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MFRR condemns defamation lawsuit against Gazeta Wyborcza Editor-in-Chief by…

MFRR condemns defamation lawsuit against Gazeta Wyborcza Editor-in-Chief by Polish Justice Minister

The partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) strongly condemn the civil defamation lawsuit launched against the editor-in-chief of Poland’s biggest daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza by the serving Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro.

The MFRR considers this to be yet another example of the Justice Ministry’s use of lawsuits as a tool for pressuring and financially draining the newspaper, which is one of the staunchest critics of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS).

We call directly on the Minister, who is also the Prosecutor-General of Poland, to immediately withdraw the lawsuit and refrain from abusing the civil and criminal code as part of the administration’s broader attack on independent and critical media.

We note that this lawsuit is the latest in a string of 60 civil and criminal cases brought against Gazeta Wyborcza over the last few years – many of which have been initiated by PiS politicians including party leader Jarosław Kaczyński. The scale of this coordinated legal harassment of a critical newspaper is unique within the EU.

Montenegrin journalist Sead Sadiković. Screenshot from TV Vijesti. Library

Montenegro: Vijesti Television journalist Sead Sadiković injured after group…

Montenegro: Vijesti Television journalist Sead Sadiković injured after group attack

The International Press Institute, as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) condemned the recent physical attack which injured Montenegrin journalist Sead Sadiković and called on authorities to ensure that those responsible are prosecuted.

During the attack on March 20, the well-known journalist for Vijesti Television was threatened and then assaulted by a group of five or six people carrying Montenegrin flags who were attending a patriotic rally in the north-western town of Bijelo Polje, his employer reported.

A spokeswoman from the Basic State Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that the attack happened at around 8.10pm as a convoy of vehicles displaying national flags was driving through the town centre.

Police confirmed that two men had been arrested on suspicion of carrying out the attack and inflicting minor bodily injuries, according to media reports.

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Austria: Federal government urgently needs to propose new funding…

Austria: Federal government urgently needs to propose new funding model for Wiener Zeitung

The world’s oldest daily newspaper still in publication, Austria’s Wiener Zeitung, is facing possible closure of its print edition as the government’s plans to remove mandatory public advertisements of companies have become clearer.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its Austrian affiliates, the Austrian Press Union (GPA) and younion – The Community Trade Union, in urging the federal government to propose an alternative plan to finance Wiener Zeitung in order to avoid job losses and further deterioration of media pluralism.

The plans announced by the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and Greens coalition are by no means new. The mandatory public advertisements of companies in Wiener Zeitung’s official gazette have been discussed and criticised for some time. Such advertisements include announcements of companies’ establishments or terminations, the publication of annual financial statements or invitations to general meetings. Now, with the implementation of the EU directive – expected to come into force in January 2022– on the “use of digital tools and procedures in company law”, the state-owned newspaper would lose this income, which constitutes three quarters of the funding for its print version.

Such substantial removal would leave the historical Wiener Zeitung without a sustainable funding model. So far, the government only alluded to plans to create a “new business model for the Wiener Zeitung with the aim of maintaining the brand”. However, details of how this massive loss of revenue should be compensated for have not been disclosed. The continuation of the print version is impossible without compensation.

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MFRR partners call on Members of Parliament for de-politicisation…

MFRR partners call on Members of Parliament for de-politicisation of the Council of the Czech TV

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) sent a letter to Members of Parliament of the Czech Republic to raise our concerns regarding the politicisation of the Council of the Czech TV (Česká Televize, CT)

Following up on earlier letters of 11 March and 2 June 2020, the MFRR wrote to MPs in the Czech Republic regarding the politicisation of the Council of the Czech TV (Česká Televize, CT).

On 18 March 2021, the Electoral Committee shortlisted twelve candidates to the Council, among whom Parliament will now elect four new members. From the outcome of the shortlisting process, political loyalties appear yet again to have outweighed expertise and independence in terms of selection criteria.

This questionable pre-selection follows previous problematic elections for the CT Council held on 27 May 2020. These changed the body’s composition to the point where it can no longer be considered impartial or representative of significant regional, political, social and cultural currents of opinion, as legally mandated.

Since then, the partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) have become concerned that this politicisation of the CT Council is increasingly leading to politically-motivated activities: first through the firing in November of every single member of its own supervisory board and secondly with its apparent efforts to pressure and dismiss the CEO, Petr Dvořák. That this is happening ahead of tightly-contested parliamentary elections later this year poses major questions as to its motive.

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MFRR condemns inaction in Serbia following the smear campaign…

MFRR condemns inaction in Serbia following the smear campaign against KRIK

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and partners wrote to the Serbian Government to condemn the lack of resolute government response to the smear campaign against independent news outlet KRIK and the impact this has had on the Government’s commitment to media freedom

The MFRR and other partners reiterate our call on the Serbian authorities to take the necessary steps to put a stop to this ongoing threat against these and other independent outlets in Serbia, as well as to sanction such discrediting tactics and threats by all institutional means possible. This is more necessary now than ever, following reports that five of the nine non-state members of the Working Group for the Security and Protection of Journalists have stepped down from the group just three months after its establishment due to the state’s apparent unwillingness to engage with this important threat.

Instead of unequivocally defending journalists, the representatives of the ruling party SNS have continued to attack them. This has had significant implications for the Serbian Government’s commitment to media freedom and the protection of at-risk journalists and media workers. The Working Group, which was established to facilitate coordinated action between relevant state bodies and media outlets, journalist associations and unions to respond to emergent threats to journalists and media workers, can only function as intended when all parties contribute fully and state bodies commit to meaningful action. A breakdown represents not just a failure of the Working Group, but can also actively undermine the media’s trust in the state’s commitment to journalists’ safety and media freedom more broadly.

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Call for justice for murdered radio presenter Hazim Özsu

Call for justice for murdered radio presenter Hazim Özsu

The MFRR condemns the murder of radio presenter Hazim Özsu in Turkey and calls for a swift and thorough investigation and prosecution that leads to justice

In the evening of 9th March, radio presenter Hazım Özsu was killed by a person who came to his house in Altınova Neighborhood in Osmangazi district. According to local media reports, the suspected killer was a long-term listener and had previously called the radio station to make complaints and demand corrections about its content.

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) calls on the Turkish authorities to ensure a swift and thorough investigation and prosecution that results in the perpetrator being held to account in court.

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Hungary: Fidesz-captured media regulator blocks latest attempt by Klubrádió…

Hungary: Fidesz-captured media regulator blocks latest attempt by Klubrádió to return to airwaves

In the latest attack on the last independent radio station, IPI, as part of the MFRR, condemns the latest politically motivated decision by media council against Klubrádió

The decision on 11 March by the Hungarian media regulator to again deny the bid by Klubrádió to return to the airwaves is yet another afront to press freedom which must be met by an immediate response by the European Commission. It was announced that the Hungarian Media Council, which is appointed and controlled by the ruling Fidesz party, had again rejected the application of Klubrádió for the 92.9 MHz frequency in Budapest and ruled the tender invalid.

The regulator’s decision-making panel provided several groundless justifications for its decision, accusing Klubrádió of “illegal management” and citing miniscule material programming errors and unjustified concerns over Klubrádió’s business plan.

The announcement of the decision comes just one day after a plenary debate by MEPs in the European Parliament which focused on attempts by the Hungarian government and others to silence free media.

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Serbia: MFRR condemns dangerous and baseless smear campaign aimed…

Serbia: MFRR condemns dangerous and baseless smear campaign aimed at KRIK

The MFRR condemns the smear campaign aimed at the Network for Investigation of Crime and Corruption (KRIK) by pro-government media outlets that propagated the baseless and dangerous claim that KRIK has a ‘secret deal’ with Veljko Belivuk, a recently arrested leader of an organised crime group. 

On 9th and 10th March, a number of pro-Government media outlets alleged that KRIK is coordinating with Belivuk to monitor or threaten the Serbian President, Aleksandar Vučić. Tabloid newspapers, including The Serbian Telegraph, Kurir and Alo published front-page articles that KRIK is Belivuk’s private media. Alo stated in its coverage, that KRIK ‘served on the one hand as a megaphone of the criminal clan of Veljko Belivuk, and on the other as an instrument of police officials who eavesdropped on the President of Serbia and his family.’ 

On 9 March, pro-government Pink TV, a leading commercial broadcaster, stated in its news show that “it is suspected that people from the top of the police provided KRIK journalists with data on the movements of President Aleksander Vučić’s family members.” Little verifiable or corroborated evidence has been shared to verify these claims.

The MFRR joins the coalition of eight Serbian journalists’ and media associations in calling for the Serbian Public Prosecutor’s Office to ‘deny completely unfounded and dangerous insinuations about KRIK’s connection with criminal groups’. We will continue to monitor the situation and call for thorough investigations into the smear campaign and assurances that KRIK and all staff are protected.

IPI Press Files Podcast Library

Podcast: What should be done against misogynistic abuse online…

Podcast: What should be done against misogynistic abuse online and by whom?

On International Women’s Day, IPI launched the latest episode of ‘The Press Freedom Files’ with special focus on solutions to address online harassment against women journalists.

IPI speaks with new OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Teresa Ribeiro and IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi about concrete actions several actors – from governments to the judiciary as well as news outlets – should adopt to combat one a growing threats to press freedom.

Both share the recommendations and suggestions contained in OSCE’s Resource Guide, launched late last year as part of the project Safety of Female Journalists Online (#SOFJO) and IPI’s Newsrooms Ontheline hub, a resource centre for journalists and media organisations that, among other resources, features a specific protocol for newsrooms and video tutorials for journalists to cope with the effects of online harassment.

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‘The Hungary model’: How Poland copied illiberal tactics for…

‘The Hungary model’: How Poland copied illiberal tactics for weakening independent media

Press freedom in Central Europe is under renewed threat. Yet there are no systematic arrests of journalists as in Belarus or Turkey. Less of the blatant acts of censorship common in Russia. Few of the gruesome killings of reporters that are common in autocratic countries around the world. IPI, as part of the MFRR, analyses the current crisis in Poland, Hungary and Slovenia and what the EU can do

For illiberal governments bound by the democratic architecture of the European Union, efforts to silence independent journalism and insulate the public from critical reporting have to be far more complex and, most importantly, calibrated to avoid direct rebuke from Brussels.

This steady erosion of press pluralism in Hungary would be worrying enough if it were not also empowering and inspiring other illiberal governments in EU member states to employ similar tactics.

In Poland the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has over the last five years engaged in a calculated cherry-picking exercise and selected elements of Hungary’s model that can be adapted to the Polish media landscape, according to a recent report by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR).

Last year the Slovenian government introduced proposed legislative changes which would financially weaken the public broadcaster, RTVSLO, leading to stark warnings about its finances and future.

Another proposed amendment would give the government greater opportunities to select the supervisors and dismiss the director of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), which has also come under fire from Janša. Most concerningly, the Government Communication Office (UKOM) suspended the financing of the STA twice in three months, in what the Slovenian Journalists’ Association said was another attempt to destabilize the press agency through financial pressure.

Ultimately, until the EU strengthens its ability to ensure this kind of divergence from the democratic values and principles has real consequences, the illiberal model for media capture and control remains a viable option for any EU leader wishing to solidify its control and remain in power.