The Brief, powered by Martens Centre – Killing them softly

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Since 2015, 335 journalists have been killed across the globe, nine of them in Europe, and this figure does not include citizens journalists, and media assistants. In nine out of ten cases, the killers go unpunished. A further 247 journalists are currently behind bars.

The number of those who annually loose their life has, however, been dropping. From 82 five years ago, to 28 so far in 2020. Yet, press freedom has also steadily been declining across the continent.

It is no coincidence that despite consistent efforts to dismantle media freedom and pluralism, physical violence against journalists in illiberal Central-Eastern European states is rare.

According to the Council of Europe’s platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists, out of the 191 alerts in the category of attacks on physical safety and integrity of journalists received since the platform was launched in 2015, only one happened in Hungary. Compare that with 10 in France or Greece, and six in Germany.

This, however, does not mean that journalists in Central and Eastern Europe are not under assault, it’s just that the nature of the pressure is much more insidious.

One survey of almost a hundred journalists working in 16 countries in central and eastern Europe showed that 64.5% of all respondents said they had been threatened or harassed for their work as a journalist — 83.3% of those said the attacks had come online. Anti-journalist rhetoric by politicians and other media outlets is widespread.

The death of a journalist, particularly in Europe, only uncovers the crimes they were investigating. Ján Kuciak’s fraud investigations crystallised high-level corruption. His brutal murder brought down the Slovak government.

But systematic silencing, stonewalling and economic pressure on journalists is just as ominous, these actions are silent killers and frankly, much more effective for those who cling to power.

A starving journalist who cannot pay their mortgage is just another statistic, even if the absence of their pay-check is directly attributable to the artful pressure of those they are writing about.

Declaratory statements in support of journalists are not enough.

When we asked the Commission about the mass resignations at Hungary’s once largest media outlet due to loss of independence, the executive suggested that countries “make the most of the EU’s coronavirus economic response and recovery packages to support media sector, which was heavily hit by the crisis.”

We later asked how the Commission is planning to include safeguards to ensure that the recovery funds are not used to distort Hungary’s media landscape further, by pampering pro-government media outlets, for instance, while leaving dissenting voices starved of funding.

We were told the executive has “set out strategic guidance” which in the case of the media sector points out that “support should be provided in a way that respects and promotes media freedom and pluralism.”

It is doubtful such guidance will dissuade Viktor Orbán, a master of media subdual, especially when some weeks later, the EU’s competition boss says that “it’s not the state aid rules of the EU that will guarantee media plurality – it should be the member states safeguarding this.”

Today we commemorate the names of Vadym Komarov, Daphne Caruana Galizia, Ján Kuciak and too many others. We must end impunity of crimes against journalists.

Just as importantly, we must not wait to act until the crime in question is murder.

A message from the Martens Centre: Revisit our annual flagship event, the Economic Ideas Forum! Last week, the Martens Centre held the eleventh iteration of its EIF. This year’s edition was first-of-its-kind: a full-on immersive digital affair, live from a studio in Brussels. Be sure to catch a glimpse of the event here!

The Roundup

Over the past four years, US President Donald Trump’s policymaking has pushed the EU-US relationship into a precarious corner of growing distrust. When it comes to the EU member states, EU governments have mixed feelings as well as complex national interests in relation to the US. Read our special EU-US relations coverage from Europe’s Capitals here. 

The EU’s foreign policy finds itself in choppy waters. We have an overview of some of the major areas where Trump and Biden have different approaches and how they could affect Europe.

Many in Donald Trump’s administration see Germany as its main ideological antagonist on the global stage. With this week’s US presidential election, Berlin is hoping for a “new beginning in the transatlantic partnership,” whoever wins.

According to the Visegrad Four, the Commission’s Digital Services Act is necessary but Europe must avoid censorship and any other forms of violation of the right to freedom of expression. One of the most pressing topics seems to be the removal of illegal and harmful content from social platforms.

As part of an effort to reconnect citizens with agriculture, French citizens have been invited to offer their take on the direction of the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). But to what extent these efforts will be reflected in policy remains to be seen.

Riot police fired warning shots into the air, used stun grenades and made arrests to deter tens of thousands of Belarusians who marched through Minsk to demand veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko leave power.

Martin Selmayr’s latest career move may seem strange at first glance: from Secretary-General of the Commission to its representative in a small EU country. Having held the post for a year, he plans to take a more political approach than his predecessors as well as a stronger stance to protect European interests. His new base country is also entering a ‘partial’ November lockdown.

Look out for…

  • US Presidential Elections
  • Eurogroup
  • Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Várhelyi meets President of the Venice Commission
  • French-German Forum on Energy

Views are the author’s

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