World Press Freedom Day: EU determined to do ‘more’, in Europe and abroad

File photo. A man reads the covers of newspapers displayed in the window of a street kiosk in Ponta Delgada during the state of emergency due to the covid-19 epidemic at Sao Miguel Island, Azores, Portugal, 21 March 2020. [Eduardo Costa/EPA/EFE]

On the occasion of 3 May – World Press Freedom Day – the EU stated it was ready to pioneer new approaches for upholding press freedom, to continue to counter disinformation and seek with partners means to support sustainable business models for independent media.

The United Nations General Assembly declared 3 May to be World Press Freedom Day or just World Press Day.

The High Representative stated on behalf of the EU on Sunday (2 May) that press freedom continues to be under threat at a time “when independent and free media reporting is more essential than ever”.

“Journalists continue to experience harsh working conditions with increasing financial and political pressure, surveillance, arbitrary prison sentences or violence for doing their work. According to the UNESCO Observatory, 76 journalists were killed since 2020, while many more were arrested, harassed or threatened worldwide. Of particular concern is gender-based violence targeting women journalists”, the statement reads.

The High Representative reminds of the EU initiatives to protect journalists, specifying that in 2020, more than 400 journalists benefited from the EU mechanism for protection of Human Rights Defenders, while the EU took “important actions to support journalists, independent media and the fight against disinformation in the context of the pandemic in many regions.”

The role of EU Delegations in the word, described as “the voice of the EU on the ground”, is highlighted.

“The EU is determined to do more, in Europe and abroad. The EU will continue coordinating with international organisations and mechanisms and pioneer new approaches.  One example is the European Commission’s proposal for a Digital Services Act aimed at holding the major platforms accountable to make their systems fairer, safer and more transparent. We will also continue our action to counter disinformation and seek with all partners effective means to support sustainable business models for independent media”, the statement says.

In its recently published World Press Freedom Index, Reporters without borders stressed that even in the EU, there were huge differences in terms of press freedom among member states.

World Press Freedom Index 2021: EU getting more heterogeneous

Some European countries lead the world in respect for media freedom, yet the situation across the EU is growing increasingly heterogeneous, according to the 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), to be released on Tuesday (20 April).

The EU countries rank as follows, from Finland to Bulgaria:

Finland 2, Sweden 3, Denmark 4, Netherlands 6, Portugal 9, Belgium 11, Ireland 12, Germany 13, Estonia 15, Austria 17, Luxembourg 20, Latvia 22, Cyprus 26, Lithuania 28, Spain 29, France 34, Slovakia 35, Slovenia 36, Czech Republic 40, Italy 41, Romania 48, Croatia 56, Poland 64, Greece 70, Malta 81, Hungary 92, Bulgaria 112.

Compared to the 2020 ranking, Greece, where recently a prominent journalist was killed, has slipped five places in the ranks, Hungary three, Poland and Slovakia by two places and Romania and Bulgaria one place. Croatia has risen three places up the ranks. Bulgaria ranks at 111, the worst in the EU and the Western Balkans.

Regarding the Western Balkan countries, Bosnia and Herzegovina ranked 58, Kosovo 78, Albania 83, North Macedonia 90, Serbia 93 and Montenegro 104.

Serbia is described as a country “with weak institutions that is prey to fake news spread by government-backed sensational media, a country where journalists are subjected to almost daily attacks that increasingly come from the ruling elite and pro-government media”. In Montenegro, “the authorities continue to harass the media and professional journalists while the main cases of violence against journalists remain unpunished”.

In many countries the authorities used the COVID-19 pandemic to push through rules that make the work of the journalists more difficult.

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