Guidelines for news embargoes (Belgia)
1. Information can be gathered and spread freely.
2. An embargo is an agreement between a source of information and the journalist or the media on not publishing certain information during a certain period of time. Such agreement has to be observed by the journalist or the media if it has expressly been signed.
3. Only in exceptional cases does the press accept a unilateral request for embargo or does it agree to postpone publishing the news temporarily:
3.1 When the news do not exist yet or when the postponing is necessary for preparing the news properly. The embargo is accepted only if it is requested in due order, its duration is limited, its content is precisely described, it is expressly motivated, and it applies to all of the media concerned. The embargo is cancelled as soon as the information is known from another source;
3.2 When the life or the health of human beings is at risk or, very exceptionally, not to hinder the solution of severe crimes. The embargo will be accepted only if it is requested in due order, its content is precisely described, it is convincingly and expressly motivated, it applies to all of the media concerned, and its duration is limited.
Embargoes are often declared unilaterally. As there are often problems with observing embargoes, it is useful to state in which circumstances a request for embargo can be accepted by journalists. The general rule is that information is free. An embargo makes an exception to that rule. Such agreement must be observed by the journalist or the media if it has expressly been signed by them.
When the journalist or the media cannot expressly sign the agreement, they can only in very exceptional circumstances be assumed to have agreed on the embargo. The guidelines for news embargoes define which circumstances these are. It is the journalist and the publication’s management team that have to follow the guidelines. In disputed issues the Council for Journalism will base its resolution on the guidelines.
It is not always necessary to ask all the media to respect the request for embargo, because sometimes it is enough to request only some of the media not to publish the news until a certain date. But in that case it is definitely not allowed to discriminate against any media.
For example a call that is spread in due course via de Belga News Agency can be regarded as an appropriate request.