Let’s Tune In To The EU’s Periphery: The Sad State of Press Freedom

Nicholas Zalewski
Artistic Rendering protesting against potential legislation restricting the media in Malta. Source: Jonathan Borg

The EU’s periphery has to catch up in various ways with other member states such as bridging the economic divide. Another way the periphery must catch up to the rest of the EU is by protecting journalists and freedom of the press. The two worse member states for press freedom are both in the European Union’s periphery; Greece and Malta. particularly concerning is Greece which currently ranks worse for press freedom than Haiti, Mozambique, and Madagascar. Significantly wealthier than those countries, Greece has still cultivated a dangerous environment for journalists.

Throughout the European Union, journalists have felt pressure. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, this is a result of restrictions put on the media during the pandemic along with the election of populist politicians. The Committee to Protect Journalists recommends the EU carries out reforms to protect the freedom of the press in all 27 member states, particularly before the next EU election in 2024. However, there still tends to be a noticeable gap in press freedom in the EU’s periphery and member states in Western Europe.

Police investigation at the scene where Greek journalist Giorgos Karaivaz was murdered near his home.Source: Orestis Panagiotou/EPA-EFE

Press Freedom In The Cradle Of Democracy

Greece’s case has become dire in the past few years for several reasons. First, the safety of journalists is at risk. Giorgos Karaivaz was murdered by his home in Athens in 2021. Two men shot at him a minimum 12 times with at least 6 rounds hitting him. Kataivaz was a journalist who investigated crime, likely making him a target and leading to his demise. Two men have finally been arrested for his murder in late April of this year. Reporters Without Borders was critical of how the investigation was carried out by Greek officials and questions whether this was done to hide something. Reporters Without Borders also called on Greece to allow the European criminal police agency to provide technical assistance. In 2010, another journalist was murdered. Sokratis Giolias was shot and killed outside his home also in Athens, similar to Giorgos Karaivaz. Leftist militants’ part of the Sect of Revolutionaries were responsible for Giolias’ death. The group has become upset with the media claiming that journalists were lying to the public to ensure citizens obey the government. Before this, a journalist had not been killed since the mid-1980s. Greece must ensure that journalists can do their jobs safely and without the risk of being murdered for their work.

The second major issue with freedom of the press in Greece is the scandal that the government has been silencing journalists and spying on them. Greek police officers have violently suppressed media coverage of protests and the refugee crisis. Journalists would also be arrested to ensure they could not carry out interviews with migrants. Besides this, the Greek government wiretapped journalists. It is important to note that this surveillance is illegal under Greek law. The Greek government denied ever buying software to wiretap journalists, but journalists proved this to be a lie. The Greek government sent millions to a company that sells Predator software, proving that the government in fact did buy spyware. This is not shocking to journalists who reported that they were followed to meetings with sources. For these reasons, Greece has plummeted from 70th in the ranking in 2021 to 107th in 2023. This is one spot higher than 2022, yet obviously, Greece has a lot of work to do in order to improve the situation for journalists.

Police and Forensic Experts examine the scene where Maltese journalist Caruana Galizia was murdered by a car bomb.
Source: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Press Freedom In Malta

Similar to Greece, there are concerns about the safety of journalists after Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated in 2017. Galizia was killed due to her blog entitled Running Commentary which focused on Corruption in Malta and abroad. Intead of being shot like the two Greek journalists, Galizia was killed by a car bomb. In 2021, an investigation into the journalist’s death blamed the state of Malta for her death. The investigation concluded that the government did not take adequate steps even when it became apparent that there were valid threats to her life. She is credited with forcing an early election in 2017 when research for her blog uncovered Prime Minister Muscat’s connection to the Panama Papers, which detailed the use of tax havens by wealthy individuals around the world. The report produced following the investigation of her death produced reforms Malta must carry out to protect journalists, yet Reporters Without Borders claims that Malta has been unwilling to implement these reforms.

Besides corruption, journalists can face backlash for covering other issues such as abortion and migration. Both are not only hot topics in Malta but throughout the European Union as well. Malta in particular has been in the spotlight for refusing to help migrants on boats in distress in their Search and Rescue area but instead redirecting them to other EU member states. Malta is currently the only European Union member state with a complete abortion ban. Malta drafted a law to allow abortion if the mother’s life or health is potentially at-risk during pregnancy, yet progress has been slow. The nation’s current abortion law dates back to 1854.

Not All Bad News In EU’s Periphery

While press freedom remains low in some member states in the EU’s periphery, the situation has been improving in several member states. In Particular, Bulgaria has gone from 112th in the ranking in 2021 to 71st in 2023. Portugal (9th), Czechia (14th), Latvia (16th), and Slovakia (17th) all rank better than EU member states in Western Europe such as Germany (21st), France, (24th), and Belgium (31st). Even though Slovakia is ranked better than Greece or Malta, a journalist was also murdered there in 2018. Jan Kučiak and his fiancée were gunned down in their home due to Kučiak’s investigative work as a journalist. All member states in the European Union could do more to maintain and improve freedom of the press and to protect journalists, however those in the EU-s periphery tend to need to improve more than others. According to Reporters Without Borders, even the top-ranking member states can continue to improve legislation and protect journalists from threats. Journalists should not fear death for doing their jobs, nor be illegally monitored by national governments.

For More Information Please Read The Following:

Markham, Lauren and Emmanouilidou, Lydia. “How Free Is the Press in the Birthplace of Democracy?” The New York Times 26 November 2022

“Malta’s proposed media freedom law flagged as threat to media freedom” Times of Malta 7 October 2022

Camut, Nicolas. “Greece is worst EU country for press freedom (again), report says” Politco 3 May 2023

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Let’s Tune In To The EU…

by Nicholas Zalewski time to read: 5 min