The country’s two highest-ranking intelligence chiefs delivered separate warnings to JP/Politikens Hus CEO, Stig Ørskov, and Berlingske Media’s chief executive, Anders Krab-Johansen following the recent arrest of four intelligence officers accused of leaking information.
Denmark’s leading media executives were reminded of the penalties under Section 109 of the Danish Criminal Code on disclosure of state secrets, significantly the risk of imprisonment for up to 12 years.
The intelligence chiefs warned that the media are covered under that section of the law, and that “it may be a criminal offence to pass on classified information.”
It remains unclear which story, or stories, are being referred to in the context of these warnings. WAN-IFRA is deeply concerned by the deliberate chilling effect such a blanket statement creates.
“The intelligence services must subject themselves to public scrutiny just as any other part of government. I find this kind of approach deeply concerning and it should have no place in a democratic society,” said Mads Brandstrup, Chief Executive Officer of Danske Medier, the Danish Media Association.
“If these calls were about specific concerns regarding an ongoing case, that would be one thing. But when they are calling completely out of the blue with a generic warning, it is only natural that the media organisations are left with the impression that they are actually being threatened.”
The intelligence services revealed in a press release last week that four current and former employees had been arrested and charged under Section 109 for the “unauthorised disclosure of highly classified information.”
According to reports, at least three of those arrested appeared before a closed-door hearing on Friday. Two of them were remanded in custody for 11 days, while one was subsequently released.
It remains unclear what information the four are alleged to have leaked – and to whom. Suspicion remains that they may have been the sources for a number of revelations that have appeared in the press over recent years.
“This is nothing short of intimidation by the authorities in an attempt to impose pre-publication censorship,” said WAN-IFRA CEO, Vincent Peyrègne. “We are deeply concerned that this broad move to effectively threaten Denmark’s leading news titles with criminal proceedings for coverage of unspecified subjects amounts to an affront to press freedom in the country and opens the door to further abuses if left unchecked.”
“The overly broad application of national security laws to criminalise the press, combined with attempts to stifle publication of public interest journalism designed to hold authorities to account, is of growing concern globally. It is a favoured tactic of oppressive, authoritarian regimes and we sincerely hope this is not a direction that Denmark is choosing to go towards.”