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The transformation of Right to be Forgotten into Right to Forget the News

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The transformation of Right to be Forgotten into Right to Forget the News

On 29th April 2016 the Belgian Superior Court ordered newspaper Le Soir to alter an article published 22 years ago, by anonymizing the individual named in the online version of the original report. The Board of WAN-IFRA reacted immediately to the news and passed a strong resolution calling on courts of law to uphold freedom of expression in the face of right to be forgotten claims, and unequivocally declaring “unacceptable (...) any imposed alteration of news articles”.

The main argument underlying the Belgian decision was that the inclusion of an old article in the newspaper’s online archives could be considered as a new disclosure of facts regarding the mentioned individual’s judicial past. The Italian decision results in an even more serious attack to freedom of information especially when looking at the details of the case, which unlike the Belgian one - dating back decades - is still being debated in court to this day. 

The Italian case started in September 2010, with the plaintiff demanding news media to remove from their website an article published in 2008.  The publisher obliged six months later. This delay is the basis of the Italian Court’s decision, who ruled that the two and a half years passed between the first publication of the news in spring 2008 and the removal request, were a stretch of time sufficient to satisfy the right to information of the public. Maintaining the article online for six additional months was a direct violation of the plaintiffs right to privacy, and was not covered (anymore?) by the journalistic exemption. 

As noted by L’Espresso, the Italian judge basically established in two and a half years the time span after which news and all the public’s rights connected to them expire, “just like milk, yogurt or a pint of ice cream”. It can be expected that, at least in Italy for the moment, news media will increasingly commit self censorship and volunteer news removals, unless they’re wealthy enough to face long judicial proceeding with such troubling precedents. 

More right to be forgotten cases are presently being discussed in Europe. In France in particular, the face-off between Google and the French Data Protection Authority CNIL is ongoing, following Google’s appeal against the order to delist “right to be forgotten links” from all versions of Google Search globally and for all users. Google argues that the order “could lead to a global race to the bottom, harming access to information that is perfectly lawful to view in one’s own country”.

The news media should follow with attention the developments of the French case, because if Google were to lose before the Conseil d'Etat - the highest administrative court in France - the judgement would be final, and the right to be forgotten would effectively become “global”. Given the latest judicial developments, it is safe to imagine that sooner or later such a decision would reverberate its effects on free speech to the news industry as well.


Elena Perotti's picture

Elena Perotti


2016-07-22 16:12

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The news publishing industry is experiencing transformation at an ever-growing pace, with new policy issues arising as the landscape changes.

We will be examining policy discussions that will define the news publishing environment of the future, the key topics being internet governance, privacy and copyright. Click here to learn more about our work.

WAN-IFRA Media Policy team and experts.

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