Media illegally use photo of Van Gogh 'killer'

30th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

30 November 2004 , AMSTERDAM — A police photograph of the suspected killer of filmmaker Theo van Gogh has been illegally splashed across the front pages of Dutch newspapers. This follows a landmark decision allowing its once-off publication on a crime stopper programme on Monday night.

30 November 2004

AMSTERDAM — A police photograph of the suspected killer of filmmaker Theo van Gogh has been illegally splashed across the front pages of Dutch newspapers. This follows a landmark decision allowing its once-off publication on a crime stopper programme on Monday night.

Mohammed B.

Facial features of suspects are usually obscured to protect privacy and their last names are also protected from publication. But Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner was closely involved in the decision to publish the photo of Mohammed B., 26, on public broadcaster Nederland 1 on Monday evening.

The crime stopper show Opsporing Verzocht broadcast the photo to help police obtain further information from the public about his movements and whether he was in contact with anyone else before the killing.

Police believe B., who holds Dutch and Moroccan nationality, has links to a network of Muslim militants in the Netherlands. Detectives want to establish if the killer acted alone or had accomplices.

B. was arrested minutes after Van Gogh was shot and stabbed to death on a street in Amsterdam on 2 November.

The Dutch media has identified the suspect as Mohammed B., but the foreign media has published his surname in full.

Morning newspaper Trouw was the only Dutch newspaper not to publish the suspect's photo. Editor-in-Chief Frits van Exter said the newspaper had decided the interests of privacy outweighed the public interest in publishing it.

The picture the media has used until now.

Newspapers Algemeen Dagblad and Het Parool published a photo of B. on Monday prior to the broadcast of Opsporing Verzocht. Other newspapers, including De Telegraaf and De Volkskrant and public news service NOS, published the photo following Monday night's programme.

Amsterdam police spokesman Rob van der Veen told Expatica on Tuesday the Dutch media had used the photo illegally. "The photo is only for police and Justice Department matters," he said.

Van der Veen said police never give permission for the publication of a suspect's photo and warned that if a media organisation published such a photo, they would do so at their own risk. "It is possible that there will be a case against those who used the photo," he warned.

Aisha Hunkar, a spokeswoman for public television company AVRO, which broadcasts Opsporing Verzocht, told Expatica that she had been in contact with police, who claimed only media organisations "with crime detection purposes" would be given permission to publish the photo.

But she also said that police would not take any legal action against news services that published the photo unless the situation got out of hand.

A spokeswoman for the Amsterdam public prosecutor's office had earlier said it was up to AVRO to determine whether any legal action would be taken because it was an issue concerning author's rights. "It is not our duty to do that, we are not going to take any action," she said.

Should any legal action be taken, the public prosecution office said it would need to investigate what sentence could be imposed on media organisations found to be in breach of regulations.

Questioned to the confusion as to who was responsible for taking any legal action should it arise, the AVRO spokeswoman subsequently contacted police to clarify the situation. Leaving the question unanswered as to whose property the photo was, Hunkar confirmed that police said no legal action would be taken at this stage.

The landmark publication of the photo on Opsporing Verzocht came after the lawyer representing B., Peter Plasman, failed in an 11th-hour bid in Amsterdam Court on Monday to prevent its release on the crime stopper show. Plasman claimed that publishing the photo violated his client's civil rights.

The Dutch lawyer's association (Nederlandse Orde van Advocaten) also raised concerns Monday about the decision to publish the photo. It pointed out that B., has not been convicted of Van Gogh's murder. "A suspect is innocent until proven otherwise," association president Jeroen Brouwer said.

But the Justice Ministry resolved to make an exception to the common practice of publishing photos of suspects with a black line over their eyes by giving permission to Opsporing Verzocht to broadcast an undoctored photo.

The ministry said the murder of Van Gogh was a "unique crime" that had left a big impact on the population. Police hoped to gain more information about the suspect's movements prior to the 2 November shooting and stabbing of filmmaker Van Gogh.

Opsporing Verzocht decided to publish the photo, because according to AVRO's legal counsel, a large number of photos were being circulated that incorrectly identified B., despite the black strip over the eyes. This could be damaging to those people featured in the incorrect photos, it said.

Some 1.1 million people watched Opsporing Verzocht, which was aired from 7.30pm on Monday. Ratings agency Stichting Kijkonderzoek also said some 2 million watched the second part of the programme, which started at about 10.30pm.

[Copyright Expatica News + Novum Nieuws 2004]

Subject: Dutch news, Theo van Gogh

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