Publishing (email@example.com).
LA PRESSE.be CVBA, with registered office at 1070 Anderlecht, Barastraat 175, which is the umbrella organisation of all Belgian French-speaking and German-speaking newspaper publishers and represents the media companies Editions de l’Avenir (firstname.lastname@example.org), Grenz-Echo (email@example.com), IPM Group (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com), Mediafin (firstname.lastname@example.org), Rossel & Cie (email@example.com) and Sud Presse (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Ppress V.Z.W., with registered office at 1731 Zellik, Z1. Researchpark 120, which is the umbrella organisation of magazine publishers, and represents, among others, Sanoma Media Belgium, Roularta Media Group, De Persgroep Publishing (email@example.com), Rossel & Cie (firstname.lastname@example.org), Editions Ciné Télé Revue, Produpress, Uitgeverij Cascade, Belgomedia and L’Avenir Hebdo (email@example.com).
Medialaan N.V., with registered office at 1800 Vilvoorde, Medialaan 1 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
RTBF, independent public institution of a cultural nature, with registered office at 1044 Brussels, Auguste Reyerslaan 52 (email@example.com).
RTL Belux SA & Cie SECS., with registered office at 1543 Luxembourg, Boulevard Pierre Frieden 43 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
VRT, N.V., under public law, with registered office at 1043 Brussels, Auguste Reyerslaan 52 (email@example.com).
Fédération des télés Locales A.S.B.L., with registered office at 5101 Erpent, Place des jardins de Baseilles 19, P.O. Box 15, is the umbrella organisation of the 12 television channels in the Wallonia Brussels Federation and represents the following non-profit organisations: Antenne-centre, BX1, Canal C, Canal Zoom, MaTélé, Notélé, RTC-Télé Liège, TéléMB, Télésambre, Télévesdre, TVCom and TVLux.