22:53 GMT28 February 2021
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    The government of Belgium has begun charging Belgian journalists a $58 fee to cover European Union meetings. Press associations are up in arms over the move, calling it a “restriction of press freedom.”

    The EU is based in Belgium, and most of the reporters who cover its meetings are Belgian. The 50 euro fee ($58) is ostensibly to pay for background checks, which every country conducts on its journalists before sending them to the meetings. 

    Once a journalist passes the background check, they get credentials that last for just six months, meaning the fee will have to be paid twice a year.

    The law went into effect on June 1, but journalists only learned of it when they attempted to get access to the EU summit in October on Monday. The law was apparently passed without any input from the media.

    NATO, which is also based in Belgium, told the New York Times that they aren't sure whether the fee will apply to their summits as well.

    The law will affect some 1,000 journalists.

    Tom Weingaertner, president of the International Press Association in Brussels, noted that Belgian journalists already pay taxes when he denounced the fee. "The state is in charge of ensuring security and press freedom, and we are not prepared to pay twice for this," he told NYT.

    Many of the thousand Belgium-based reporters are particularly vulnerable, as they are freelancers and won't have big journalism institutions covering the costs for them. Small news organizations will have take the brunt of the bill. 

    Several journalism associations voiced their opposition to the measure in a Tuesday letter to the Belgian government.

    European Council press officer Romain Sadet said Brussels only notified council officials of the law after it passed Parliament in February, and that while the council expressed concern multiple times about press freedom, Belgium has not budged on the subject of the law.


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