MEPs ask Commission to get its act together on media freedom

A young female protestor blows a whistle and holds a cardboard by Amnesty International reading 'Free media cannot be silenced' near the Turkish embassy in Berlin, Germany, 3 May 2017. [Clemens Bilan/EPA/EFE]

The European Parliament on Thursday (3 May) gave an overwhelming majority to a resolution asking the European Commission to play a much bigger role in opposing attempts by member states to limit media freedom and pluralism.

The Resolution on media pluralism and media freedom in the European Union was passed with 488 votes in favour, 43 against and 114 abstentions, thanks to a majority formed by the EPP, S&D, ALDE, GUE/NGL and Green/EFA groups.

The vote coincided with the World Press Freedom Day, and follows the recent slaying of journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta and Jan Kuciak in Slovakia, as well as by a general worsening of the press freedom across the EU.

The Brief – Press freedom, a candle in the wind

Every year, May 3 should remind us of the fundamental principles of press freedom, and is an occasion to look around and evaluate press freedom in our environment and around the world.

The Commission so far has had limited prerogatives – and modest ambitions – in terms of media freedom. The responsible commissioner is Mariya Gabriel, but in his Mission letter to her, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker barely mentioned the issue.

The resolution was introduced by Barbara Spinelli, an Italian left-wing deputy on the Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee, and pointed out that more than half the cases of abuses against media professionals in Europe are committed by government officials.

Monitoring mechanisms

MEPs want governments to safeguard and promote a pluralist, independent and free media landscape in the service of democratic society. The resolution also asks the European Commission to introduce human rights impact assessments  of its legislative proposals and to present a proposal for the establishment of an EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights.

They also call on the Commission to treat attempts by member states’ governments to harm media freedom and pluralism as serious and systemic abuses of power.

Also, MEPs appeal on the Commission to allocate permanent and adequate funding in the EU budget to support the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, and to create an annual mechanism for the assessment of the risks to media pluralism in the member states. They also stress that the same mechanism should be applied to measure media pluralism in the candidate countries, with a direct bearing on the progress of the negotiation process.

So far the Commission has played a very limited role in monitoring media freedom in member states, although it has been watching closely the applicant countries.

Further, MEPs calls on the Commission to monitor and collect information and statistics on media freedom and pluralism within all member states, and to closely analyse cases of the infringement of the fundamental rights of journalists.


Media concentration

Moreover, the resolution stresses that media ownership remains highly concentrated, and call on the member states to adopt and implement media ownership regulations to avoid concentration of ownership in the media sector, and to guarantee transparency, disclosure, and easy accessibility for citizens to information on media ownership, funding sources and management.

Media concentration has increased rapidly in Bulgaria, the EU country which ranks the lowest in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index (111th out of 180 countries monitored). Reporters Without Borders note that the most notorious embodiment of this aberrant state of affairs is Deylan Peevski, owner of the New Bulgarian Media Group. His group has six newspapers and controls nearly 80% of print media distribution.

Reporters Without Borders note that the government’s allocation of EU funding to certain media outlets is conducted with a complete lack of transparency, and served as tacit encouragements to them to go easy on the government in their reporting or refrain from covering certain problematic stories altogether.

However, the issue of EU funds (often advertising for EU programs or tenders) being channelled by some governments to friendly media was omitted by MEPs from the resolution.

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