DPG Media's third-party appeal against Rousseau's publication ban rejected

The Intermediate Court of Dendermonde has rejected DPG Media's third-party appeal and upheld the publication ban on information from the official report against Vooruit chairman Conner Rousseau. DPG must pay Rousseau 1,800 euros in legal fees.

The East Flanders Public Prosecutor's Office confirmed on 21 September that statements made by Rousseau to police officers in Sint-Niklaas on the night of 1 to 2 September are being investigated. HLN and VTM Nieuws had prepared an article and a report with excerpts from the official report against Rousseau, but he took the case to court in summary proceedings and was granted the publication ban by unilateral application on 28 September.

DPG Media filed a third-party appeal, joined by the Flemish Association of Journalists (VVJ). The media group wants the interim court to end the ban on "the dissemination of documents or information from the official report or other documents from the ongoing investigation or judicial inquiry". The ban applies to the media company "as well as to any other natural person, company, directly or indirectly responsible, through any intermediary or not, through any press organisation, media or audiovisual medium or data carrier," but was only served to DPG Media.

The interim judge rejected DPG Media's third-party objection, and the media company must pay Rousseau 1,800 euros in legal costs. "The President ruled that neither the Constitution nor the Convention on Human Rights precludes a preventive ban on publication in all circumstances," said Press Judge Sofie Van Ginderdeuren, explaining the reasons for the ruling. "He sees confirmation in various sources that it is precisely the secrecy of the criminal investigation and the right of defence that can form the basis for a preventive ban, and in this case, a publication ban was indeed justified."

Several experts had argued after the publication ban that it was "preventive censorship", but the judge in the summary proceedings sees it differently. "On the merits of the discussion, the president ruled that there was a 'sufficient appearance' of some irregularities, as required by law," the press judge said. "He therefore ruled that it appeared that the secrecy of the investigation had been breached and that the publication had compromised Mr Rousseau's right of defence. The presiding judge then noted that since the DPG had already reported the original incident in the media and Mr Rousseau had not reacted to it, a preventive publication ban could only refer to new elements that could only emerge from the PV and the criminal investigation".

During his interrogation by the federal police in Ghent, Rousseau became aware of the contents of the official report in question and viewed the footage from the local police's body camera. According to Rousseau, the audio from the bodycam did not fully match the information in the official report, but he apologised. He said he had asked the police to use their batons on people from the Roma community to show them respect.

After his press conference, more details from the police report appeared in various media, but the president of Vooruit decided not to pursue the 1,000 euro per hour fine over the ban on distribution. Simon Bekaert, Rousseau's lawyer in the unilateral petition, is satisfied with the judge's decision in the summary proceedings. "The freedom of some ends where the freedom of others begins, and the same goes for fundamental rights," says the lawyer.


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