On 29 October 2008, the Dutch Minister of Justice presented a bill on the protection of informants of journalists in criminal proceedings (Wet bronbescherming in strafzaken).
The direct cause for the bill was the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (the "ECHR") on 22 November 2007 (Voskuil v. the Netherlands). In that decision, the ECHR ruled that the Netherlands had violated article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of speech) by incarcerating a journalist for 17 days who refused to reveal the identity of his informant.
Pursuant to the bill, witnesses to whom information has been confided as part of (information gathering in view of) professional news coverage, or news coverage as part the public debate, have the right to claim exemption from giving a statement or answering questions about the source of such information.
A court, however, will be able to deny the journalist such privilege if the court finds that there is "an overriding requirement in the public interest which public interest would be heavily damaged if the source were not to be revealed". If the journalist were to still refuse to reveal his sources after such denial, he can be detained for a maximum of 16 days. However, such overriding requirement should not be readily assumed.
An interesting feature of the bill is that the Minister of Justice has deliberately chosen not to define the term "journalist". Therefore, new media, such as "bloggers" on the internet, are in principle included in the definition. However, the Minister notes that, for the privilege to be applicable, it is decisive whether the publication intends to play a role in the public debate and whether it intends to communicate to a wide public. Furthermore, the term "professional" also refers to certain ethical standards, such as verification of sources and hearing both sides, that must be taken into account in order for the privilege to be applicable.