Press Freedom in Europe: Only a Fairytale?

Press Freedom in Europe: Only a Fairytale?
Source: Financial Times

As we face one of the biggest crisis of our era, many of the already existing flaws in our democratic system are dramatically growing. Amongst them, the attacks against press freedom are those which potentially have the power to undermine democracy.

And these attacks are happening worldwide: United States, Hungary, Philippines, Thailand, are only a few of the countries where killings, intimidation and police abuse against journalists have been registered. The committee to protect journalists estimated that there are currently 250 imprisoned journalists around the globe.

With only 6 EU countries in the first 10 positions of the World Press Freedom Index 2020, European States’ reputation does not look good. Several States’ position is barely sufficient in the ranking and the push to censorship we are currently witnessing is helping to bury the EU’s press freedom even further down.

Press Freedom in Europe: Only a Fairytale?
Photo credits: Reporters Without Borders

Bulgaria gives the worse example, as it has ranked 111 for the third consecutive year, and it has been named ‘’the EU black sheep’’ from the 2020 Reporters without Borders World Press Freedom Index. But actions against press freedom are taking place all around us in Europe.

The current COVID-19 crisis has come with many consequences on the media side, fake news and misinformation have a new companion in what has been named ‘’infodemia’’, causing mistrust in health institutions, while authoritarian governments are using this confusion to limit press freedom and muzzle journalists.

But why are governments covering up information and restricting access to data?

The reasons are different, but one is that they are afraid negative publicity for their countries due to the virus and the ways they are handling it could cause repercussions, loss of credibility and, therefore, loss of political power and trust from their citizens.

It is the case in Slovenia, where the government is being accused of forcing journalists to tell the public a ‘governmentally accepted’ side of the story, using social media channels to discredit media which are not reporting what they should according to the government official news, even claiming that media represent themselves a ‘’legacy’’ of communism.

But press freedom is constantly under attack also in those countries considered the most liberal and democratic: Italy, for example, in 2020 stands at position 43 in the World Press Freedom index, with about 20 journalists currently under police protection due to mafia related threats.

In Greece, a presidential decree has put a public broadcaster and a state news agency under direct control of the Prime Minister Mitsotakis.

In France, physical attacks and threats to journalists have grown since 2019, while the Maltese scandal concerning the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has brought, after almost 3 years, to several cases of resignations within the government.

Recently, VP for Values and Transparency at the European Commission Věra Jourová, who often showed statements in support of media freedom and journalists, talked about these attacks, emphasizing that they will be addressed within the EU Democracy Action Plan 2020-2024, on which consultations are assumed to start by the end of the year.

VP for Values and Transparency at the European Commission Věra Jourová adresses journalists during the COVID pandemic.

The Commission’s main concerns seem to be related to the possible external interference on the next European election through content manipulation, artificial intelligence and fake news.

Press freedom is one of the cornerstones of our democracy: its protection concerns all of us.

  • How could governments guarantee its protection?
  • How will the current crisis impact on media freedom?
  • Is the EU taking sufficient measures to tackle these attacks?

Suggested further readings

EURACTIV, Europe’s media freedom increasingly under attack, report warns

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, Mapping Media Freedom

European Federation of Journalists, New report: Hungary dismantles media freedom and pluralism

Human Rights Council, Disease Pandemic and Freedom of Expression

OSCE, OSCE Media Freedom Representative pays tribute to killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia on two-year anniversary, during visit to Malta

Reporters Without Borders, Bulgaria

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