Media not allowed to publish Univ. Amsterdam professor’s name in sex misconduct report

Scales of justice and gavel on law book
Scales of justice and gavel on law book. (Photo: tomloel/DepositPhotos)

NRC was not allowed to publish the full name of a labor law professor in an article about the man's misconduct at work, the court said in a ruling published on Tuesday. The professor filed summary proceedings against the Dutch newspaper, an editor from the paper and two journalists. The court ordered the NRC, its editor and journalists to pay the plaintiff and his wife 1,358.83 euro in legal fees and court costs.

NRC said on Tuesday that it will appeal against the ruling. "No longer being allowed to publish the names of high-ranking public figures in the event of serious abuses has (...) far-reaching journalistic consequences that go beyond the importance of this case", the newspaper wrote. NRC believes that mentioning the man by full name does justice to the "scope and gravity of the facts and contributes to the current social debate about the phenomenon of (sexual) abuse of power."

The professor was affiliated with the labor law department at the University of Amsterdam until late 2018. In October last year, NRC reported that a committee of inquiry concluded that the man had shown "sexually transgressive" behavior and that there has been a "feeling of insecurity" in the department for some time. The professor had to leave the university for these reasons. NRC reconstructed the professor's alleged misconduct based on information from more than 35 sources, including dozens of documents, messages and emails. 

“This case involves a clash of two fundamental rights, the NRC’s right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and the right to respect the personal privacy of the claimant, as guaranteed in Article 8 of that Convention,” the court wrote. “There is no ranking of the two rights,” the court added, saying its role was to balance these two guarantees against each other to make a prudent decision in the case, also in the context of the ongoing #metoo debate seeking safe workspaces free of unwanted sexual advances.

The court ruled that NRC's conclusions were sufficiently substantiated, but at the same time there was insufficient grounds for revealing the professor's full name. “With regard to the most serious allegations - of sexual assault and of having sexual contact with a vulnerable student - the factual substantiation of the claimant’s denial is, however, very brief and it is likely that this dates back years ago. It is certain that no report has been made against the claimant, let alone that he has been prosecuted,” the court said. Had he been prosecuted, the ruling continued, media outlets would likely have identified him only by initial while making his photo unrecognizable.

Common media practice in the Netherlands is to publish at least the first names of criminal suspects with the last name redacted, unless a suspect is a public figure.

The court also agreed with the NRC that the plaintiff is a “public figure” in that “he was a professor, head of the [academic] department and deputy counsel of the Amsterdam Court of Appeal, with which he held public positions. He also went public himself, albeit to a modest degree, with publications, opinions and with web lectures, and in that capacity he has to tolerate (a certain degree of) media interest.”

The court noted that NRC could have exposed the abuses at the relevant University of Amsterdam department without mentioning the professor's name. "Within his own professional circles almost everyone, if not already, will soon know that it is about him, even if his name is not mentioned." The court added that NRC is known as a quality newspaper, which means that articles therein will be regarded as the truth by a large audience, "especially when presented as facts".

According to the court, the professor has sufficiently been punished in his professional life and it does not need to spill over into his private life. "A far-reaching violation of his privacy and that of his family by mentioning his name in the article is not justified in the given circumstances." The court also blocked the newspaper from using identifiable quotes from third parties, or using its website to link to allegations made by people claiming to be victims and social media messages about the case. 

 

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