Press freedom declines across Europe, impacting the rule of law — a global issue
On May 2, 2024, protesters gathered in Bratislava to protest changes to the public broadcaster RTVS. The placard in the photo reads: RTVS flat screen TV. His STVR about the flat earth. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS
  • Written by Ed Holt (Bratislava)
  • interpress service

In the latest annual report, Report for 2023The Berlin-based European Civil Liberties Union (Liberties) highlighted widespread intimidation, intimidation and violence against journalists and attacks on the independence of public broadcasters within the EU, saying the rollback in media freedom was due to “national governments This extends to “intentional harm and neglect.” ”.

The organization said its research found a continuation of worrying trends seen in the previous year, including concentration of media ownership, insufficient ownership transparency rules, and threats to the independence and finances of public service media. It says it has been confirmed.

It warns that the decline in press freedom seen in many EU member states could pose a direct threat to democracy.

“Media freedom is declining across Europe and what we are seeing, not just in Europe but in many places around the world, is that when media freedom declines, so does the rule of law.” said Eva Simon, Liberty’s senior advocacy officer. IPS.

The Liberties report was compiled in collaboration with 37 rights organizations from 19 countries, and includes other media freedom watchdogs and rights organizations that highlight the increasing concentration of media ownership in EU countries, ownership transparency and lack of sexuality, surveillance and violence against journalists, government takeover of public broadcasters, and increasing restrictions on freedom of expression.

Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) releases annual report ‘World’ freedom of the press index Today (3 April 2024), we warned that politicians in some EU countries are trying to suppress independent journalism. They name a number of leaders, including Hungary’s pro-Kremlin Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Slovak counterpart Roberto Fico, as being “on the forefront of this dangerous trend.”

It also highlighted concerns over press freedom in other regions such as Malta, Greece and Italy, the latter of which has dropped places in this year’s index rankings, with MPs from the ruling parliamentary coalition set to take over the second-ranked party. It is pointed out that The influence of the News Agency (AGI) has raised concerns about the future independence of the media.

“One of the main themes this year is that the institutions that are supposed to protect media freedom, such as governments, are undermining it,” Pavol Chalay, head of RSF’s EU/Balkans desk, told IPS. Ta.

Like Liberties, RSF is particularly concerned about press freedom in Hungary and Slovakia, among other EU countries.

Critics say media freedom has been in decline in Hungary for more than a decade as autocratic leader Orbán has steadily suppressed independent journalism. His party, Fidesz, effectively controls 80 percent of the country’s media, and although independent media still exists, the concentration of national advertising in pro-government media makes its sustainability difficult. Funds are under threat.

The government’s effective control over Hungarian public broadcasting is also a major concern.

“Taking over public broadcasting restricts access to information and can have a profound impact on the formation of political opinions and how people vote,” Simon said.

Hungary is also suspected of using the controversial Pegasus software to arbitrarily monitor journalists.

Both RSF and Liberties say their concerns aren’t just about what’s happening to media freedom in Hungary, but that what Orbán has done has provided a blueprint for other autocratic leaders to follow. are doing.

“European leaders are inspired by President Orbán in their fight against independent media. Look at Fico in Slovakia, who has declared war on independent media,” Szalai said.

Fico has repeatedly attacked and defamed independent media and journalists over the years.

In 2018, investigative journalist Jan Kusiak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova were murdered while investigating corruption allegations by people close to Fico’s government. Critics said Fico’s rhetoric toward journalists helped create a social atmosphere that allowed those behind the murders to believe they could act with impunity. .

Independent journalists continue to face harassment and abuse from Sen. Smail.

Since being elected prime minister for a fourth time last fall, Fico and his Smer Party-led coalition have been on the offensive. They also refuse to communicate with critical media, claiming they are biased.

The country’s public broadcaster RTVS has also been approved by parliament, which critics say will overhaul the country’s public broadcaster RTVS, effectively putting it under government control in the coming weeks.

“If this bill is passed and signed in its current form, the RTVS will become the government’s propaganda mouthpiece,” Zarai said.

The government has rejected criticism of the bill, stating that RTVS is no longer objective, has persistently criticized the government, and has fulfilled its duty as a public broadcaster to provide balanced, objective information and a plurality of opinions. They argued that it was necessary to change to RTVS. . A senior official at Slovakia’s culture ministry, who is considered a potential candidate to head a new form of public broadcasting, has suggested that people who support the idea of ​​a flat Earth should be invited on the program to air their opinions about the broadcaster. .

The bill sparked public protests and threats of a mass strike by current RTVS employees.

But despite this grim backdrop, media watchdogs claim the EU’s new law offers hope for improved media freedom.

The recently passed European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) will come into full force across the EU in August next year, and will, among other things, impose restrictions on governments deploying spyware and pursuing journalists to uncover their sources, and require media to be fully owned. compulsory disclosure of rights information, introduce transparency measures for national advertising, and check media concentration. It also provides a mechanism to prevent very large online platforms from arbitrarily restricting press freedom.

Another important measure of the bill enshrines editorial independence for public service media, and requires that leaders and executives of public media organizations be elected through a “transparent and nondiscriminatory process for sufficiently long terms.” It is that it stipulates that

“This is good legislation that creates a very important foundation that we can build on in the future. More safeguards may be added in the future,” Simon said.

Zarai agreed, stressing that the bill is legally binding for member states. He acknowledged that the bill had some shortcomings — for example, journalists could be forced to disclose their sources, with some exceptions — but that the bill would It overrides domestic law, he said, “and therefore governments cannot ignore or try to circumvent it.”

But its implementation is left to individual governments and authorities, and press freedom groups say it will need to be closely monitored.

A new EU institution, the European Media Services Committee, will be established to oversee the implementation of the law.

“It is important to ensure that forces attacking freedom of the press are stopped by this law. It is the responsibility of the European Commission to hold national governments accountable for its implementation, and the Commission will It is necessary to consider freedom as a priority, check the implementation of the EMFA and take action against countries that violate it,” Zarai said.

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© Inter Press Service (2024) — All rights reservedSource: Interpress Service

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