Wiretapping and trojans: The Nordio bill alarms journalists

Wiretapping and trojans: The Nordio bill alarms journalists

For the Italian Press National Federation and trade associations, the crackdown on the dissemination of transcripts is a new attack on freedom of the press and citizens’ right to be informed. Even MPs are in turmoil, worried that the “cyber interceptor” – aka trojan – will get out of the hands of its users.

By Paola Rosà

Originally published by OBCT. Also available in ITA

“The regulatory system already provides for a series of filters that do not allow the publication of wiretaps that are not relevant to the investigation, which are appropriately kept in a special archive”: this is what we read in the six pages   of the memorandum that the FNSI (Italian Press National Federation) handed over months ago to the Senate Justice Committee during the fact-finding investigation on the subject of wiretapping. It was April 27th and the public discussion on the topic – a “hot” topic for decades – was centred on the apparently intransigent, but often contradictory position of Minister of Justice Carlo Nordio: for months the former magistrate from the right-wing government party had announced “a profound review of the discipline” on wiretapping as a “deadly instrument of personal and often political delegitimisation” as well as “a barbarism that costs 200 million Euros a year”.


The announcements in the press, accompanied by dramatic backtracks on the alleged abolition of wiretaps even in cases of mafia and terrorism (because “mafiosi don’t talk on the phone”), and filled with attacks on the categories of journalists and magistrates, continued until the beginning of August, when the final version of the bill – which does not abolish wiretapping for mafia and terrorism crimes but rather broadens its scope – was approved by the Council of Ministers, thus starting its parliamentary process after the summer break.


Already in April however, and then also at the beginning of July during a flashmob   against “the gag of the Nordio bill”, the journalists’ union wanted to remind MPs of their “task of balancing the interests at stake, of finding the right balance between two constitutional principles. The one relating to the right to privacy and the protection of the dignity and honourability of people and the one relating to the right to inform and be informed, the cornerstone of our democratic system as the Constitutional Court has reminded us several times with two twin sentences on article 21 and as the President of the Republic often reminds us”.


In fact, what concerns journalists – and what should concern the whole of society considering the role of information in conveying events of general interest – are the new restrictions on the dissemination of wiretaps: the Nordio bill expands the prohibitions already introduced by previous regulations, such as the Orlando reform, and allows wiretaps to be disseminated only if already reproduced by the judge in the motivation and used during the trial.


The issue, however, is even more complex and does not only concern the limitation of the instrument and possible further censorship, but at least three scenarios which partly overlap and partly contradict each other: the right of public opinion to know news of general interest, the risk of extending surveillance practices also to subjects not involved in the investigations, and the protection of the privacy of the suspects themselves on personal matters not relating to the investigations.


General interest and media excesses

As FNSI general secretary Alessandra Costante reminded the senators speaking in the Justice Commission in April, once again the legislator seems not to take “into consideration the need to publish and disseminate news of general interest which is a value to be protected, such as affirmed by the European Court on several occasions, regardless of the aspects linked to a person’s guilt”.


It is true that the reference to the ECHR cannot erase decades of abuse and excesses by the Italian media, which have fed readers and viewers private details that are not relevant for the purposes of the investigation. The fact that the justification for a gag is then built on these excesses seems to be the predictable and much heralded response of the government, which wanted to dedicate the reform to Silvio Berlusconi.


But what would have happened if the Nordio bill had been in force, for example, during the investigation into the collapse of the Morandi bridge? Darkness on the managers’ statements regarding the Benetton family. And for the violence in the Verona police station? Video censorship. The concrete examples, illustrated by the FNSI during the flashmob in July, reflect the current reality, whereby according to the code of criminal procedure a copy of the wiretaps, once deposited, can be provided to anyone who is interested, and it is up to the public prosecutor the ensure that no content relating to sensitive personal data is included in the guidelines. The Nordio bill would instead make a clean sweep, eliminating the possibility of publishing the wiretaps if they have not already been reproduced by the judge in the motivation and used in the hearing. Other prohibitions affect the general prosecutor’s office, the judge, and the public prosecutor, who will not be able to report in the minutes or acquire in the excerpt data relating to subjects other than the parties. And this with the understandable aim of protecting “the third party not involved in the proceedings”.


The spectre of Trojans and questions from senators

In the Senate Justice Committee on 24 January  , the president of the Lawful Interception association Elio Cattaneo, who defined the wiretapping sector as “excellence in the hi-tech sector of our country”, gave an overview of the professionals involved, speaking of over 1500 employees – just from its trade association which brings together the six main companies in the sector and which covers 75% of the market. The interception activity takes place 95% on behalf of the Prosecutor’s Office and 5% for the secret services. The main field of application is telephone wiretaps (76%), with 15% environmental wiretaps, 5% computer wiretaps, and 3% Trojans. The data, also available on the ministry’s website  , speak of a declining trend, with a peak of 141,169 interceptions in 2013, while the most recent data referring to 2021 reports 95,379 targets, including 72,769 telephone users, 14,606 environmental interceptions, more than 5,000 computer viruses, and 2,896 trojans, the spy virus that transforms the phone into a microphone that is always on.


The senators’ attention was focused precisely on computer interceptors or Trojans, software with unknown potential, during two hearings last January: questions, requests for clarifications, worried interventions, starting from the president of the commission herself, Northern League senator and lawyer Giulia Bongiorno. The Trojans, the senators were told, are able to send and receive, without the knowledge of the owner of the cell phone in which they are installed, not only calls, messages, and emails, but also audio recreating the owner’s voice. It can activate the camera, take photos, and create videos, read text messages and MMS, access the content of instant messaging (including chats protected by encryption such as WhatsApp, Signal, and others), GPS (therefore the geolocation of the device), and inspect the contents (therefore see the images, videos, and documents present), including the Internet browsing history.


Senators were particularly alarmed when Lelio Della Pietra, a forensic IT consultant, reported a case of “manifest pathologies in the process of acquisition and detention of the sound traces coming from the receiver”. Pathologies which according to the engineer can be cured, and it is “strategic that they be cured as soon as possible, because the credibility of the instrument and all the investigations connected to it is at stake”.


The case described by Della Pietra, dating back to 2019, therefore before the entry into force of the Orlando reform which established a general archive of wiretaps, involved a Trojan which records conversations, but not twenty-four hours a day: its first objective is not to be discovered, therefore “it must try to disguise itself, it must not heat up the device, it must not consume too much battery or too much bandwidth”. For this reason, as an “actively piloted device”, it must be programmed via a specific interface.


The anomalies described by the engineer refer to recordings without programming, “a bit like when in lawsuits it turns out that the rifle fired on its own: in this case the Trojan allegedly recorded on its own. In 22 cases there were then very long periods (entire nights) in which the Trojan was programmed to receive and absolutely nothing arrived; moreover, one of these periods is precisely the key night of the investigations, in which the receiver stops receiving at 2 am, while scheduled for the entire following day”. And then there are also audios that literally disappeared, even though the recording time is known. “They just disappeared.”


Even engineer Paolo Reale, another IT forensic consultant, was equally clear in the hearing   on January 12, hoping that the legislator would find new rules for a new tool like Trojans: “It is clear that that is a completely different tool from the classic telephone interception, with which it has nothing to do; it is an invasive tool that affects practically all aspects of our lives, because today our cell phone contains all information relating to our appointments or our children, so certainly a different regulation would be desirable for this very reason”.


Balance between rights and mass surveillance

“On interceptions using wiretaps – said the president of the Guarantor for the protection of personal data, Professor Pasquale Stanzione, called by the senators to express an opinion – the intrusive potential of these tools requires adequate guarantees”. “If made available on the market, even just by mistake, in the absence of the necessary filters to limit their acquisition by third parties, these spy apps would in fact risk turning into dangerous tools of massive surveillance”.


Between the risk of mass surveillance and the need to guarantee both privacy and the effectiveness of investigations, the issue of wiretapping involves numerous evolving aspects.


“The lighthouse, the line, the main path is the protection of the human person”, added Stanzione, who also recalled European legislation: “We move in a European system which has made personalism the centrality of its legislation. It will be the GDPR, the Digital Services Act, the Artificial Intelligence Act that will move in this perspective (…) because Europe has a middle path precisely towards artificial intelligence, which touches on these enormous profiles of invasion of the intimate sphere of the person. The middle path is neither the unbridled liberalism of the American experience nor the rigid statism, i.e. the Chinese-Korean one, which leaves no room for the fulfillment and free development of the personality, to which our article 2, cited many times, gives guarantee and solid conformation”.


Nicola Canestrini, criminal lawyer and media expert, also insists on this constant search for a balance: despite having recently defended journalists who had published wiretaps (see the case of the acquittal of the authors of an investigative book on the discontent within the South Tyrolean majority party), Canestrini does not address the issue with an absolutist approach. On the contrary. As demonstrated by his appeal to the Strasbourg Court against the wiretaps which saw him as a victim, the lawyer is decidedly cautious.


In 2021, when he discovered transcripts of his phone calls with his client, Canestrini decided to report this violation of the right to privacy, which had revealed the defence strategy to the public prosecutor. There are at least three occasions in which the lawyer found himself reading excerpts of his conversations with his clients in court documents. Hence the appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, in which he contests the mechanism of posthumous verification of compliance with legal limits.


Therefore, there is no absolutism when it comes to wiretapping, but certain reference criteria: case by case, situation by situation, there are times to approve their publication and others to ask for confidentiality, times to privilege respect for human dignity and others to privilege the needs of the investigations – in the constant search for a balance between constitutionally guaranteed rights.

This article was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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10 Cross-Border Investigative Projects Shortlisted for IJ4EU Award

10 Cross-Border Investigative Projects Shortlisted for IJ4EU Award

Every year, the IJ4EU Impact Award recognises the best investigative journalism carried out by teams collaborating across borders in EU Member States and candidate countries.

Every year, the IJ4EU Impact Award recognises the best investigative journalism carried out by teams collaborating across borders in EU Member States and candidate countries.


Earlier this month we announced Joanna Krawczyk, Deputy Director of the German Marshall Fund, as our Jury Chair. Today, we are delighted to announce the ten projects to be nominated for the Impact Award in 2023.


Three winning teams will each get €5,000 in recognition of their work collaborating on stories that transcend national frontiers. Winners will be announced at an award ceremony in Leipzig, Germany, on 31 March.


Here are the 10 shortlisted entries, in alphabetical order and selected from a pool of nominations by independent evaluators assembled by ECPMF, a partner in the IJ4EU consortium:

Behind the Belarusian Sanctions

Despite harsh EU sanctions, Belarusian oil exports to Estonia reached record levels in 2021. Journalists from investigative centres and news outlets in four countries — Re:Baltica in Latvia, Delfi in Estonia, Siena in Lithuania and the Belarusian Investigative Center — reveal how the trade, initiated by the oligarch dubbed the “energy wallet of Lukashenko”, has been set up.

IJ4EU Impact Award

Black and White: Discrimination in the Exodus from Ukraine

As Europe focused on the mass of people fleeing Ukraine following Russia’s invasion last year, Dutch investigative non-profit Light House Reports identified an underreported aspect of the exodus: discrimination of non-Western residents as they tried to escape. Twenty-one journalists from eight countries set out to explore and illuminate the disturbingly unequal treatment of certain refugees that was otherwise going largely unnoticed.

Migrant Boat Drivers in the Dock

Over the past decade, Greek, Spanish and Italian border guards have increasingly targeted the drivers of migrant boats arriving on their countries’ shores, in their quest for someone to blame for “illegal” migration. Thousands of people, usually migrants themselves, have been arrested. Some may have been paid to drive the boat, others forced at gunpoint. Among them are unaccompanied minors, reveals this investigation by Lost in Europe.

Mining Secrets

Sixty-five journalists, coordinated by Forbidden Stories, came together to pursue the work of colleagues threatened for investigating environmental scandals in Guatemala. Drawing on hundreds of thousands of leaked documents, the team revealed how journalists who reported on a powerful mining conglomerate were systematically profiled, surveilled and even followed by drones.

Suisse Secrets

Led by the Organized Crime and Reporting Project and German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, Suisse Secrets brought together more than 160 journalists from 48 outlets on five continents to investigate leaked records containing 18,000 Credit Suisse accounts, the largest leak ever from a major Swiss bank.

The China Science Investigation

Are European scientists contributing to China’s quest to become a military superpower? This project led by Dutch investigative platform Follow the Money involved 30 journalists from seven countries who analysed more than 350,000 scientific papers involving collaborations between China and Europe. They found that nearly 3,000 were by researchers affiliated with European universities and their counterparts at military-linked institutions in China.

IJ4EU Impact Award

The Devil in the Data

This undercover investigation by a group of freelancers in four countries reveals how live data fed to the sports betting industry can create a fertile ground for match-fixing. The journalists involved were Andy Brown, Philippe Auclair, Steve Menary and Jack Kerr.

IJ4EU Impact Award

The Ericsson List

Based on a leaked internal compliance report, this investigation reveals that the Swedish-based multinational sought permission from Islamic State extremists to work in an ISIS-controlled city in Iraq and paid to smuggle equipment into ISIS areas on a route known as the “Speedway”. Led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the project involved 31 media partners in 22 countries.

IJ4EU Impact Award

The Xinjiang Police Files

In recent years, the Chinese state has allegedly locked away a million Uyghurs in internment camps. This project attaches names and faces to this brutal system, providing an unprecedented look behind the veil of secrecy. Involving journalists based in eight countries, the investigation was carried out by a team of independent outlets brought together by German news site Der Spiegel.

Unmasking Europe’s Shadow Armies

This investigation led by Light House Reports, a Dutch-based non-profit that works with newsrooms across Europe, exposes the mysterious men in masks who beat refugees at Europe’s borders. It gives the most detailed picture yet of a previously deniable campaign of illegal, violent “pushbacks” in Croatia, Greece and Romania by masked men whose uniforms have been stripped of any identifying details.

Recognising resilience

The IJ4EU Impact Award ceremony will act as a finale to the MFRR Summit 2023. By hosting the awards at the summit, the IJ4EU fund seeks to underline the bravery and resilience of investigative journalists in the face of growing assaults on media freedom and pluralism.


The awards will be livestreamed on March 31 on the ECPMF YouTube channel. For more information, check out the MFRR Summit website.

Emilia Șercan Library

Romania: Renewed call for action after fresh smear campaign…

Romania: Renewed call for action after fresh smear campaign against Emilia Șercan

Today, 17 February 2023, marks one year since journalist Emilia Șercan filed a police complaint about cybercrime and violation of privacy after she discovered five stolen personal pictures taken about twenty years ago had been published on 34 porn websites. The next day, Șercan found that a Moldovan website had published an article containing the five stolen pictures and a Facebook Messenger screenshot she had provided to the Romanian police.

One year and multiple criminal complaints later, investigations have failed to identify either the perpetrator or the source of the alleged leak from within the police force, despite repeated calls for accountability from press freedom organisations and European bodies.


Accordingly, our organisations today renew our call on the Romanian authorities to designate the investigation a priority and dedicate sufficient resources to it. We also ask that the prosecutorial services merge the cases to improve efficiency and speed up the investigations and urge the Prosecutor General to receive Emilia Șercan, as she has requested on multiple occasions. We continue to have serious concerns about the implications of the case for media freedom in Romania more broadly, especially given the context. In January 2022, Șercan had revealed that Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă plagiarised his doctoral dissertation, after which she received several threats to her safety.


Not only have the Romanian authorities yet to respond meaningfully to concerns about the investigation’s lack of progress, including after local and international experts disproved the police’s claim that the leak must have taken place before the journalist reached the police station, but Șercan now faces another coordinated smear campaign aimed at discrediting her public interest journalism, which appears to have been directed by the governing National Liberal Party (PNL). It follows the publication of two articles, in September and November 2022, in which Șercan revealed that former Minister of Education Sorin Cîmpeanu and Home Affairs Minister Lucian Bode, a member and the general secretary of the PNL respectively, also plagiarised.


On 9 January, online outlet Hotnews published information it obtained showing that PNL leadership instructed the party’s politicians to discredit Șercan if they were asked about the issue in media interviews. At the same time, two ghost media websites with opaque ownership, and, published anonymous articles attempting to discredit Șercan that also appeared as sponsored posts on Facebook. Misreport, a Romanian platform specialised in tackling misinformation, conducted an analysis showing that the promotion was paid for by Green Pixel Interactive, an advertising agency registered as having contracts with PNL in the campaigns for the parliamentary and local elections in 2020. After Misreport called Green Pixel Interactive, the two ghost websites were deactivated, and their Facebook pages were deleted. Green Pixel Interactive did not answer questions about whether it was operating on behalf of PNL or its representatives.


This renewed harassment of Șercan is unacceptable and, given the prominent players apparently involved in its coordination, has a chilling effect beyond the case at hand. Accordingly, the undersigned organisations call on the leadership and members of the PNL to immediately condemn the smear campaign and to issue clear instructions not to discredit Șercan any further.


Meanwhile, we also call on the EU institutions to continue to follow the case closely and to consider its implications for media freedom and the rule of law in Romania in relevant regional-level processes. Specifically, the European Commission’s 2022 Rule of Law report considers intimidation of journalists as a press freedom concern in Romania. Considering no progress appears to have been achieved in the investigations, and in light of the new smear campaign against her, we call on the European Commission to ensure that this is reflected in the forthcoming publication of the 2023 Rule of Law report chapter on Romania, as it is testament to the lack of adequate commitment to press freedom by Romanian public officials.


We call on the authorities and politicians to show they respect Romania’s European commitments and obligations to press freedom by effectively prosecuting the harassment of Emilia Șercan and condemning any politically-sponsored smear campaign.

Signed by:

  • ActiveWatch
  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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Justice Delayed: Impunity Event

Justice Delayed: Insights from Impunity Cases Across Europe

Justice Delayed:

Insights from Impunity Cases Across Europe

10 November, 11:00 CET.

The Council of Europe Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists currently states that there are 26 ongoing cases of impunity for the murder of journalists in Europe.


We know that to bring an end to these heinous crimes, those who commit them cannot walk free. Indifference towards the seriousness of these crimes helps cultivate a culture of impunity in Europe and stands in the way of justice. But what would full justice look like in these cases? And how can we work together to achieve it?


Throughout this webinar, we will hear from speakers with close ties to journalists who paid the ultimate price for their vital and critical reporting. Through this conversation, we hope to understand what true justice will look like, how it can be achieved, and what needs to be done to halt the culture of impunity for crimes against journalists in Europe.


Flutura - Impunity Webinar

Flutura Kusari

Senior Legal Advisor, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)


Photo: Francesca Bellizzi #ifj18

Corinne Vella

Sister of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Head of Media Relations at the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation

Lukas Diko - Impunity Webinar

Lukáš Diko

Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of the Jan Kuciak Investigative Center

George Gavalas

Vice-President of the Executive Board of the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers


Italy: Concern about prosecutor’s demand for prison sentence for…

Italy: Concern about prosecutor’s demand for prison sentence for three journalists in response to their factual reporting

The undersigned media freedom and journalist associations today express shared concern over an Italian prosecutor’s request for a six-month prison sentence in a case of defamation through the press involving three journalists.

The lawsuit had been filed in response to their reporting on a labour lawsuit associated with a former minister. Prison sentences in cases of defamation through the press have been declared unconstitutional by the Italian Constitutional Court in 2021, except for cases of exceptional gravity. No journalist should face nor fear prison sentences for having published factual information in the public interest.


The lawsuit against the three journalists was initiated in 2014 by Teresa Bellanova, current president of political party Italia Viva who at the time was undersecretary of the Ministry of Labour. The three journalists – Mary Tota from Il Fatto Quotidiano, Danilo Lupo from La7 and Francesca Pizzolante from Il Tempo – were sued for criminal defamation through the press by Bellanova in 2014, for their respective reporting about a labour lawsuit that had been filed against her by a former press officer.


In response to the lawsuit she received, Bellanova initially accused the press officer and the three journalists of complicity in attempted extortion, a charge which was later downgraded to defamation through the press for the journalists. More than eight years later, the defamation trial against the members of the press is not over. 


In the latest hearing on 17 October, prosecutor Antonio Zito requested a six months’ prison sentence for each of the three journalists. Their reporting at the time was simply about the filing of the lawsuit and the allegations made, which have since been confirmed by the Lecce Court of Appeal. The next hearing is scheduled for 14 November 2022, when, following the rebuttal of the journalists’ lawyer Roberto Eustachio Sisto, judge Michele Guarini will issue his decision.


The prospect of having to face a prison sentence together with the protracted nature of this lawsuit has inevitably resulted in a chilling effect: this is what has been reported by journalist Danilo Lupo, who admitted that he has been refraining from reporting on any issues related to Bellanova over the past eight years.


The case of the three journalists facing prison sentences draws once more attention to the severe deficiencies in Italy’s defamation laws. According to the Italian criminal code, defamation through the press can be punished with prison sentences from six months to three years. However, in the past two years, the Constitutional Court had made public its position by urging lawmakers to initiate a comprehensive reform of defamation provisions and ruling that incarceration in such cases is unconstitutional and should be envisioned exclusively in criminal defamation cases of “exceptional severity”. 


Joining the dissent expressed by Italian journalists organisations, the undersigned media freedom and journalist associations urge the competent authorities to immediately drop  their demand for prison sentences for the journalists in the Bellanova case, in line with the pronouncements of the Constitutional Court. We also urge the new parliament to swiftly enact a comprehensive reform of both civil and criminal defamation laws in Italy and emphasise the need to meet European freedom of expression standards. We will continue to monitor the unfolding of the legal proceedings of the Lecce court and call on relevant authorities to react to the case. 

Signed by:

  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • The Good Lobby

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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Netherlands: Press freedom groups concerned about video with hostile…

Netherlands: Press freedom groups concerned about video with hostile rhetoric by Dutch politician against reporter

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and its partners express today their concerns about hostile rhetoric used against independent journalists by Dutch political party Forum for Democracy (FvD). Such problematic language creates an intimidating climate for public interest journalism, normalises both online and physical targeting of the press, and can lead to self-censorship amongst the journalistic community. We urge the FvD to put an end to its dangerous smear campaign against independent media.

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and its partners express today their concerns about hostile rhetoric used against an independent journalist by Dutch political party Forum for Democracy (FvD). Such problematic language creates an intimidating climate for public interest journalism, normalises both online and physical targeting of the press, and can lead to self-censorship amongst the journalistic community. We urge the FvD to put an end to its dangerous smear campaign against independent media.


On October 23, a 10-minute video called ¨Sewage rats unmasked¨ was published on social media by FvD. The video features Dutch MP Gideon van Meijeren, who posted the video with the accompanying text: “Activists who conduct sewage journalism can no longer get away with their lies, disinformation and fake news. Time for a counterattack.” The video singles out national television channel SBS6´s political reporter Merel Ek, who had asked Van Meijeren a question about the meaning of the word ´liquidate´ a week before. In the video, Van Meijeren says this to be the first episode of a series in which ¨sewage rats¨ are unmasked. He expresses his hope that the unmasking of ¨sewage journalism¨ has a preventative function; ¨Because as long as those journos keep getting away with their disgusting practices, they will continue to do so unabashedly. A confrontation is therefore unavoidable¨. He portrays the political reporter as a ¨sewage journalist¨ and when walking across various press offices comments on the ¨incredible sewage smell¨. 


The video is highly intimidating and is detrimental for the safety of journalists in the Netherlands. This hostile political rhetoric against journalists was one of the concerns that gave rise to the MFRR fact-finding mission to the Netherlands in February 2022. It fits in a broader problematic trend in the Netherlands where public figures denounce the free press. In 2021, Partij voor de Vrijheid’s (PVV) party leader Geert Wilders tweeted that ¨all journalists are scum bags – with some exceptions”. FvD´s party leader Thierry Baudet retweeted this. Such rhetoric, combined with increasing polarisation, fraying trust in mainstream news sources and conspiracy theories about the role of the media, contributes to growing anti-press sentiment stewing on social media networks, leading to threats against journalists both online and on the streets. Moreover, the (online) harassment that typically follows can lead to self-censorship. The attacks on the media and journalists were reflected in RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index which ranked the Netherlands 26th as opposed to the 6th place in 2021.


The recent video led to many statements from public officials and the journalistic community. Prime Minister Mark Rutte described the video as an all-time low: “In a democracy, journalists should be able to do their job without being discredited.” Multiple ministers and leaders of political parties have denounced the intimidating rhetoric used in the FvD video. Thomas Bruning, the Secretary of the Dutch Journalists Union (NVJ), has shared serious concerns about the impact this may have on journalistic freedoms, and has expressed the need for a discussion within the journalistic community about how to deal with these forms of intimidation. The NVJ is exploring whether legal steps can be taken. 


We welcome swift denunciation of this rhetoric and the vocal support given to the journalist by democratic political officials and figures and the wider journalistic community in the Netherlands. To improve the safety of media staff in the Netherlands moving forward, the MFRR and its partners deem it imperative to identify concrete next steps to ensure that such hostile comments and inflammatory messages, which have proven to be detrimental to the general safety of media outlets and individual journalists, are the subject of thorough investigation by the Dutch authorities. It is crucial that such an investigation is not only limited to the video content itself, but also looks at criminal offenses that can follow in the aftermath of such a video such as online harassment, personal commentary and doxxing. The Dutch authorities must provide transparency about the outcomes of such an investigation, to contribute to the broader discussion. 


We also call for the issue to be high on the agenda during the upcoming plenary parliamentary debate on press freedom and the safety of journalists in the Netherlands. Engagement should not be limited to the political sphere, but rather fuel a public debate about the role of the press in the Dutch democracy. Finally, the Dutch Parliament must be a place where journalists can do their jobs freely, without fear of intimidation. We call on the Chairman and members of the Boards of Appeal to explore measures to ensure that the work environment of journalists within Parliament is one without fear of intimidation. Independent political reporters and journalists have a crucial watchdog role in democratic societies and must be able to do their jobs freely, in particular within Parliament. Our organisations stand ready to provide expertise and will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • PersVeilig
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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Greece: SLAPP award winner Grigoris Dimitriadis urged to drop…

Greece: SLAPP award winner Grigoris Dimitriadis urged to drop defamation lawsuits

The undersigned international media freedom and journalists organisations wrote to Grigoris Dimitriadis to express concern about defamation claims filed against investigative journalists and media outlets following his resignation from the role of general secretary in the office of the Greek Prime Minister in August 2022.

21 October 2022


Dear Grigoris Dimitriadis,


The undersigned international media freedom and journalists organisations are writing to you to express our shared concern about defamation claims filed against investigative journalists and media outlets following your resignation from the role of general secretary in the office of the Greek Prime Minister in August 2022.


Our organisations have closely assessed these five legal claims and believe they classify as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs): abusive litigation filed by powerful individuals aimed at silencing and intimidating legitimate watchdog journalism.


The defamation lawsuit you filed against newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton (EFSYN), investigative online portal Reporters United and their reporters Nikola Leontopoulos and Thodoris Chondrogiannos, and freelance journalist Thanasis Koukakis, is both retaliatory in nature and unfounded in merit.


Rather than a good faith effort to seek appropriate legal redress, we are concerned these lawsuits – ranging from between €150,000 and €250,000 – appear to be more an effort to punish the media whose investigations into your links with a company caught in the middle of a spyware scandal appear to have led to your resignation.


Demands for the articles of both independent media which published on August 4, 2022 to be removed from their respective websites are a clear attempt to muzzle professional investigative reporting on a matter of significant public interest and erase their revelations.


The legal action taken against Thanasis Koukakis, a journalist who was previously targeted with the Predator spyware marketed by the very firm you were established to have connections with, over his simple retweet of an investigative report, is a startling example of vexatious litigation.


We note that on 20 October you were awarded the ‘SLAPP Politician of the Year Award’ 2022 by the CASE Coalition at its European Anti-SLAPP contest 2022.


Upon your receival of this SLAPP award, we now take the opportunity to write to you directly to urge you to withdraw the legal complaints against all three journalists and both media outlets and to refrain from weaponizing the law to target public interest journalism in the future.


The case is a matter of serious concern amongst international journalists’ and media freedom organisations, European NGOs working on SLAPPs, and MEPs at the European Parliament and serves only to further erode media freedom in Greece at a troubling time.


Our organisations will continue to monitor the situation closely and push for full accountability for the recent abuses of spyware in Greece, as well as the development and implementation of effective anti-SLAPP legislation at the EU, Council of Europe and national levels. We hope to see your response soon.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe 
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) 
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) 
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU) 
  • International Press Institute (IPI) 
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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Daphne Caruana Galizia Anniversary Library

Malta: Civil society denounces government’s lack of ambition and…

Malta: Civil society denounces government’s lack of ambition and transparency in press freedom reforms and renews calls for full justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia

Five years ago today, investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia was brutally assassinated in a car bomb attack in Malta. Our thoughts are with her family, friends and colleagues. Together with them, we continue to fight for justice.

Today is a day to remember and celebrate her fearless journalism, the far-reaching impact of her incisive writing on financial crime, abuses of power and deep-seated corruption, and her unwavering commitment to uncovering the truth and serving the public’s right to information. 

Until yesterday, progress in the criminal investigations and prosecutions had been slow.  Yet in a surprise turn of events on Friday, the Criminal Court sentenced brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio, following a guilty plea, to 40 years each for their role as hitmen in the assassination of Caruana Galizia.  This is a welcome development although legal proceedings against the suspected bomb suppliers as well as the suspected mastermind remain pending.

Impunity serves to embolden those who use violence to silence critical journalism and it ends only when all those responsible for the heinous murder have been prosecuted to the full extent of the law: all the potential intermediaries and mastermind(s) must be brought to justice. 

Similarly, we must point out the unacceptable lack of implementation of the recommendations made by the landmark Public Inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s assassination and the exclusion of structured public consultation, including with our organisations, on proposed legal amendments relating to the safety of journalists and Strategic Lawsuits Against Pubic Participation (SLAPPs), which in the latter case fail to meet international standards. The process provides a historic opportunity for the Government of Malta to implement its obligations under international and European legal and policy frameworks to create an enabling environment for journalism and to protect journalists.

The lack of political will to initiate the effective and systemic reform that is needed casts doubt on whether Malta’s political class has drawn any lessons from Caruana Galizia’s assassination. However, justice for the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia could now be making progress.  The government must now protect those who continue her legacy.

Signed by:

  • Access Info Europe
  • Access to Information Programme (AIP)
  • ARTICLE 19 Europe 
  • Association of European Journalists-Belgium
  • Civic Alliance (CA) Montenegro
  • Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • Corporate Europe Observatory
  • English PEN
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • European Integrity Academy – AntiCorruption Youth Greece
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD)
  • IFEX
  • Index on Censorship
  • International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
  • International Institute for Regional Media and Information (IRMI) Ukraine
  • International Media Support (IMS)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann
  • Kosova Democratic Institute 
  • Legal Human Academy
  • Media Diversity Institute 
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Oživení, z.s. (CZ)
  • Partners Albania for Change and Development
  • PEN International 
  • PEN Malta
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • Scottish PEN
  • Society of Journalists, Warsaw
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  • Syri i Vizionit
  • Transparency International EU
  • Wales PEN Cymru

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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2022-PF-Mission-Turkey Library

Turkey: International delegation condemns passage of disinformation law and…

Turkey: International delegation condemns passage of disinformation law and issues call to protect safety and freedom of journalists ahead of 2023 elections

Turkey’s journalists are bracing themselves for a renewed attack on their safety and freedoms in the run up to the country’s 2023 general elections following passage of a new disinformation law that threatens to close down public criticism and debate, an international media freedom mission visiting Turkey from October 12 to 14, 2022, has found.

Article 29 of the law provides for three years’ imprisonment for those who publish “false information” with the “intention to instigate fear or panic, endanger the country’s security, public order and general health of society”. It was passed by parliament on Thursday, October 13.


The bill’s vague and problematic language and its future implementation by Turkey’s politicized judicial system will put journalists as well as millions of internet users at risk of criminal sanctions and could lead to much greater censorship and self-censorship in the country’s already compromised news landscape.


This week, seven media freedom, journalism, and human rights organisations met with a range of key stakeholders in Turkey, including journalists, civil society groups, political parties, and the Turkish Constitutional Court to discuss Turkey’s media freedom crisis. In addition to the chair of the Turkish Parliament’s Investigative Committee on Human Rights, MP Hakan Çavuşuğlu of the ruling AKP party, the delegation also met with representatives of the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP), Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Good Party (İYİP), Future Party (Gelecek P.), Demokrat Party, Felicity Party (Saadet Party), Turkey’s Workers Party (TİP), Labor Party (EMEP), and Societal Freedom Party (TÖP).


The mission’s requests for meetings with presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın; with the AKP vice-chair responsible for human rights, Leyla Şahin Usta; and with RTÜK (national broadcast regulator) Chair Ebubekir Şahin were declined. Meeting requests sent to MHP representatives; BTK (communications authority) administration; the chair of the parliamentary Digital Platforms Committee, MP Hüseyin Yayman of AKP; and the head of Directorate of Communications, Fahrettin Altun, were left unanswered.


Led by the International Press Institute (IPI) and IPI’s Turkey National Committee, the mission included representatives from Amnesty International Turkey, ARTICLE 19, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT), and Reporters without Borders (RSF). The mission was also supported by PEN International and the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO).


Presidential and parliamentary elections are due to take place in Turkey June 2023. The free flow of independent news and information is an essential condition to any democratic election.


The mission called on politicians across the political spectrum to pledge to end the crisis facing journalism and commit to extensive reforms in their manifestos guaranteeing media freedoms after many years of deteriorating conditions.


At the same time, stakeholders met by the mission expressed grave concern over the possibility of a greater crackdown on journalists and a heightened threat of physical violence ahead of the vote. We call on the government to guarantee that journalists are able to do their work free of intimidation and harassment in particular during the election period.


Priorities for action

Following its meetings, the international delegation has identified the following priorities for action:


Disinformation law and digital censorship: The government must repeal the disinformation law and put an end to the framework of digital censorship that has been built by the administration. In particular, the new penal code article criminalizing disinformation offers the authorities yet another tool after years of abusing Turkey’s anti-terror law to target critical journalism.


Stakeholders met by the mission also raised fears that the Center to Combat Disinformation, established this summer by the Directorate of Communications, will add another layer to the system of digital repression by increasing monitoring and harassment of journalists online.


Sustainable improvement for press freedom in Turkey cannot happen without ensuring the impartiality and independence of the judiciary. Turkey’s captured prosecution services and courts, combined with poorly drafted laws that are not in compliance with international standards, have led to the prosecution, conviction, and jailing of hundreds of journalists over the past decade for their journalism. Despite the reduced number of journalists in jail, the Judicial Reform Package, a 2019 initiative presented by the government as an effort to safeguard rights, has not succeeded in stopping the prosecution and legal harassment of journalists.


While the Turkish Constitutional Court (TCC) has issued some important pilot rulings pointing to structural problems with laws impacting free expression, there are still major challenges around implementation of the TCC’s rulings by both lower courts – a problem the TCC says it is working to address – and by lawmakers. Important freedom of expression related cases have faced years-long delays awaiting decisions from the TCC, underscoring serious concerns that justice delayed is tantamount to justice denied.


At the same time, meeting partners in Turkey have highlighted the problem that most TCC judges are nominated directly or indirectly by the president. Recent appointments to the court have given rise to serious concerns regarding political influence and underscore the need to free the nominations process from such influence.


Turkey’s media regulatory bodies must be depoliticised and reformed. They have all abused their powers to target and penalise independent media.

  • The Press Advertising Agency (BIK) has consistently imposed arbitrary penalties on independent newspapers by withdrawing state advertising, thereby denying them an important source of revenue. This August, the Constitutional Court ruled that BIK’s arbitrary sanctions constitute a rights violation stemming from a structural problem. Despite the ruling, BIK subsequently permanently revoked the right of one of these newspapers, Evrensel, to receive public ads.
  • The Television and Radio High Council (RTÜK), Turkey’s broadcast regulator, has regularly targeted independent media. RTÜK issued 42 fines in the past nine months, according to reports by MP Utku Çakırözer. These have almost exclusively been levelled against independent broadcasters.
  • This summer, the Information and Communications Technologies Authority (BTK) was embroiled in a scandal known as “BTK Gate” following the revelation that it had been harvesting data of millions of internet users without a court order. Since December 2020, internet service providers have been required to send BTK hourly reports on websites visited, data location, apps used, and the names of the users. Such mass surveillance has clear implications for the rights of journalists and sources.

The safety of journalists is under increasing pressure as online threats and the verbal targeting of journalists by politicians spill out into violence on the streets. The Mapping Media Freedom platform has recorded 26 cases of assaults against journalists in Turkey in the past year alone. This rise in violence does not take place in a vacuum but is a result of the demonization of critical journalism as illegitimate and a threat to national security. Moreover, the impunity that has emerged in some of these cases risks fuelling further violence.


During the mission, the delegation called on all political parties to condemn any attacks on journalists and guarantee the rights of journalists to freely and safely cover the 2023 election campaign.


Over the past year, the prosecution and detentions of critical, independent media have continued. This year’s mission has visited Diyarbakir to show solidarity with 15 journalists and a media worker who have been held there in pretrial detention since June despite a lack of official charges. The mission renews its call for the release of all jailed journalists in Turkey and its support for their colleagues and families.


Finally, the process of press accreditation must be reformed and depoliticized so as to enable all journalists to do their work. Accreditation must be taken out of the hands of the Directorate of Communications, which has abused its position to remove the press cards of hundreds of critical journalists, and be replaced by a system run by journalists and media organizations themselves.


Later this year, the delegation will publish a full report on the mission in which it will provide more detail about the views expressed by stakeholders and officials met during the visit.

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Czech Republic: Media freedom groups urge MPs to pass…

Czech Republic: Media freedom groups urge MPs to pass media act amendment

The undersigned media freedom and journalists organisations and unions today urge the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic to vote to pass a draft bill which would amend the law on public broadcasting to strengthen the institutional independence of Česká televize (Czech Television) and Český rozhlas (Czech Radio).

Our organisations have previously called for and supported the development of this bill, which we believe will play a crucial role in limiting the ability of political forces to influence Czech Television’s oversight council and help future-proof the broadcasters against any attempts by governments to erode editorial independence.


The passing of this reform package is long overdue and comes at a crucial time. Under the previous government, Czech Television came under sustained political pressure, including through well-documented attempts to unseat its director general via politically-motivated appointments to its oversight council.


Despite these challenges, Czech Television withstood the pressure and remains the model for independent public service broadcasting in Central and Eastern Europe. However, unless the current legislative framework is amended to stop weaknesses being exploited, the broadcaster will remain at the mercy of political interference from future administrations.


In our view, the draft amendments developed by the Ministry of Culture represent a legitimate, proportionate and democratic attempt to safeguard the functional independence of the Czech Television Council, in line with the Czech Constitution. While this bill does not take up all of the recommendations initially put forward by CSOs, we note it was created with the welcome input of journalists’ groups and media associations and in line with international standards.


Vital elements of this bill include amendments that; ensure both chambers of parliament are involved in appointments to the Czech Television Council; increase the number of sitting councilors; tighten rules on which organisations can nominate candidates, and scrap the ability of parliament to remove all the board members as a consequence of the rejection of annual reports.


Taken together, these changes would significantly limit the number of pressure points available to future governments seeking to disrupt the broadcaster’s work or influence its coverage through its proxies on the oversight councils. The passing of this bill would also provide an important signal that the current government is committed to strengthening democracy and would boost its record on media freedom during its Presidency of the Council of the European Union.


However, it is crucial that the passing of this legislation be followed by a secondary bill which provides for long-term and sustainable financing for Czech Television and Czech Radio, both of which face serious cuts to budgets and staff numbers. This should include the long overdue legislation for automatic increases in the licence fee in line with inflation.


Amidst the war in Ukraine, support for well-funded and independent Czech public broadcasters will both act as an antidote to the Kremlin’s propaganda and provide a much-needed model for neighbouring countries experiencing similar threats to the independence of public service media, both now and in the years to come.


The current administration has a vital opportunity to strengthen a pillar of Czech democracy and safeguard the independence of public service media for the future. We urge MPs in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Czech Republic to seize this moment and deliver a progressive reform of the Act on Czech Television. 

Signed by:

Balkan Free Media Initiative (BFMI)

Civil Liberties Union for Europe

European Broadcasting Union (EBU)

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)


International Press Institute (IPI)

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

Public Media Alliance (PMA)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) 

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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