Today’s Opinion: A creative lot

POSTED: 04/11/11 12:22 PM

Journalists are a creative lot. No we’re not saying…..

But all the same, journalists are a creative lot. We remember from years ago that a reporter for the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad boarded a plane at Schiphol Airport with a toy gun to show that airport security was not what it was supposed to be. This happened during the years that Palestinian terrorism was in its heydays.

Last year Alberto Stegeman, a reporter for the TV station SBS6 did something similar. A court in Amsterdam sentenced him to a €1,740 fine (around $2,475) for falsifying a KLM-ID and entering forbidden territory at the airport.

Stegeman works for a program called Undercover. He entered a closed area at the airport in the boot of a car and showed on camera that this way he gained access to the Dutch version of Air force 1, the plane used by the government. “People with bad intentions are able to do the same thing,” was Stegeman’s conclusion after his successful infiltration.

But the Public Prosecutor’s Office was not amused and dragged the reporter into court, arguing that the action did not service any public interest because Stegeman entered a commercial property at Schiphol East where ordinary airplanes are parked in hangars. The security at the terrain in question is low level, compared to that at Schiphol Center. The prosecutor also pointed out that no measures had been taken to upgrade security at Schiphol East, and took this as proof that there is nothing wrong with it.

But Stegeman’s attorney contested that position, saying that the government plane was parked in one of the hangars at Schiphol East.

He pointed out that there have been questions in parliament about the security for the plane, that Justice Minister Hirsch Ballin at the time said that the plane needs better security and that the national coordinator for anti-terrorism had urged the airport to implement car-boot checks.

We’d say that Stegeman achieved at least something. The question remains, however, whether he was entitled to break the law to get where he wanted to go.

It is an interesting dilemma.

Suppose we start thinking that finance Minister Shigemoto was, say, stretching the truth when he said that there is no link between Bas Roorda’s dismissal and the fact that the latter filed a complaint about a crime at the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Just suppose that we called the Spy Shop in Amsterdam, ordered a directional microphone and used this nifty piece of equipment for eavesdropping on Shigemoto’s office, and on meetings of the Council of Ministers. Suppose we learned something different there. Then what?

The International Federation of Journalists adopted a code of conduct more than fifty years ago that is still valid today:  “The journalist shall only use fair methods to obtain news, photographs and documents,” article 4 of the code reads.

There is your answer. Using directional microphones to eavesdrop on meetings or offices is hardly a fair method, so we’re not going to do business with the Spy Shop, no matter how tempting the idea may be.

Minister Shigemoto does not have to worry about those directional microphones, but the truth about Roorda’s dismissal, that’s another subject altogether.


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