AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The main Dutch journalists’ union on Wednesday filed a lawsuit challenging the European Union’s ban on Russian state-backed media outlets as a violation of European citizens’ own rights to freedom of information.
The EU issued sweeping restrictions on the distribution of Russia Today and Sputnik in Europe on March 2 as part of sanctions against Moscow, arguing that they produced propaganda used to justify and support the invasion of Ukraine.
The Dutch lawsuit, filed at the EU’s Court of Justice, did not endorse the content produced by the Russian organizations or say that European broadcasters should carry them.
Rather, it said the ban was overly broad and that allowing politicians to enact censorship policies overnight is wrong in principle.
“If you’re talking about sanctions, then the idea is to punish Russia,” said Thomas Bruning of the Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten (NVJ).
“But in fact you’re punishing the European people, by not treating them like adults and not giving them the possibility to access information.”
He said that allowing the ban to go unchallenged could set a precedent for banning other politicized news outlets.
“We all feel that disinformation is a serious problem of our times. Censorship is an easy answer, but it’s not the right answer.”
The ban, which was decided by European political leaders in the European Council, covers “all means for transmission and distribution” of the Russian outlets, including cable, satellite, television, internet platforms, websites and apps.
The NVJ lawsuit is also backed by several Dutch internet providers and by online liberties group Bits of Freedom, known for its net neutrality campaigns.
The EU decision cited worries that RT and Sputnik could destabilize Europe, but was “exceptionally vague” said Bits of Freedom expert Rejo Zenger in a blog post on the lawsuit.
“It’s not clear what exactly has to be blocked, who must do the blocking, or how long the blockade should last.”
“If a decision like this is really needed then the motivation should be much better explained, and vetted by an independent judge.”
(Reporting by Toby Sterling in Amsterdam; Editing by Matthew Lewis)