World Press Freedom Day: Brussels Calls for a Law to Protect Europe’s Endangered Journalists

Written by | Wednesday, May 5th, 2021

Better tools at European Union’s disposal are needed to protect media freedom as a “pillar of democracy” rather than just a player in the national economy, EU Commission Vice-President V?ra Jourová said on Monday (3 May) to mark World Press Freedom Day. Jourová also said she was in discussions with commissioner Thierry Breton, responsible for the single market, to come up with a “media freedom act” in 2022 to give the EU the means to protect press freedom across Europe. To mark the World Press Freedom Day, the United Nations highlighted the importance of ‘information as a public good’ and warned that the world of journalism faces “drastic losses”. The intergovernmental organisation also stressed that the ongoing pandemic crisis has forced closures and job cuts within the industry, while other media outlets are facing “political capture”. This has in turn led to more “creeping news deserts” in countries where journalists are unable to get accurate information out to the public.
To that end, the journalism NGO Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) last month released its latest global index of press freedom, highlighting how the pandemic has given authoritarian regimes an excuse to crack down on journalism. The global coronavirus crisis has caused „dramatic deterioration in access to information“ in many parts of the world, including in 10 countries with the worst ranking in Europe, according to RSF’s index – namely Belarus, Turkey, Russia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Ukraine, Serbia, Hungary, North Macedonia, Moldova. “If you ask me whether we are equipped in Europe to protect the media as one of the pillars of democracy, I have to answer no,” said Jourová, vice-president for values and transparency. “We are not equipped with the EU rules and EU law.” She also said the act will be tabled next year with the aim to “bring more safeguards for the media and to guarantee that in Europe they can do their job without being [under] unintended and undesired pressure”.
Speaking to reporters in front of the Congress Column of Brussels, a towering monument that celebrates the 1831 Belgian Constitution, the Czech-born senior EU official paid homage to three prominent European journalists murdered in recent years: Malta’s Daphne Caruana Galizia, Slovakia’s Ján Kuciak and Greece’s Giorgos Karaivaz. “The situation is worsening everywhere,” she said, citing an increase in physical and online abuse towards journalists and a rise in “groundless” lawsuits filed by powerful economic actors against media professionals with the sole aim of silencing them. The EU executive will put forward later this year a series of recommendations to help member states reinforce the security and safety of journalists. Jourová said the three killed reporters had received threats in the past, which, in her view, begs for a more reactive role of law enforcement.

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