Cursor editor takes TU/e to court

Cursor editor Bridget Spoor is filing a lawsuit because she doesn’t agree with the way in which a committee report was publicly disclosed by TU/e. In a summary procedure, she will demand the report is published in full, without any redacted parts.

In the report concerned, the committee concludes the Executive Board obstructed ‘Cursor’s journalistic freedom’. In the report of 47 pages (available in Dutch only), information has been edited out in five places. Each of the redacted parts makes up less than a line of text.

This is, however, crucial information, says Spoor’s legal counsel Martine Lem: “Without publication in full, part of the context of the report is missing.” As the report was published by TU/e last Friday, there’s an urgent interest to petition the judge for publication in full.

Full disclosure

“In a summary procedure, we are asking the judge to order the full disclosure of the report,” says Lem. “This case brings together various EU regulations: the EU Whistleblower Directive, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the General Data Protection Regulation. Bridget’ most far-reaching right in the matter is her freedom of speech,” Lem continues. “If the university wants to edit out something, they have to show why it’s justified to limit this freedom of speech. But they didn’t.”

The summary procedure also involves a financial demand. “We are asking for reasonable advance of the legal fees my client has had to pay,” says Lem, who thinks that the compensation offered by TU/e is too low.

Open Government Act

Lawyer Peter Andela, who’s representing TU/e, hopes for a practical solution. “TU/e would have also preferred to publish the report without redacted parts,” Andela says. But, according to him, the university is bound to the Dutch Open Government Act. Andela says that TU/e is correct in assuming this Act doesn’t conflict with article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and that this was previously determined by the Council of State.

“Upon actively disclosing reports, TU/e is obliged to consider additional interests, such as privacy and confidentiality.” These are the exact reasons for editing out information, Andela explains. “The interest of transparency was not harmed by this in any way,” he argues. “The report’s readability has not been hampered and the analysis and conclusions have been fully retained.”

“My client prefers practical actions over debates about principles,” says Andela. “It goes without saying that those actions must be in accordance with laws and regulations, and they are.” In any summary procedure, ‘Ms. Spoor will have to make clear whose freedom of speech is being compromised and why’.

European law

European law takes priority over national law, lawyer Martine Lem counters, and therefore over the Dutch Open Government Act. “A separate assessment against the basic rights in European law is always possible.” When it comes to freedom of speech, the fundamental rights of Cursor editor Spoor are paramount. “TU/e will have to respect those rights.”

It’s not yet clear when the short procedure will take place. “You first apply for a date,” lawyer Lem explains. “We’re working on the subpoena right now.” It’s by no means certain the case will actually go to trial. Lem: “Until we’re actually in the courtroom, there will be time to reach a settlement.”

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