European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová has called journalists “the watchdogs of democracy”. She was speaking at a conference dedicated to the media situation in Bulgaria – the most problematic country in terms of media freedom in the EU.
When journalism is silenced, it is hardly surprising if corruption blossoms, if the economy falters, and living standards collapse. It is not by chance that Bulgaria is the country where the perception of corruption is the highest, and the living standards are the lowest in our Union.
But as one of the participants said, without rule of law, there is no media freedom. Many may not remember, but it was journalists who asked the EU, more than five years ago, to create a Rule of Law mechanism.
A Union is like a chain, as strong as its weakest link. Mafia is international, it knows no borders. It contaminates huge areas faster than the coronavirus.
It is in the EU’s interest to sort out internal rule of law problems of its member states – and that includes media freedom, as we have seen in the recent, first-ever, Commission reports on rule of law in the 27 member states.
A journalist who attended the Bulgaria conference alongside Jourová stressed that the EU can play a huge role, because the battles are often lost at the national level.
In Bulgaria, but also in other countries, even very good journalists accept (they have no choice) not be a service to society but to serve the media owner or the government, which directly or indirectly controls a huge part of the media.
And governments often misuse EU funds, channelling them to the friendly media. A journalist has gone as far as asking the EU to stop any funding for the media, since it is so blatantly misused.
The key term is, indeed, ‘EU funds’.
The Commission’s power is in stopping EU funds. And there is no need for heavy and complicated mechanisms, requiring quasi-unanimity of member states. The Commission can do it on its own – if it has the courage and if it doesn’t play political games.
In 2008, the Commission precipitated the end of the then socialist-led government in Bulgaria, having frozen various funds over allegations of misuse and corruption. Unfortunately, the Commission has been less strict with the next EPP-led government in Sofia.
Journalism has a big role to play in exposing corruption. In Bulgaria, despite everything, there are world-class investigative journalists – and they need support. All they are asking for is the Office of the European Public Prosecutor to read their reports.
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Views are the author’s
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]