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MFRR urges swift police action over Molotov cocktail attack…

MFRR urges swift police action over Molotov cocktail attack on home of Dutch journalist

The undersigned organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today express serious concern over the Molotov cocktail attack on the home of journalist Willem Groeneveld in Groningen last night. We welcome the prompt response of the Dutch authorities to carry out a police investigation. Our organisations call on the authorities to analyse the safety measures that were in place, to establish the motive of the attack and to bring those responsible to justice.

Coming so soon after the fatal shooting of Dutch crime reporter Peter R. de Vries in Amsterdam in July, this potential attempted murder represents another serious attack on media freedom in the Netherlands. This requires a swift response to protect the safety of journalists. We urge the Dutch authorities to address this broader trend by starting a rigorous investigation into the circumstances and factors behind the recent increase in attacks on journalists within the country.

At around 2.45am on the night of 18-19 August, multiple Molotov cocktails were thrown through a window into Groeneveld’s apartment. After he and his partner awoke to the sound of smashing glass, they were able to extinguish the flames and no one was injured. The journalist said “several” explosives were thrown.

The identity of the attacker or attackers is currently unknown and police are currently analysing CCTV footage and speaking with witnesses. No indication of the motive or whether it was connected to Groeneveld’s journalistic work has yet been established by the authorities.

In recent months, Groeneveld, who is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sikkom, a youth platform that publishes news and investigative journalism about the city of Groningen, has faced pressure and intimidation over his reporting on local landlords and other issues. He is also a contributor to Dagblad van het Noorden, a daily newspaper.

In 2019, five stones were thrown through the windows of his Groningen home and in June Groningen city council denounced intimidation of the journalist by a local real estate entrepreneur. Bicycles were dumped in front of his house in response to an article he wrote and his address and phone number then appeared on Facebook, a practice known as “doxing”. Whether the doxing is connected to the attack remains unclear. Groeneveld had been receiving police protection for a while when the Molotov cocktail hit his house.

Thomas Bruning, the general secretary of the Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ) is right; the nature of this incident means authorities must consider treating it as attempted murder. It is an attack on Willem Groeneveld, but also the entire Dutch journalistic community. This is even more concerning considering the Netherlands is ranked among the best countries in the world for the freedom of the press.

It is vital therefore that the Netherlands lead by example. The MFRR have reported the issue to the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists and the Mapping Media Freedom platform will continue to monitor this case closely.

Signed by:

  • Article 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
Photo of court building in Valletta Library

Malta: Tycoon Yorgen Fenech to face trial for murder…

Malta: Tycoon Yorgen Fenech to face trial for murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia

Yorgen Fenech, a Maltese business mogul, has been indicted for the murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 and will face a trial by jury on a date yet to be set. Fenech faces charges of complicity in murder and criminal association. So far, Vince Muscat has been sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to the murder earlier this year. Two further alleged hitmen, the brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio will also face trial. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) welcomes Fenech’s indictment and urges the Maltese authorities to finally end impunity and punish everyone involved in this heinous crime.

Almost four years have passed since Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bombing on 16 October 2017 close to her home in northern Malta. Her reporting focused on high-level corruption, including investigations into the Panama Papers in 2016. She was investigating possible corruption in a contract between Fenech and the Maltese government for the building of a power station when she was killed.

While Vince Muscat, one of the hitmen contracted for the murder, has been sentenced to prison, Yorgen Fenech is considered the mastermind behind the murder by Caruana’s family. On 20 November 2019, Fenech was arrested while he was leaving Malta on his private yacht. He has been under arrest since, undergoing a pre-trial compilation of evidence where he pleaded not guilty.

The prosecutors who filed the bill of indictment in court today, Wednesday 18 August, are said to be pushing for a life in prison sentence for complicity in murder and an additional 20 to 30-year sentence for criminal association. Melvin Theuma, the assassination plot’s self-confessed middleman, had previously claimed that Fenech tasked him with organising the murder. The indictment bill reads: “Yorgen Fenech wanted Melvin Theuma to find someone willing to kill Daphne Caruana Galizia.” The date for the trial is yet to be set.

Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, the EFJ President, reacted: “Impunity for crimes against journalists must end. We are hopeful that justice will finally be served and we will closely observe the upcoming trials. Too often, it is only hitmen, if even, that get caught, while the masterminds behind the crimes are running free. The Maltese authorities must punish everyone involved in the brutal murder.”

In July 2021, a public inquiry into the assassination found the state of Malta responsible for her death, saying that the state had failed to recognise risks to the reporter’s life and take reasonable steps to avoid them. The inquiry concluded that a culture of impunity was created from the highest echelons of power in Malta, singling out former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat for enabling this culture of impunity.

Photo of court building in Valletta Library

Malta: Yorgen Fenech to stand trial for murder of…

Malta: Yorgen Fenech to stand trial for murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia

Prosecutors seek life imprisonment on charges of complicity in murder and criminal association.

Maltese prosecutors today indicted the man accused of ordering the 2017 murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, in another important milestone in the fight against impunity and for full justice for her assassination.

On August 18, prosecutors filed the bill of indictment in court seeking life imprisonment for businessman Yorgen Fenech on charges of complicity in murder and criminal association, paving the way for him to stand trial by jury over the 2017 killing.

Prosecutors allege that in April that year, Fenech contacted a middleman about finding someone who could carry out the murder, provided €150,000 in cash to pay the alleged hitmen and ultimately gave the green light for the fatal car bomb to be detonated.

“Today’s indictment of the man alleged to have effectively orchestrated and funded the assassination is a milestone in the fight against impunity and another important step down the road to full justice for Daphne’s murder”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Though a long and at times painful process for her family, we are glad to see the compilation of evidence result in a bill of indictment by prosecutors.

“The role of judging responsibility for this horrific crime will now lie with a Maltese jury. Until then, we continue to demand justice for Daphne’s murder and consequences for the corruption she exposed. She deserves the truth; her family deserve the truth. This case has global significance: impunity for those responsible cannot be allowed to continue.”

Long fight for justice

The long-sought indictment comes 46 months after the assassination in October 2017 and three weeks after an independent public inquiry concluded that the state must bear shared responsibility in fomenting a culture of impunity in which the murder could be carried out.

The business mogul has been in preventive custody since November 2019 after being arrested while allegedly trying to flee Malta aboard his yacht. Considerable evidence against him has since been compiled during a lengthy legal process.

IPI understands it is expected to take around one year for the trial to begin.

The alleged middleman, taxi driver Vincent Muscat, has already been sentenced to 15 years behind bars after changing his plea to guilty in February. The two alleged hitmen, brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio, are set to face trial over executing the contract killing. Both maintain their innocence.

The bill of indictment, a formal criminal accusation that a person has committed a crime, came the same day as Fenech’s legal team again requested bail in court. The prosecution contested by presenting WhatsApp messages sent by the accused which they allege demonstrate his intention to flee Malta after the assassination, which Fenech denies. It was also alleged Fenech ordered weapons including grenades and rifles with hundreds of bullets, as well as a gun silencer and 20 grams of potassium sodium cyanide powder.

Maltese media reported that it was understood prosecutors were seeking life imprisonment for the crime of complicity in murder and a further 20 to 30 years for criminal association. The indictment was filed by the Deputy Attorney General Philip Galea Farrugia.

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Poland: PiS accelerates repolonization drive with passing of ‘Lex…

Poland: PiS accelerates repolonization drive with passing of ‘Lex TVN’

IPI urges Senate and president to reject amendment to media ownership law that targets critical broadcaster.

The IPI global network today expressed deep concern over the passing by the Polish parliament of an amendment to broadcast media law which threatens the independence of the country’s largest private television broadcaster, TVN. IPI urges stronger action by the U.S and European Commission to defend media freedom.

On August 11, lawmakers in the Sejm, the lower house of parliament, voted by a majority of 228 to 216 to approve the so-called “lex TVN” bill, with 10 abstentions. The amendment to broadcasting rules is aimed at forcing U.S.-owned Discovery to sell its controlling stake in TVN, whose influential all-news channel TVN24 and flagship evening news program have long held a critical editorial stance toward the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

“The passing of this anti-TVN law by the Sejm is a significant step forward in the ruling party’s multi-year effort to muzzle one of its biggest media critics and the most disturbing attack yet on independent media in Poland”, said IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen. “This law has always been about one goal: slicing through TVN’s ownership structure, opening the door to government-allied entities to acquire stakes, and ultimately engineering a shift in editorial position to one more favourable to PiS. These calculated efforts to push out foreign capital and ‘repolonize’ the media landscape ahead of legislative elections are right out of the Fidesz playbook in Hungary. This is media capture in action.

“Despite the setback last night, this fight is far from over. We urge the Senate to firmly reject this law in its current form. In this event, lawmakers in the Sejm must then put party politics and personal interests aside and vote for the good of Poland’s democracy. If the Sejm again votes to pass the amendment, the responsibility to veto will ultimately fall on Polish President Andrzej Duda. The stakes are high: if passed, this law would simultaneously shred Poland’s reputation as a welcome climate for foreign investment and deliver another serious blow to media pluralism and media independence.

“In the meantime, we urge the U.S. State Department to double diplomatic efforts to oppose this bill and defend TVN’s independence. Both U.S. interests and values are threatened. The European Commission also cannot stand idly by as a main source of independent news and information for millions of Poles is brought to heel by PiS. Formulaic statements by EU officials are not enough: words must be followed by concrete action to engage with Warsaw. If TVN and TVN24 are muzzled, it would be a devastating blow for media pluralism and a clear signal that no private media in Poland is safe from PiS’s interference.”

Dramatic day in Sejm

The passing of the law followed a dramatic day in the Sejm. After a heated initial debate, MPs voted to refer the draft amendment back to the Parliamentary Committee on Culture and Media to consider new proposed amendments, which would have protected U.S. investment in TVN. The Committee, which is controlled by lawmakers from PiS and its allies, swiftly rejected the amendments proposed by opposition parties.

With the bill returned to the lower house, debate resumed on the floor while PiS politicians ramped up negotiations behind the scenes to secure the required majority. As the atmosphere became more tense, a proposal to postpone the session until September was passed by a slim majority of MPs. Protesters gathered outside parliament began to celebrate and opposition lawmakers welcomed the adjournment as a victory. Jubilation soon turned to dismay, however, as inside the Sejm PiS lawmakers demanded that the vote be repeated.

Following a long break, the speaker, Elzbieta Witek, a PiS member, returned to the chamber and ordered that parliament be reconvened for a second vote on the motion, explaining that she had forgotten to specify the date of the next session. Despite outrage and accusations of foul play from opposition lawmakers, the adjournment vote was held again and the motion was rejected by 229 to 225, after MPs from the Kukiz’15 party switched sides. With scenes inside the chamber became increasingly chaotic, the original vote on lex TVN was held and PiS succeeded in securing the required majority.

The vote also capped a dramatic few days in Polish politics, during which the PiS-led majority government suffered a major setback after Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki dismissed the leader of a junior coalition partner, Agreement, from the government over his vocal criticism of the media law. In the wake of the vote, more than 800 journalists in Poland signed a statement in defence of TVN’s independence and protests against the law were held in more than 80 towns and cities across the country.

The amendment would prevent non-European owners from having controlling stakes in Polish media companies. As U.S.-based Discovery owns TVN through a subsidiary registered in the Netherlands, it would fall foul of the new regulations and could be faced with selling 51 percent of its stake in TVN, which is valued at around $1 billion. If it did not, channels such as TVN24 could be stripped of their media licenses. The law comes as TVN24 awaits a decision on the renewal of its current 10-year media license, which expires in September.

Ahead of the vote, IPI, the partner organizations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and other leading press freedom groups wrote to members of the Sejm urging them to oppose the draft law.

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Poland: open letter to the Sejm in ‘lex TVN’…

Poland: open letter to the Sejm in ‘lex TVN’ matter

To: All Members of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland

Dear honourable members of the Sejm:

The undersigned international press freedom and journalism organisations, members of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), are writing to ask you to urgently oppose the draft law that would restrict media ownership in Poland by investors based in countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA).

As you know, this bill has been termed the ‘lex TVN’ because it would directly affect TVN, Poland’s largest private television broadcaster, which is owned by the U.S. company Discovery through a subsidiary. We are extremely concerned that this bill is a targeted effort to force Discovery to sell TVN and thereby achieve a shift in TVN’s editorial line.

The stakes here are high. Our organizations have previously expressed serious concern over the deteriorating condition of media pluralism in Poland, which has already been deeply compromised at the regional level through the sale of Polska Press to PKN Orlen. Still, at the national level, Poland has thus far managed to retain a degree of media pluralism and independence, both of which are essential conditions for democracy and rule of law.

However, the approval of the ‘lex TVN’ would change that. The effort to bring TVN’s nationwide channels under control is a dramatic attack on media pluralism. If successful, it would accelerate media capture conditions similar to those in Hungary or Russia, where the vast majority of mainstream media is controlled by the state, directly or indirectly, and where cronyism is rife. It would also seriously damage foreign investors’ trust in fair market competition and the rule of law in Poland.

Indeed, this proposed law has already generated international alarm. In particular, top U.S. officials, including the heads of the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate, have expressed grave concern over the effort to rein in TVN.

The decision to vote against this bill should not be about whether one agrees or disagrees with TVN’s coverage. It is about the core principles that are the foundation of Polish democracy. It is about the right of Polish citizens to receive information from different and diverse sources. It is about the fundamental right of the media to analyse and scrutinize the actions of those in power. And it is about ensuring fair market conditions in the media sector, in particular to protect Poland’s reputation as a trustworthy country for investment.

Laws restricting foreign ownership of the media are not necessarily problematic, and do exist in other EU member states. This measure, however, does not appear to be a principled effort to protect the Polish information landscape. Rather, it is clearly aimed at one particular media outlet, owned by a company based in the U.S., a long-time Polish ally, and is being rushed through the legislative process.

Your voice is critical in this urgent matter. If Poland is to remain a society where news and policies can be freely debated within the marketplace of ideas, it is essential that the ‘lex TVN’ be stopped. We therefore urge you to oppose this bill in its current form.

Signed by:

  • Article 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
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Disturbing pattern of violence and harassment at COVID-related protests…

Disturbing pattern of violence and harassment at COVID-related protests across Europe

The partners in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) are highly concerned by a barrage of attacks and harassment of journalists by protesters at demonstrations across Europe in recent weeks against new government measures taken in light of the Coronavirus-pandemic. They fit a disturbing pattern observed throughout the region of increasing violence, harassment and intimidation of journalists and media workers at COVID-related protests, rooted in growing anti-media sentiment that fuels anger and distrust:

  • In Germany, Jörg Reichel, the regional manager of the German journalists’ union dju in ver.di, was brutally attacked on the margins of an unauthorised “Querdenken” demonstration in Berlin on 1 August. He had documented physical assaults against media workers at the protest and journalists being insulted, threatened, and spat upon. Reichel’s regular monitoring of the increasing hostility at demonstrations had already made him the target of threats and defamation by “Querdenken” followers, and his name and photo had been circulated in their Telegram channels.
  • In France, on 31 July, two AFP journalists were insulted, booed and spat on by groups of demonstrators during one of the protests against the health pass in Paris. As a result, the agency decided to suspend its coverage of the demonstration. At a rally in Belfort, protesters attempted to break into the offices of regional newspaper L’Est Républicain and the premises of Radio France Bleu Belfort Montbéliard, where they also insulted and intimidated a journalist and technician and threw eggs at the building’s façade, referring to the media spreading “government lies”. The same day, the windows of regional newspaper Dauphiné Libéré in Annecy were tagged with words and slogans insulting the work of the editorial staff, including references to World War II-era collaboration. Journalists were also targeted at earlier protests against the COVID-pass. On 24 July, two journalists working for France Télévisions were insulted, pushed and chased by several individuals protesting in Marseille. On 22 July, two journalists working for commercial channel BFM TV were verbally abused while covering a demonstration in front of the Senate in Paris. Reporter Igor Sahiri described the incident as a “torrent of hatred” and said the altercation would have turned violent had they not been accompanied by two security guards. They were forced to leave the rally. And on 17 July, a photographer for Radio Bip/Média 25 was assaulted at a protest against the COVID pass in Besançon. When he recognised one of the protesters, the latter punched him in the face, adding that “we’ll get you in the end” and “it’ll be like this every week, we’ll kill you, leftist.”
  • In Italy, numerous journalists and reporters covering demonstrations against the COVID-19 “green pass” were attacked, insulted and threatened by protesters. On 24 July, Saverio Tommasi of Fanpage.it was attacked at a protest in Firenze. Tommasi was kicked in the leg, had water thrown at his back and was insulted and threatened by protestors, who also attempted to steal his equipment. He described the attacks as “repeated, continued and violent”, adding that “they wanted to stop me from working”. On the same day, the National Federation of the Italian Press (FNSI) reported verbal and physical attacks on journalists working for public broadcaster RAI and dailies Il Secolo XIX, La Repubblica and Genova 24 in at least six cities: Milan, Genova, Firenze, Rome, Bologna and Turin. While the exact number of incidents was not recorded, numerous journalists’ associations across the country condemned hostility, both on the streets and online, against reporters in their region, including in Emilia Romagna, Liguria and Lombardia.
  • In Spain, a reporter for Antena 3 TV was threatened and insulted while she was covering a demonstration in Madrid against mask-wearing and vaccinating minors on 24 July. Journalists and media workers of Telemadrid and LaSexta were booed and called “murderers”.
  • In Slovakia, protesters against vaccine rules attacked, jostled and insulted a reporter and camera operator working for privately-owned TV Markiza, obstructing and damaging their camera.
  • In Cyprus, on 18 July, a large crowd of demonstrators against new COVID-19 measures, including introducing a SafePass and mandatory vaccination, attacked TV station Sigma TV, attacking dozens of staff, vandalising the headquarters and setting cars outside on fire.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken in response to it have underscored the need for a free, pluralistic media that can convey critical information to the public and independently report on far-reaching government intervention in many aspects of public and private life. It is worrying to see that journalists and media workers are more and more perceived as enemies of the people during protests, when journalism’s mission is precisely to give them a voice.

In light of the many serious incidents outlined above, we call on governments across the European Union to improve the protection of journalists at protests, including full-throated condemnation by politicians and public figures of violence and harassment of journalists and media workers and capacity-building of law enforcement personnel in coordination with representatives of the journalistic profession. Furthermore, there is an evident need to improve media literacy to generate a better understanding of the press’ essential role in a democratic society. In addition to action by member states, we call for a strong recommendation on the safety of journalists by the European Commission that includes concrete measures to improve the implementation of existing law and standards in this regard, in particular Council of Europe Recommendation 2016(4).

Signed by:

  • Article 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
Library

Poland: Stronger U.S. and EU action required over ‘lex…

Poland: Stronger U.S. and EU action required over ‘lex TVN’

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today calls for swift and robust action by the European Union and U.S. to defend media freedom in Poland and counter the serious attack on the independence of the country’s largest private television channel, TVN, by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Our organisations believe that the so-called “lex TVN” and the ongoing deadlock over the renewal of the license for its 24-hour news channel TVN24 are part of an increasingly systematic effort by PiS to erode critical journalism by engineering ownership changes of critical independent media ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections.

On 7 July, PiS MPs submitted a draft bill to parliament which would bar companies which are majority-owned by entities from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) from owning more than a 49% stake in Polish broadcasters. It is clear this bill is aimed directly at the ownership structure of U.S.-owned TVN and TVN24, which broadcast the country’s most-watched news program, Fakty, and have long held a critical editorial stance towards PiS.

As U.S.-based Discovery owns 100% of TVN through a subsidiary registered in the Netherlands, it would be forced to sell 51% of its $1 billion stake to comply with the new regulations. This would open the door for state-linked investors to purchase the shares, muzzling the country’s most influential critical broadcaster and increasing the government’s level of control over the media market. A similar pattern has already been seen in the purchase of regional publisher Polska Press by Poland’s state-controlled oil company.

We are increasingly concerned that, despite warnings by officials at the U.S. State Department and top EU officials, PiS’s leadership appears determined to push ahead with its plans. On 27 July, the draft bill was adopted by the parliamentary committee for culture and media, paving the way for a vote in the Sejm in mid-August. Given the speed with which PiS are driving the bill through parliament, diplomatic efforts must be immediately intensified to send a clear signal to the ruling party that the EU and U.S. are serious about defending independent journalism in Poland with all available tools.

Top officials in Washington must stress unequivocally that the passing of this bill is an attack on independent media, as well as on American investments in Poland, and would significantly damage U.S.-Polish relations and cooperation in a range of fields.

At the same time, Poland’s broadcast media regulator, the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT), remains in deadlock over the renewal of TVN24’s 10-year media license, which expires on September 26. Despite applying for the permit 18 months ago, KRRiT’s five-member panel remains divided on the case, increasing uncertainty for TVN and leading to accusations the decision is being deliberately delayed. Recently, the head of the broadcast regulator, a former PiS member, alleged that TVN24 was in violation of foreign ownership rules, ramping up the pressure further.

Given PiS’s long hostility towards TVN and the fact that the broadcaster has had no issues in renewing licenses of several of its other Polish channels, any decision by the government-dominated KRRiT to reject TVN24’s license renewal at the current time should be considered deeply discriminatory and politically motivated. In this event, the European Commission should immediately consider launching infringement proceedings against Poland over the violation of EU law on the fair and non-discriminatory allocation of broadcast licenses.

Moving forward, our organisations urge Polish MPs – especially those in PiS’s coalition parties in the United Right – to vote to reject this bill during the next hearing. Moreover, while the open letter by Polish journalists in defence of TVN is an important initiative, it is crucial that journalists from across Poland’s media spectrum sign and speak in a unified voice. A political attack on one media outlet should be opposed as an attack on all. Ultimately, if TVN can fall to PiS meddling then no media outlet is safe. Time is running out.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • Committee to Protect Journalists
    European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
    International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
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North Macedonia: Justice Minister introduces amendments to increase protection…

North Macedonia: Justice Minister introduces amendments to increase protection of journalists

Penalties for attacks on journalists will be toughened in North Macedonia, Justice Ministry Bojan Maricic announced on 27 July 2021. The amendments to the Criminal Code are expected to be passed in the early autumn. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its affiliates in North Macedonia, the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM) and the Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM), in welcoming an important step forward for press freedom in the country.

The amendments have come at the request of the journalists’ association and union and will help reduce cases of attacks and threats against media workers, said the Minister of Justice during a press conference.

Changes include new penalties for assaulting a journalist or a media worker, from three months to three years in jail. Authorities will treat cases involving journalists in the same way as they treat assaults on police officers. Therefore, the public prosecutor will deal with these cases ex officio.

In addition, fines for defamation will be significantly reduced from 2,000 euros to a maximum of 400 euros for journalists, from 10,000 euros to 2,000 euros for editors and from 15,000 euros to 5,000 euros for media outlets.

The amendments also provide for the introduction of the term “stalking” as a criminal offence that will cover online harassment. People stalking, persecuting or trying to pursue unwanted contact with a person through the use of media will face fines and a maximum sentence of three years in jail.

“We have been advocating for this law for 4 years and this is indeed good news. We hope that the law will be passed in September as announced, and that it will reduced impunity for attacks on media representatives. The higher penalties envisaged for attacks on journalists and media workers are welcomed, but what is also important for us is that attacks will be treated ex-officio by the competent institutions, as until now many cases did not go beyond reporting to the police. We must end impunity so that journalists and media workers can be safe to do their work properly”, said Pavle Belovski, president of Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers.

EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez said: “This announcement is very good news for journalists and media workers in North Macedonia. We welcome the strong commitment of the government of North Macedonia and call on the members of parliament to adopt this law. We also encourage neighbouring countries to follow this example and show good will to improve the working conditions of journalists and media freedom.”

EU flags outside the European Commission Library

EU Rule of Law report: Little bark, no bite

EU Rule of Law report: Little bark, no bite

On 20 July, the European Commission published the 2021 Rule of Law Report. The document, which is the outcome of months of painstaking work, can be a valuable tool that empowers civil society, the EU institutions and Member State governments who care about the rule of law in the Union. The Report, comprised of a Communication that covers EU-wide developments and country chapters for each Member State, is designed “as a yearly cycle to promote the rule of law and to prevent problems from emerging or deepening and to address them … It seeks to strengthen the rule of law in full respect for national traditions and specificities, stimulating a constructive debate and encouraging all Member States to examine how challenges can be addressed and to learn from each other’s experiences.” 

In its current form, the Report represents a significant descriptive documentation effort. However, for it to live up to the high expectations and truly become a critical tool that can contribute to the promotion and safeguarding of EU values, we believe several fundamental changes are needed in future iterations of the report.

Firstly, we believe that more transparency from the Commission on the methodology and selection process of stakeholders invited to consultation meetings, as well as closer consultation and collaboration with civil society to design a more straightforward and more easily accessible process, would greatly benefit its credibility. We appreciate that the Commission has “further deepened our assessment, which benefited from even more outreach than last year,” as Commissioner Reynders said at the press conference presenting the Report. However, given the current lack of openness concerning the methodology, it is difficult to assess how inclusive the process really is and to what extent shortcomings in this regard are systematically addressed.

Secondly, looking at the Communication and country reports as a whole, it appears that the process of “looking at all Member States equally” has resulted in depoliticised analyses in anodyne language that present the situation in all Member States as roughly equal, allowing for measured praise and criticism of each. Subsequently, we believe that the Report as a whole does not reflect the reality of the depth of the rule of law crisis in Poland and Hungary or how starkly the intentional violation of core EU values in these Member States contrasts with the situation in the rest of the Union. It also undermines the Report’s ability to prevent problems from emerging, as is currently the case in certain other Member States including Slovenia, or to stimulate debate and mutual learning.

Lastly, to strengthen the process’ capacity to bring about substantial change, we continue to call for country-specific recommendations. These should be framed in the context of Member States’ obligations under EU law and international human rights law and standards, which would allow for tracking and evaluating progress and regression against an agreed, binding framework.

Signed by:

  • Article 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
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Turkey: Concern over proposals to introduce new regulation of…

Turkey: Concern over proposals to introduce new regulation of “fake” and “foreign-funded” news

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and undersigned partner organisations are concerned about and condemn recent statements by Turkish President Erdoğan and other government officials pertaining to the introduction of new regulation of so-called fake news and “foreign-funded” news in the country. Officials’ targeting several critical and independent media outlets for securing funds abroad is a clear move to stifle further the free media in Turkey by controlling content. We call on the Turkish legislators to ensure that any new measures are fully in line with Turkey’s obligations under domestic and international law that protect free speech and media pluralism.

On 21 July, President Erdoğan in an interview was asked whether there is a law that envisages serious criminal sanctions for disseminating fake news through traditional and social media. In response, he announced that a study will be carried out in Parliament in October, after the summer recess, that will address the issue, building on the social media law that was passed last year. Erdoğan characterised fake news as a threat to Turkish democracy on par with terrorism, in which opposition parties are implicated. The same day, the Presidential Communications Directorate announced that Parliament will take new legal steps against foreign funding of local media outlets “to ensure the people’s access to accurate news”.

These statements were followed by a social media campaign targeting specific independent outlets such as Medyascope for receiving funds from the US-based Chrest Foundation. Medyascope received the 2016 IPI Free Media Pioneer Award for its progressive and critical news coverage in Turkey.

Taken together, these statements create the impression that the Turkish government is preparing to introduce new legal measures that will further undermine media freedom and pluralism in the country.

In relation to so-called fake news, we are concerned that enacting any kind of legal duty of “truth” will in practice amount to the creation of a new tool for government censorship: empowering public officials to decide what is true and what is not entails accepting that the authorities have a right to silence voices with whom they disagree. This prospect is especially worrisome in light of Turkey’s poor track record in respecting freedom of speech and legitimate criticism of the authorities. Accordingly, as we recognise that the spread of disinformation and propaganda is indeed of concern, we urge that any measures to counter it must be based on international freedom of expression law and standards, such as those set out in the 2017 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and “Fake News”, Disinformation and Propaganda.

Furthermore, we note that funding media via (foreign) project funding has become an important source of income for many independent outlets in Turkey, as government pressure has intensified, including through the lack of local funds for media outlets critical of the government and uneven distribution of public advertising, as well as the imposition of fines and advertisement bans by media regulator Radio & TV Higher Council (RTÜK) and public advertising agency BIK. We are concerned that measures to restrict foreign funding, or to paint its recipients as foreign propagandists, are a clear move to demonise the free media and will further increase the pressure on the few remaining independent outlets. Currently, more than 90% of domestic media are directly or indirectly controlled by the government or the ruling AKP.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • Articolo21
  • Association of European Journalists (AEJ)
  • Association of Journalists, Ankara
  • Broadcast and Printing Press Workers Union of Turkey / DİSK Basın-İş
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • Danish PEN
  • English PEN
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • IFEX
  • IFoX Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkey
  • IPS Communication  Foundation
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS)
  • Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA)
  • Media Research Association (MEDAR)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • PEN International
  • PEN Netherlands
  • PEN Vlaanderen
  • South East Europe Media Organisation  (SEEMO)
  • Swedish PEN