On 25 April a Brussels court sentenced [pdf] the “anti-globalist” (leftist) monthly magazine MO* to a payment of 1 euro in moral damages to the businessman George Forrest because the magazine had printed a cartoon on its front page depicting Mr. Forrest, who owns a copper empire in Congo, in the traditional costume of Congo’s former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
The court ruled that freedom of the press, as protected by article 25 of the Belgian Constitution, does not apply to cartoons because article 25, which dates from 1831, applies to “writers” but not to illustrators.
Article 25 of the Belgian Constitution states:
“The printing press is free; censorship can never be introduced; no deposits can be demanded from the writers, publishers and printers. If the writer is known and has his domicile in Belgium the publisher, printer or distributor cannot be prosecuted.”
Judges Valvekens, De Ridder and Morel of the 20th Chamber of the Court of First Instance in Brussels ruled that “The cover illustration cannot be considered to be a direct expression of a thought or opinion” protected by the freedom of the press because
“Article 25 explicitly refers to ‘the writer.’ The illustration used on the cover is merely a depiction of a person, and not a writing, to which the exceptional status that applies to offences relating to the printing press has no effect.”
According to the Brussels court, the freedom of the press is an “exceptional status” in Belgium. It only applies for writers, not illustrators, and only for written thoughts or opinions disseminated by means of a printing press.