The reasons for the request are quite diverse; from hilarious: ‘the photo of me is a few years old and I don’t look anything like it anymore’, to very serious: ‘a family member has a violent past and I don’t want him to be able to find me through this article’, and everything in between.

In recent years, we received several dozen such requests. And EM is not unique in this, all media are noticing an increase. Understandable because thanks to Google, many online archives are much easier to search than the long-standing paper archive.

Students are also often shocked to find their name and photo online in a place over which they have no control. Especially at the time they start looking for a job. The fear that recruiters will not invite them for a job application runs deep among this generation. Justifiable fear, because there are employers who require their employees to wipe their digital record clean, and I am not talking about security services or other workplaces where a certain degree of anonymity is part of your job.

EM will not go along with this form of overblown reputation management and will not honour a request for deletion on that ground. We do refer to Google’s right to be forgotten registry where you can make a request to break the link between your name and the article.

By the way, I carefully review all requests for removal of information first, but initially everyone gets the same answer: No, we do not remove information from our website.

Just as we do not tear pages out of our paper archive, we do not delete information from our website. The archive should give a complete and reliable picture of what happened on the EUR. This is not something that we as EM alone find, several judges, ombudsmen and the Press Council have ruled on this in similar cases.

But what about an interviewee’s privacy? Requests for name or photo removal are quite often accompanied by reference to the right to privacy. Of course, we think privacy is important too, but journalistic work is subject to the so-called ‘journalistic exemption’.  Many of the rules in privacy law do not apply if you process personal data solely for journalistic purposes, according to the Dutch Journalists Association (NVJ) booklet ‘Law & Journalism’. Journalists should be free to gather and publish information, this is called freedom of the press.

Another rule also applies in journalism, which they call minimise harm. A journalistic publication may cause harm, but as a journalist you try to minimise harm, i.e. not cause unnecessary suffering. Combined with freedom of the press, this sometimes presents me with diabolical dilemmas; it’s choosing between a rock and a hard place.

To assess whether there is harm in personal life, the person in question must be able to prove it, which is done in confidence between the editor-in-chief and the person concerned.

Based on this contact, I as editor-in-chief sometimes do decide to remove data – a name, surname or photo – from our website. As, for example, in the aforementioned example where a student was able to make it plausible that he had to fear for his life if the criminal relative was able to track him down. Or that time when an international student had transitioned after graduation and was unsure of her future in her home country because of brutal violence towards trans persons. EM’s archive is worth a lot to me, but not everything.

Wieneke Gunneweg_2_9.2023

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