The European Parliament has marked World Press Freedom Day by reiterating its stance in supporting independent journalism and media transparency, amid a concerning rise in discrimination against journalists worldwide.
“We want to pay tribute today to journalists in Europe and around the world,” Jesus Carmona, the Parliament’s Director for Media, began.
“These are not easy times for media and journalism”, he stated citing the recent assassinations of two Spanish journalists in Burkina Faso – while noting that Europe was not exempt from assassinations of journalists either.
According to the most recent report by the Council of Europe, over the past six years, a total of 31 journalists have been killed across Europe (meaning also Non-EU countries) since 2015.
In the EU, some of the most recent and notable journalists who have been assassinated include Malta’s Daphne Caruana Galizia, Slovakia’s Ján Kuciak and, most recently, Greece’s Giorgos Karaivaz.
Threatening a journalist means threatening everyone’s freedom. Without an independent press there is no true democracy.
— David Sassoli (@EP_President) May 3, 2021
Carmona went on to emphasise that while all of these tragic killings are “separated by time and geography”, they are united “in the acknowledgement of a fundamental principle that Freedom of Speech and Information along with the safety of media professionals around the world cannot be taken for granted.”
The situation of press freedom and media independence particularly in Hungary, Slovenia and Poland – who have been the focus of several plenary sessions over the past few months as MEPs and the Commission continue to strive towards protecting the freedom of the press.
Introducing the topic of the threats journalists face in Europe, the Secretary-General of Reporters Without Borders, Christophe Deloire, was present in light of the NGO’s recent release of their Press Freedom Index.
The index annually evaluates the press freedom situation in 180 countries and territories. This year it found that “journalism was totally blocked or severely impeded in 73%” of the listed countries.
Europe remains comparatively the “most favourable continent for journalism” despite a rise in violence against journalists.
Deloire highlighted that it was crucial that Europe was able to act as a role model and leader to the rest of the world in how press freedom and media transparency should be. Norway, Finland and Sweden took the respective top three spots and in general, northern European countries tended to be the best countries in the world.
⚡The leading takeaway from the 2021 #RSFIndex? That the main vaccine against disinformation is completely or partly blocked in 73% of the 180 countries ranked by RSF.https://t.co/EsPDoAQbje pic.twitter.com/dt2HhBmXNh
— RSF (@RSF_inter) April 20, 2021
He also reaffirmed his belief that “journalism is the best vaccine against the virus of disinformation”, which has continually been a rising issue across Europe and the rest of the world in recent years.
Malta has remained at the 81st position on the World Press Freedom Index, with the stalling of the pursuit of justice and transparency in the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia being the primary reason for no improvements.
Yet, it also cites the posthumous SLAPP lawsuits against Caruana Galizia as ways journalists were pressured, a political system that muzzles press freedom and discrimination against accessing of information as further reasons for Malta’s low ranking compared to other EU nations.
When a reporter is murdered, we take over their investigation https://t.co/tIXZx8NfxF #WPFD2021 May 03🕊️Honoring the legacy of assassinated Journalist #DaphneCaruanaGalizia 🇲🇹 #SOFJO #IJ4EU #Journosafe@OCCRP @EFJEUROPE @ECPMF @specialreports @pressfreedom🕊️#DaphneProject🕊️ pic.twitter.com/aiuyWAhxwP
— Virtuosa (@AdvisorVirtuosa) May 2, 2021
In light of the pandemic, there have been suggestions that violence against journalists has been on the rise.
However, Deloire has explained that even though there have been several incidents such as in Germany and Italy, where journalists are assaulted for covering protests against COVID-19 measures, the pandemic has only hastened the issue.
COVID-19 has allowed governments to close off the access of information for journalists, including restricting access to sources to reporting on hospitals and even press conferences.
As such, one of the objectives for Reporters Without Borders will be regaining all of this lost access for journalists post-pandemic.
Each year, the significance of World Press Freedom Day gets more important.
We will continue to work to ensure that all journalists are protected & safe from all kind of threats. This is the reason behind #DaphneCaruanaGalizia Prize.
— David Casa (@DavidCasaMEP) May 3, 2021
The issue of restricting access to information for journalists has been a particularly key issue faced by journalists in Hungary, which has seen its press freedom be continually eroded by both the government and politically affiliated ownership.
Veronika Munk, Co-Editor-In-Chief of telex.hu explained that in Hungary, journalists “are not facing death or imprisonment”. Instead, they find themselves unable to gain access to information: critical journalists are barred from press conferences, politicians entirely ignore their questions, and some journalists are even cordoned off from Ministers they have questions for.
Maltese MEP David Casa was also present at the event, where he was informed that the EU will be finalising its first proposal of Anti-SLAPP legislation was in the coming days.
This will hope to lay the groundwork for increasing the protections for journalists across Europe and penalties for governments who continue to undermine the freedom of information, independent press and media transparency.
So far, the EU has the power to instil penalties on Member State governments which will remove EU funding from them for not complying with EU laws, treaties and values. However, it has yet to fully exercise this power – a move that has been criticised by MEPs such as Sophie in ‘t Veld.
At EU parliament #WorldPressFreedomDay conf today @SophieintVeld proposals to take the @EU_Commission to court to ensure actions conditionally to the rule of law mechanisms regarding EU-funding for free media @EFJEUROPE @ECPMF
— Mogens B. Bjerregård (@mogensbb) May 3, 2021
The introduction of the Daphne Caruana Galizia prize was also highlighted in how it will work. Having launched last year on the 3rd anniversary of her death, the Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for Journalism seeks to reaffirm the importance of independent, transparent information and journalism.
It is expected that the first winner of the prize will be announced around the 16th October 2021 in order to commemorate the anniversary of her death. Through the prize, winners will also receive €20,000 in order to help support independent media.
This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
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