Press freedom and the EU elections
Journalism in Europe has been weakened by relentless, and often hyped-up, anti-media rhetoric by some political leaders, either in power or hoping to get there (Photo: Ed Yourdon).
Almost one person in two in the world does not have access to freely reported news and information.
As Europeans, we can count ourselves lucky that we enjoy “this freedom that allows us to verify respect for all the other freedoms”.
How should the European Union best defend media freedom and independence and media pluralism in a continent badly shaken by a series of grave attacks and violations against journalists? Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has ten proposals for the candidates in the European parliamentary elections to be held in six weeks’ time.
Press freedom has been undermined in EU member countries while the EU’s institutions are READ THE PROPOSALS
relatively powerless when it comes to combatting these problems. RSF hopes that its proposals will be used by the European parliament to prioritize the defence of freely and independently reported news and information during the next five years, to defend policies that encourage trustworthy journalism, and to help protect journalists.
To combat the unprecedented attacks against journalists, the increase in lawsuits against investigative reporters and online mass disinformation, one of RSF’s most important proposals is the creation of a European commissioner who has the responsibility for media freedom, independence and pluralism and who is able to mobilize all EU institutions in their defence.
When fundamental rights are violated, and especially in cases of violence against journalists, RSF proposes that NGOs and press freedom defenders should be able to turn to this European commissioner and ask him or her to quickly intercede with the relevant national authorities.
RSF believes that the commission should also ensure that competition policy – a core competency of the EU – should take account of the fundamental elements of press freedom in order to prevent large corporations from undermining media diversity.
RSF also urges the EU to give itself the means to impose targeted, individual sanctions on those responsible for serious violations of press freedom and journalists’ safety, in line with the “Magnitsky” mechanism in effect in the United States and other countries.
In order to better protect the public information and communication space from the threat of trolls, these online mercenaries created by authoritarian regimes, and from the accelerating spread of false information, RSF also urges European countries to quickly join the ”Information and Democracy” initiative that RSF launched in November 2018 and which is already backed by 12 democratic countries.
In order to combat the fake news phenomenon, the priority should also be placed on the reliability of online content rather than on repressive policies that are hard to implement and pose a danger to freedom of expression.
In this regard, RSF urges the EU to recognize and support the Journalism Trust Initiative, which makes it easier to identify reliable news and information by means of a series of indicators measuring media transparency, editorial independence, the use of journalistic methods and respect for journalistic ethics.
RSF also calls for the creation of new legislation that makes online platforms accountable for any failure to fulfill their obligation as regards the violations of freedom of opinion and expression that are rampant online. The EU has traditionally focused on developing the digital single market, and its e-commerce directive has failed to ensure that the leading online platforms are held accountable.
In response to the judicial harassment to which investigative reporters in particular are subjected in many EU countries, RSF calls on the future Members of the European Parliament to adopt a directive to combat abusive lawsuits known as SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) that are designed to have a chilling effect on reporters.
Similarly, RSF calls on the European Parliament to periodically review respect for press freedom in all EU member countries on the basis of an independent report that can lead to country-by-country recommendations and to sanctions in the event of serious violations.
RSF believes that the time has come to treat press freedom as a fundamental EU value, one that is placed at the heart of its treaties, at the centre of its institutions and at the forefront of what it fights for. To this end, RSF proposes including press freedom in Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union and in the responsibilities of the Court of Justice of the European Union, and the European ombudsman.