August 1, 2018 / 2:41 PM / 17 days ago

Pay TV? Media protest at fee to cover EU summits

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Brussels journalists covering the European Union have complained that Belgium is breaching media freedom after being told they will have to pay 50 euros (44.43 pounds) to cover the next summit of EU leaders.

FILE PHOTO: Reporters gather around spokesmen at the EU council headquarters for a second day of a European Union leaders summit addressing the talks about the so-called Brexit and the migrants crisis, in Brussels, Belgium, February 19, 2016. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

They were joined in their protests on Wednesday by the EU executive which, like the European Council which runs summits, urged their Belgian government hosts to reconsider a new law that makes people pay to be vetted by its security services.

FILE PHOTO: Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis talks with the media as he arrives at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Vidal/File Photo

A spokesman for the Belgian National Security Authority, responsible for the vetting, said the concerns expressed by the press would be submitted to the institution and taken into consideration.

“The implementation of the new measures will be evaluated and may, if necessary, be adjusted in the future,” Matthieu Branders said in a statement to Reuters.

Introduced on June 1, it came to journalists’ attention on Tuesday when the Council issued a routine invitation to accredit for coverage of the next quarterly summit in October. For the first time, it said that those based in Belgium must pay the Belgian authorities for their compulsory security screening.

FILE PHOTO: Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel briefs the media as he arrives at a European Union heads of state informal meeting in Brussels, Belgium, February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

The Belgian journalists association AGJPB said close to 1,000 journalists would be affected and called it a breach of media freedom.

It highlighted the plight of freelancers who did not have employers to pick up the bill and also noted the anomaly that those coming from abroad would not pay as their security screening is handled by other national governments.

The European Journalists Federation called for an exemption.

Journalists accredited to the EU institutions have free access to the headquarters of the Council and Commission in Brussels but special security for summits means journalists and other visitors need additional six-monthly vetting to attend.

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald and Julia Echikson; Editing by Alison Williams and Kirsten Donovan

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