Working with partners, the MFRR will lead a range of fact-finding, fast response and advocacy missions across EU member states and candidate countries. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these missions will be replaced with virtual missions to ensure we can still hold states and other entities to account during this unprecedented period. The missions will enable the MFRR to capture first hand information about a range of threats to press and media freedom, establish partners and contacts across the continent and engage directly with policy makers. Missions will be documented in meetings and reports that will be shared publicly and form the basis of future advocacy, as well as legal and practical support.
Italy: Who is afraid of journalists? Defamation, SLAPPs, Safety.
From 4 to 6 April 2022, a delegation of the MFRR was in Italy for a fact-finding mission focused on two main topics: defamation and future legislative developments against SLAPPs on one side and the safety of journalists and State protection measures on the other. In 3 days there were 8 meetings in 2 regions (Rome and Campania), with 11 MFRR participants.
The fact-finding mission provided the MFRR with an opportunity to assess the legislative delays that are preventing Parliament from responding to the repeated calls of the Constitutional Court in reforming defamation laws, and to get to know the coordinated State monitoring and protection system implemented in Italy for intimidation acts against journalists, a good practice mentioned in a recent Recommendation of the European Commission.
The MFRR fact-finding mission to Italy presented a unique opportunity for a deep dive into two sets of substantial challenges faced by the journalistic community: violence, intimidation, and other threats emanating from organised crime, and legal threats in the shape of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) and other abusive lawsuits. Throughout our meetings with local stakeholders, it was confirmed that, taken together, these threats serve to undermine independent and critical journalism and the freedom of the press in the country while having a significant detrimental impact on individual journalists’ safety and their professional and private lives. While the mission identified several good practices and positive developments that show recognition of the problem and a way forward towards its resolution, each needs further action to ensure a truly free and safe working environment for Italy’s journalistic community.
Netherlands: Towards a safer haven: Advancing safety of journalists amidst rising threats in the Netherlands
Following interviews with more than twenty local stakeholders, the MFRR concludes that policy and practice around the safety of journalists in the Netherlands in many ways constitutes a best practice example, thanks to its pioneering PersVeilig mechanism. Nevertheless, there remains a need to strengthen several areas to better protect journalists and media workers against the increasingly hostile climate pursuant to intensified societal polarisation and threats emanating from organised crime.
The report details the findings and recommendations of the MFRR’s online fact-finding mission that took place in February 2022, led by Free Press Unlimited (FPU) together with the European Centre of Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and the International Press Institute (IPI), with the participation of the other MFRR partners plus the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, and in collaboration with the Nederlandse Vereniging voor Journalisten (NVJ).
The Netherlands generally remains a safe haven for journalists and media workers. The pioneering PersVeilig mechanism is a key actor in ensuring and advancing journalists’ safety and is a noteworthy example of constructive cooperation and dialogue between the journalistic community and state authorities. Both symbolically and practically, PersVeilig makes it clear that attacks and harassment of reporters are not tolerated and are addressed collectively.
While the assessment of PersVeilig is overwhelmingly positive, both among the MFRR’s partner organisations and its interlocutors during the fact-finding mission, room for improvement remains in a number of areas. These include implementing agreed-upon protocols more consistently and ensuring the project’s capacity and continuity.
Despite the relatively favourable conditions for press freedom and a pioneering mechanism, the MFRR mission confirmed that aggression against journalists is on the rise amidst a hardening of public debate and increasing polarisation in society. Subsequently, and despite the high willingness to cooperate between the journalistic community and law enforcement, the need remains to ensure a better understanding of the role of the press during protests, as well as changes to operational procedures to protect this role.
Certain categories of journalists suffer specific threats, particularly freelance reporters and women journalists. In this regard, it became clear throughout the mission that the Dutch approach to the safety of journalists lacks a gender lens. Moreover, while the Dutch policy approach scores well when it comes to putting in place mechanisms to protect journalists and prosecute offenders, there is room for improvement as concerns prevention.
Furthermore, with regard to threats from organised crime, there is a need to study the creation of tailored protection packages and consider improvements to the protection of journalists who cover high-profile criminal trials.
In light of its findings and to ensure that the Netherlands maintains its leadership position when it comes to the safety of journalists, the MFRR issued more than twenty specific recommendations to the authorities of the Netherlands, law enforcement, the journalistic community, PersVeilig and social media platforms.
Greece: Controlling the Message: Challenges for independent reporting in Greece
The fact-finding mission to Greece, involving interviews with more than thirty local stakeholders, was implemented by the MFRR together with Reporters Without Borders in December 2021. The partner organisations conclude that challenges to the independence of the media and the safety of journalists are systemic in the country. While the problems are not unique, their intensity is highly problematic and sets it apart from most other EU Member States.
The result of this crisis is that news that is inconvenient or unflattering for the government, which includes reporting on serious human rights violations, does not get reported in many outlets. This creates a significant obstacle for the public’s access to information and, subsequently, their informed participation in the democratic process.
Understanding the political polarisation and fragmentation of the media landscape requires taking the long view. The current situation has been shaped by more than a decade of severe financial and political crisis which has harmed the way journalism is understood. At the same time, there has been a deterioration of press freedom since Nea Dimokratia’s electoral victory in 2019, who are “obsessed with controlling the message” and minimising critical and dissenting voices, as we heard again and again during the fact-finding mission.
The murder of crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz represents a low point for media freedom in Greece and drew international attention to the significant problems with journalists’ safety. The investigation progress appears slow and lacks basic transparency, which has had a chilling effect and leads to mistrust about the authorities’ ability or willingness to protect the journalistic community.
Migration policy, human rights violations committed in its implementation including pushbacks, and the humanitarian crisis that the refugee stream has created are highly sensitive topics for the government. Reporting on the issue is increasingly difficult, as journalists face obstructions including arbitrary arrest and detention, restriction of access to migration hotspots, surveillance, and harassment.
Reporting on protest is another particularly problematic area of journalistic practice in Greece. Journalists face aggression and harassment from law enforcement and from protesters. Overall, there is a lack of political will to ensure that journalists can safely report from demonstrations, which translates to a lack of adequate protection at the operational level.
Legal threats are also a significant problem for media freedom in Greece, including criminal prosecutions as well as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). Such threats can lead to self-censorship.
In light of these findings, the MFRR has issued a series of recommendations to the Greek authorities and to the European community, including the institutions of the European Union and the other EU Member States.
Slovenia: Hybrid Fact-Finding Mission
A fact-finding mission to Slovenia was held in a hybrid structure model between May 24 – June 2, 2021 online and followed up with an in-person visit on October 6, 2021. During the online meetings, the MFRR consortium representatives had in-depth meetings with journalists, editors from across the media spectrum as well as leading figures in the Slovenian public television and news agency. The delegation also met with the director of UKOM, the Government Communications Office, the Parliamentary Committee on Culture and the representatives of the Ministry of Culture.
The findings of the mission were published in the MFRR Report: Press Freedom Deteriorating in Slovenia under Latest Jansa Government. The report was launched on June 30 in an appeal to the EU leaders to address media freedom issue in the country as the Slovenian government took over the rotating chair of the European Council.
A mission report written by IPI was published on 30 June 2021 on the occasion of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union and translated in Slovenian. The report was presented during a press conference on Zoom on 5 July 2021. The report received wide media coverage from EU and Slovenian media outlets.
Serbia: Virtual Fast Response Mission
January / February 2021
An online international mission to assess the state of media freedom and the safety of journalists in Serbia will take place from 28 January to 1 February 2021. The mission is led by ARTICLE 19 as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR). The mission is organised in partnership with the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS).
The MFRR partners and NUNS will meet virtually with key stakeholders in the framework of media freedom in Serbia. The mission partners expect to build a comprehensive picture of the situation of media freedom and safety of journalists in the country; preliminary findings from the MFRR monitoring identified verbal and physical harassment, threats against journalists during protests, attacks from police, and tax investigations as the most recurrent obstacles to journalists’ safety and media freedom in Serbia, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Poland: Virtual Fact-Finding Mission
November / December 2020
An online international mission took place between November and December 2020 to explore the health of the media freedom environment as the government continues to wage a multi-pronged attack on independent media to muzzle critical reporting and undermine watchdog journalism.
The MFRR partners met with key stakeholders including a wide range of editors-in-chief and journalists from across the political spectrum, as well as academics, journalist associations, civil society organizations, the Polish Ombudsman, diplomatic missions and MEPs.
Of central concern is the Law and Justice (PiS) led Government’s plans for media reform. These include efforts to “repolonise” and “deconcentrate” the media market. Ostensibly aimed at creating greater pluralism, in reality these dual legal mechanisms are intended to concentrate more media under the control of the ruling party and its allies. This further been underpinned by a unique model of state capture, where private media companies have been effectively nationalised via state-owned and controlled companies. This model achieved its first results in December when a state energy firm headed by PiS appointees acquired control of Polska Press, in a deal that hands PiS indirect control over 20 of Poland’s 24 regional newspapers.
On 11th February, IPI published the mission report, Democracy Declining: Erosion of Media Freedom in Poland, which can be read below.
Montenegro: Virtual Fast Response Mission
As Montenegro’s new coalition government under the leadership of Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić was formally approved by the Montenegrin Parliament on 4 December, the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) and key partners, urge it to put press and media freedom high on its agenda. The detailed report from their virtual fact-finding mission raises a number of concerns. To advance media freedom and, ultimately, the country’s accession bid to the European Union (EU), the new administration must commit to the necessary reforms for building and maintaining a free and pluralist media landscape.
This is a unique chance to make a break from the past after 31 unbroken years of Democratic Socialist (DPS) rule under Milo Đukanović’s leadership. The results from our virtual fact-finding mission by seven international civil society organisations that took place in September 2020, show decisive action is needed to establish a free and pluralist media landscape. Our findings are outlined and analysed in the mission report: Uncertain Optimism, or Optimistic Uncertainty: Virtual MFRR Mission Report published in December 2020.