Media freedom is in peril

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It is a paradox that through the COVID-9 pandemic, the significance of reliable data elevated, however on the identical time, the scenario for the media quickly deteriorate. Declining promoting revenues, austerity measures and better unemployment amongst journalists have turn into commonplace.

Recently, the stress on reporters has elevated as COVID deniers have bodily attacked journalists at demonstrations in lots of EU nations and threatened them on social media. 

Governments have unilaterally supported media retailers that favorably report on their actions by giving them advertizing time. Initially, there have been additionally restrictions on entry to authorities press conferences, together with the revocation of invites for unpleasant members of the media.

After six years as President of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), I might be leaving this place subsequent week. And my evaluation is ambivalent. Attacks on journalists and restrictions on media freedom have elevated in lots of nations.

On February 14, the Hungarian radio station “Klubrádió”, one of many final unbiased stations within the nation, will cease on-air broadcasting. A court docket in Budapest dominated that the station, which is vital of the federal government, needed to pay small fines for some ridiculous failures, and withdrew their working licence. This comes after the web portal “index.hu”, one other vital medium, was silenced final 12 months. Almost 80 % of the media in Hungary now belongs to the pro-government Kesma consortium.

In Poland, the stress on media retailers which are vital of the right-nationalist authorities is rising. A brand new promoting tax was handed that threatens the existence of personal TV stations. The end result was that earlier in February, the TV networks that had been affected by the tax broadcasted with solely a clean display in protest. At the identical time, international media homeowners are to be “persuaded” to promote their newspapers. A regional newspaper group belonging to a German media group was lately bought to the state-owned oil and petrochemical group Orlen.

Last 12 months, AEJ lodged a protest with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in regards to the one-sided protection of the presidential elections by Polish state radio and TV. This umbrella group has dedicated itself to safeguarding the unbiased reporting of its members. 

It is difficult to consider that there was not a single TV debate between the right-wing nationalist incumbent Andrzej Duda and his liberal rival Rafal Trzaskowski earlier than the presidential elections in Poland in May 2020. An evaluation of airtime by our Polish members confirmed that whereas state tv reported positively on the incumbent in 60 segments, it solely reported on the challenger in 30, all of which had been destructive.

In neighboring Belarus, greater than 400 journalists reporting on the demonstrations in opposition to the electoral fraud of long-term president Alexander Lukashenko have already been detained. As lately as final February 9, two younger feminine reporters from the Polish-based TV station Belset have been placed on trial for his or her protection of the pro-democracy protests.

In Russia, many journalists had been additionally arrested after the arrest of opposition chief Alexey Navalny. My longtime basic secretary, Slovak TV-journalist Tibor Macak, used his contact with the person who saved Navalny’s final summer time, Jaka Bizilj, the founding father of the Cinema for Peace-initiative. Bizilj organized the flight to Berlin after Navalny was poisoned in Siberia with a chemical agent. Bizilj wrote a remark for AEJ asking for robust EU sanctions in opposition to Russia and a cease to the development of the  Nord Stream II fuel pipeline. 

In different EU nations – not solely in Hungary and Poland – media freedom is commonly being put into query. In France, video recordings of safety officers throughout police operations have been banned. An inside minister discovered nothing flawed with rummaging by way of journalists’ laptops in Germany. In Austria, tabloids acquired the majority of the nationwide COVID-subsidies, however quality-papers bought smaller quantities.

One of probably the most spectacular experiences I had as AEJ’s chief was my participation in a fact-finding mission to Turkey by a number of worldwide media organizations in 2017. We visited the final unbiased editorial places of work, together with the day by day newspaper Cumhuriyet, the place a number of colleagues had ended up in jail, most of them on trumped-up costs of supporting a terrorist organisation. Where normally well-liked columns might be learn, solely an empty column with the photograph of the respective prisoner appeared. Our Turkish colleagues requested us to report on the unhappy media scenario in Turkey as soon as we returned again home.

AEJ’s Media Freedom Representative, William Horsley, helped arrange the “Platform for Persecuted Journalists” on the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. We usually reported on instances of assaults or harassment in opposition to journalists there. Later, the governments of the respective members of the EU needed to take a stand. Unfortunately, this act of naming and shaming usually proved ineffective. I’ve subsequently redirected the main focus to the EU establishments. They have turn into more and more necessary for the protection of media freedom in Europe by way of new focused European laws.

The worst incidents which have occurred throughout my tenure are the murders of two investigative reporters – Daphne Galicia Caruana, who was killed by a automobile bomb in Malta in 2017; and Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak, who was shot useless in chilly blood in his home, collectively along with his fiancée, in 2018. In every case, these behind the killings, in each politics and enterprise, have nonetheless not been dropped at justice.

At the final AEJ congress in Paris, earlier than the pandemic in December 2019, Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew emotionally reported on his mom’s lack of public help simply earlier than her tragic loss of life. She had 46 defamation lawsuits pending, so-called SLAPP lawsuits (Strategic lawsuits in opposition to public participation). 

In a Zoom interview with AEJ members, EU Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova, chargeable for European elementary values and transparency, introduced an EU directive in opposition to such SLAPP proceedings for this 12 months. At the identical time, Jourova additionally desires to struggle international affect on European election campaigns, particularly from troll factories in Russia and China.

The so-called “microtargeting” of sure teams of voters by social media – as carried out by Cambridge Analytica with none penalties within the UK and the US – can also be to be prohibited. Social media should respect a code of conduct and delete requires violence and terrorism inside a couple of hours. The EU Commission plan is to finance programs to coach journalists and schoolchildren to take more practical actions in opposition to pretend information and disinformation.

The indisputable fact that the EU Commission is now extra severe about defending media freedom and a plurality of opinion is a sign that provides hope on the finish of my time period. 

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