Croatia, journalists on the streets

Croatia, journalists on the streets

Hundreds of journalists took to the streets in Zagreb against the Plenković government’s amendments to the Criminal Code, which limit the right to report. According to the Association of Croatian Journalists, the prime minister wants to silence investigations into his government’s corruption.


By Giovanni Vale

Originally published by OBCT. Also available in ITA

Several hundred people demonstrated yesterday in Zagreb in front of the government building against the new amendments to the Criminal Code which criminalise the unauthorised publication of the contents of an investigation with penalties of up to three years in prison. According to representatives of the press, it is a “gag law”, or rather a “law with bad intentions”, as Hrvoje Zovko, the president of the Association of Croatian Journalists (HND), the initiator of the demonstration, nicknamed it.

“No one will dare to inform journalists anymore if they know that they can be mistreated by justice for years. And so, the already widespread practice of corruption will continue”, Hrvoje Zovko said yesterday into the megaphone, before asking Prime Minister Andrej Plenković to “withdraw article 307a”, otherwise – he promised – “the demonstrations will continue”. The text of the law proposed by the government is currently being discussed in the Sabor, the Croatian parliament.

The modification of the criminal code had been announced by the Croatian prime minister already in February last year, when Plenković – stung by yet another scandal revealed by the press and concerning his government – had said: “we will modify the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Criminal Code and situations like this, where information from our archives is made public in an uncontrolled, deliberate, political, selective and organised way, causing political problems, will not happen again”.

Since coming to power in 2016, Plenković has had to replace 30 ministers in his government, mostly due to corruption scandals revealed in the press. Precisely for this reason, trade organisations fear that behind the amendment to the Criminal Code suggested by the Prime Minister there is no desire to protect those under investigation from undue publications, but simply to silence investigations into his government’s corruption.


Clint Eastwood

“As Clint Eastwood put it, you can’t piss on my back and tell me it’s raining!”, said yesterday Maja Sever, the president of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and head of the Croatian Union of Journalists (SNH). “Andrej Plenković wants to avoid having ‘political problems’, as he himself said in February 2023”, she declared, “but we are not sheep and it is not a problem for us to continue with the demonstrations!”. Hence the l last-minute intervention by the Croatian government, which on Tuesday evening had tried to calm the anger of journalists by promising to introduce an exception for facts of public interest into the new article 307a of the Criminal Code. “Who should determine which facts are of public interest?”, asked investigative journalist Drago Hedl, who then added, “and who will define who is a journalist and who is not?”.

As proposed by the government, the new crime of unauthorised disclosure of investigative content would not punish journalists, but “exclusively participants in criminal proceedings”, such as “judicial officials, defendants, lawyers, witnesses, judicial experts and so on”, as Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in recent weeks.

“Is a journalist someone who has graduated in journalism? Or is it exclusively someone who is employed in an editorial office?”, Drago Hedl continued, before adding: “We are not here today for fear of ending up in prison for having published information coming from an investigation, we are here in the interest of the profession, of journalism as a public good, which works in the interest of the community”.


Women’s rights hostage of the government

Another point that has concerned Croatian journalists is linking the approval of the new article 307a to another amendment to the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, which instead received bipartisan support in parliament. This involves the introduction of the crime of femicide and in general a tightening of penalties for gender violence and sexual abuse and mistreatment.

“This is a new low. Plenković, we will remember you for this!”, exclaimed yesterday the president of the HND Hrvoje Zovko, who recalled how the current Croatian prime minister is the one who provoked the greatest number of protests organised by HND during his tenure. Opposition MPs also criticised the government for proposing the two amendments in a single package. “You can have more protection for women victims of violence, but only if you protect me from corruption scandals”, summed up MP Sandra Benčić from the opposition Možemo party.


Election year

The changes to the Criminal Code also come at a very delicate moment for Croatia, facing three elections this year. Citizens will vote in June to renew the European Parliament, in September to elect the Croatian parliament and in December to choose the new President of the Republic. Andrej Plenković will lead the HDZ in search of a third term as prime minister and pressure on the media, especially local ones, is already increasing.

The risk is that press freedom will be curtailed in Croatia, particularly in light of the government’s recent appointment of a controversial attorney general. This is Ivan Turudić, “who for seven years conducted proceedings against journalist Dražen Ciglenečki because in his article he had compared him to Vojislav Šešelj, and for which […] he obtained compensation of 90,000 kuna [almost 12,000 Euros, editor’s note] for moral damages, after initially asking for almost twice as much”, said Sanja Pavić of the non-governmental organisation Gong yesterday. According to Pavić, in Croatia there are currently “concerning regressive trends for freedom of speech and journalism”.

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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Greek mission report Library

Mission Report: Stemming the Tide of Greek Media Freedom…

Mission Report: Stemming the Tide of Greek Media Freedom Decline

Today the partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), together with Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), launch the report of a recent press freedom fact-finding mission to Greece. 

Media freedom in Greece has experienced a clear period of deterioration in the last few years. In 2022 and 2023, the country ranked as the worst for media freedom in the European Union in the World Press Freedom Index. International press freedom groups have increasingly been warning about the most serious factors contributing to this decline, from the murder of a reporter and threats to journalists to spyware scandal and underlying issues regarding media pluralism and independent journalism. This erosion of media freedoms and the increasing attention of domestic and international media organisations sparked concern in Brussels and beyond and led to a number of initiatives from the Greek government led by the ruling New Democracy party to address the issue.


In this context, the partner organisations of the MFRR consortium, joined by Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists, coordinated a mission to Greece in the wake of the 2023 election victory of New Democracy to take stock of the latest developments and assess the current state of media freedom and independent journalism.


This report provides a detailed analysis of the most serious challenges facing media freedom in Greece, exploring the four major systemic themes identified by the delegation. It also provides an assessment of the impact of different measures taken by the government in the last few years to try and address these issues, and offers the first international assessment of the work of the government’s Task Force for the safety of journalists, which was established in 2022 after a recommendation by the European Commission. The report also provides multiple detailed recommendations in each of the chapters to both the Greek government and journalists and media workers for steps that can be taken to achieve progress and further stem the tide of media freedom decline in the country.

This mission report 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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Press freedom Greece Event

Webinar: Assessing the state of press freedom in Greece

Webinar: Assessing the state of press freedom in Greece

30 January, 11:00 CET.

On 30 January, international media freedom groups will hold a webinar and press conference to mark the publication of a major report assessing the landscape for press freedom and independent journalism in Greece, following a mission to Athens in September 2023.


The report examines the clear period of deterioration in media freedom in the EU Member State over the last few years, identifies the reasons behind this deterioration, and sets out recommendations for steps to be taken to address these many challenges.


It also provides a detailed analysis of the measures taken by the New Democracy government in recent years to try and address the problems and assesses their effectiveness of these policies so far, including the government’s Task Force for journalist safety.


The report has been jointly produced by the organsiaitons of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR): ARTICLE 19 Europe, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT), along with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).


During the webinar, representatives of these organisations will present the conclusions and findings of the mission delegation on five key themes: surveillance and spyware; the safety of journalists and impunity; SLAPPs and legal threats; media pluralism and independent journalism; and the role of unions and importance of solidarity.


There will be a press conference at the end of the event. The report will be published first in English, with a translated Greek version to follow in the coming weeks.


Pavol Szalai

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

Jasmijn de Zeeuw

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

Attila Mong

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

Jamie Wiseman

International Press Institute (IPI)

Massimo Moratti

Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)

Thodoris Chondrogiannos

Reporters United

Marina Rafenberg

Greece correspondent for Le Monde and AFP


Report Launch: Bosnia and Herzegovina: Media Freedom in Survival…

Report Launch: Bosnia and Herzegovina: Media Freedom in Survival Mode

Today the partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) launch their report from a recent international press freedom fact-finding mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

In its report published in November 2023, the European Commission expressed concerns about the key priority of freedom of expression, freedom of the media, as well as the protection of journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It points out a “backsliding” in media freedom, noting that legislative and political pressure have increased and intimidation and harassment towards journalists continued without appropriate institutional follow-up.


The international press freedom mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina in September 2023 broadly confirmed these observations. Overall, journalists in the country continue to operate in a suffocating environment and poor working conditions. The situation is particularly alarming in Republika Srpska (RS), Bosnia’s Serb entity, where President Milorad Dodik is steadily tightening the screws on independent media, using hostile rhetoric to denigrate journalists and stigmatise critical reporting.


What prompted the mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina was the reintroduction of criminal penalties for defamation in August 2023 in Republika Srpska, which caused an outcry among media freedom and journalists’ organisations. More problematic legislation was discussed in RS around the same time, including the so-called “foreign agent” law and a media law, although the content of the latter is yet to be revealed.


Meanwhile in the Sarajevo canton, a proposal of a regulation that would allow sanctions for the dissemination of “fake news” is currently pending. The ongoing financial crisis in the country’s public service broadcasters was also closely scrutinised.


These issues were discussed in detail with the MFRR partners and the different stakeholders met during the delegation’s visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This report presents the main findings of the mission in three key areas: the legislative initiatives, the safety of journalists, and the
public service media. It then outlines a set of recommendations to national and entity level authorities and the international community.


The mission was composed of ARTICLE 19 Europe, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the International Press Institute (IPI), the Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT), as well as South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) and was supported by the journalists’ association BH Journalist Association. The delegation started its visit in Banja Luka on 22-23 October 2023 before travelling to Sarajevo on 23-24 October.

This mission 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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Bosnia media freedom webinar Event

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Media Freedom in Survival Mode

Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Media Freedom in Survival Mode

25 January, 10:00 CET.

On 15 December 2022, the European Council granted Bosnia and Herzegovina candidate status for EU membership. While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 accelerated the EU enlargement process, Bosnia and Herzegovina has yet to improve its environment for the media to continue on its path towards potential EU accession, as limited progress has been made since submitting its application in 2016.


In this MFRR webinar, speakers will discuss the findings of a recent press freedom fact-finding mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, highlighting the suffocating environment for independent journalists in the country and issues ranging from the criminalisation of defamation in Republika Srpska, hostile rhetoric and denigration of journalists by public officials, the so-called “foreign agent law”, sanctions against the dissemination of “fake news”, and the effect of the financial crisis on media.


Maksym Popovych

ARTICLE 19 Europe


Frane Maroevic

Executive Director of the International Press Institute (IPI)

Maja Sever

President of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)


Romania: MFRR to conduct media freedom mission ahead of…

Romania: MFRR to conduct media freedom mission ahead of super electoral year

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) will conduct a mission to Romania to take the pulse of the current state of press freedom and independent journalism as the country gears up for a super electoral year in 2024.

The mission will consist of two parts: an initial online fact-finding element involving meetings with media, journalists and civil society stakeholders, followed by an in-person visit to Bucharest later in the year to meet with political leaders and state authorities.

The initial element of the mission will take place over the week of 22-25 January and will hear insights from a wide range of stakeholders from across the media sector, including print, online, radio and television media outlets.

It will also meet with media owners, representatives from media regulatory bodies and intends to meet with the public broadcaster, as well as representatives from investigative reporting platforms and minority-language media.

The findings and conclusions from this first stage will be used to produce a report setting out the main challenges facing the media and journalists in Romania, and to prepare recommendations that can be discussed during the follow-up visit, which will be more focused on advocacy and meeting political power holders.

Key themes will include the safety of journalists, smear campaigns and vexatious lawsuits against media outlets and media professionals. Other systemic issues to be scrutinised include forms of media capture including, political pressure on media via advertising, pressures on editorial independence by media ownership interests, and the influence of the country’s powerful gambling industry on independent reporting.

The MFRR mission will be held at the start of the super electoral year in Romania, which is likely to see increasing pressures on free and independent journalism as news consumption increases amidst increased democratic debate and political messaging. The country will have four elections, including the presidential election.

The mission will be jointly organised by the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBC Transeuropa). It will be joined by ARTICLE 19 Europe, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and Free Press Unlimited (FPU).

The mission is conducted as part of the MFRR’s advocacy work, which includes tracking, monitoring and reacting to violations of press and media freedom in EU member states and candidate countries, as well as conducting fact-finding missions to countries across the bloc and reporting findings to international institutions.

This mission is 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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Silencing Voices in Italy: The Erosion of Media Freedom

Silencing Voices in Italy: The Erosion of Media Freedom

Italy’s media is in crisis, battling legal onslaughts and facing a surge of censorship one year after the establishment of the far-right government led by Giorgia Meloni.

By Sielke Kelner


This article was originally published by the Heinrich Boll Stiftung and can be accessed here.

Over the past year, Mapping Media Freedom, the monitoring tool of the Media Freedom Rapid Response, has registered 95 alerts related to Italy. For an indication of the source of these incidents it is worth mentioning some numbers: 17 physical assaults; 23 verbal attacks; 34 legal incidents; and 14 alerts related to censorship attempts. To be sure, the last two indicators are associated with the dialectics between media and the Italian government, and, although to different degrees, signal a restriction of the space for public contestation.


Accounted for within legal incidents, SLAPPs, Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, pose a threat to democracy across Europe. A form of legal harassment against critical voices, SLAPPs are pursued by powerful individuals, including politicians, who seek to avoid public scrutiny, inhibiting debates on matters of public interest. The very notion of public interest defines SLAPPs. We arguably have a SLAPP when the legal dispute concerns the content of an article related to issues such as politics, social welfare, education, health issues, climate, or the environment. We do not have a SLAPP if the content is related to the private life of an individual, provided that these details do not have a consequence on the public interest. SLAPPs’ final goal is not winning the lawsuit, but to economically and psychologically drain the defendant and reduce them to silence. Eventually, SLAPPs trigger a ‘chilling effect’ on the rest of the community, convincing others to give up their right to public participation.


In Italy, the overwhelming majority of vexatious lawsuits are enabled by defamation provisions, which can take the shape of civil or criminal lawsuits. Italian politicians have a long-standing tradition of resorting to defamation provisions in order to silence critical voices. Among the highest-profile public figures who responded to investigative journalism and satirical illustrations with manifestly underfunded or exaggerated lawsuits: in 1988, PM Christian Democrat Ciriaco De Mita sued director of newspaper l’Unità Massimo D’Alema over the title of an article; in 1999, when Massimo D’Alema became PM himself, leading a social-democratic coalition, he sued Giorgio Forattini for a satirical illustration; fast forward to 2009, liberal conservative PM Silvio Berlusconi sued Italian outlet La Repubblica for an article. Over the decades, resorting to vexatious lawsuits has been practiced across the aisle.


However, throughout the past year, the number of legal intimidations initiated by public figures and targeting critics of the government has been increasing steeply. The following list is representative of what has become an ordinary abuse of Italian defamation provisions, or the threat to resort to them, at the hands of members of the current cabinet.


In October 2022, Defence minister Guido Crosetto announced that he had instructed a law firm to take legal action against the newspaper Domani over an article examining a potential conflict of interest related to his links to the arms industry.


In November 2022, the public prosecutor decided to open a criminal defamation trial following a lawsuit against Domani initiated by the current PM then leader of the opposition Giorgia Meloni in 2021. The legal action stemmed from an article that raised concerns about a controversial procurement process of face masks during the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic.


At the beginning of March 2023, Domani’s newsroom learned that Claudio Durigon, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, had initiated legal proceedings against them when two police officers handed them a seizure order directed at one of Domani’s articles. Authored by investigative journalists Giovanni Tizian and Nello Trocchia, the article examined the alleged links between Durigon and members of local criminal organizations in Latina, south of Rome. The seizure order triggered an international response by freedom of expression organizationsItalian and European trade unions, as well as MEPs, followed by an awkward order of release of the article signed by Rome’s prosecutor. The lawsuit was recently dismissed by Rome’s judge of preliminary investigations.


At the end of May, Adolfo Urso, Minister of Enterprises and Made in Italy and member of Fratelli d’Italia party, announced he will take legal action against RAI’s investigative program Report following alleged “blatant falsehoods made with clear defamatory intent” contained in the broadcast.


At the beginning of June, Lega leader and current minister of Infrastructures Matteo Salvini announced that he had instructed his lawyers to file a complaint against L’Espresso for their 2019 report about the so-called Metropol case, which revealed alleged connections between Lega and the Kremlin.


A few days later, Minister of Tourism and member of Fratelli d’Italia party Daniela Santanché announced she had given her lawyers the mandate to file a defamation lawsuit against RAI’s investigative program Report due to its recent critical reporting on the minister’s business ventures.


At the beginning of August, Arianna Meloni, wife of Minister of Agriculture Francesco Lollobrigida and sister of the prime minister Giorgia Meloni, currently secretary of the political section of leading coalition party Fratelli d’Italia, filed a lawsuit against satirical illustrator Mario Natangelo in relation to a caricature.


Last September, Giancarlo Giorgetti, current minister of the Economy, has announced that he instructed his lawyers to file a lawsuit against daily newspaper Domani for an article authored by investigative journalist Giovanni Tizian. In the quoted piece, Tizian had examined links between business ventures and government contracts granted to Francesca Verdini, partner of Matteo Salvini.


At the beginning of October, Ignazio La Russa, president of the Senate and member of Fratelli d’Italia, announced a criminal defamation complaint against RAI show Report. The announcement was made one day prior to the show screening an episode dedicated to La Russa’s family alleged business ventures. In the meantime, Report’s presenter, Sigfrido Ranucci, was summoned by RAI Director’s Supervisory Committee, a further manifestation of political pressure. The summon was not only unusual, given that individual journalists have never been audited by the Committee before; member of the ruling coalition have taken the chance to publicly mock Ranucci during the meeting.


A few days later, Italian writer and journalist Roberto Saviano was found guilty of criminal defamation by the Criminal Court of Rome. The case was instigated by Giorgia Meloni in November 2021, before she took on her current position as Prime Minister. The criminal lawsuit charged Saviano with aggravated criminal defamation because of his outspoken criticisms regarding Meloni’s unwavering anti-migrant position.


Finally, last December, the third hearing in the criminal defamation trial initiated by current minister of Transportation Matteo Salvini against Roberto Saviano was postponed for the second time by the judge due to Salvini’s non-appearance. In a social media post, Saviano had called the Lega leader “minister of the underworld”, echoing an essay by Italian journalist and historian Gaetano Salvemini.


What do Sigfrido Ranucci, Roberto Saviano, Mario Natangelo, Giovanni Tizian and Nello Trocchia have in common? In their different capacities, they are critics of high-profile figures of the current government. The latter ones seem oblivious of the European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence, which has clarified that public figures, especially those in political roles, should tolerate a higher degree of criticism and scrutiny due to their prominent position in society. Yet, the legal cases listed above are a reminder that freedom of expression is a right that cannot be taken for granted, and it is central not only to media practitioners, but to the society as a whole. The role of journalists as public watchdogs lays at the heart of the participation of the society in public affairs. And the degree of freedom accorded to political debate and criticism constitutes the very essence of democratic societies.


This alarming trend has been accompanied by a problematic bill put forward by the ruling coalition which aims at reforming defamation. Currently being discussed by the Justice Commission of the Italian Senate, the bill advances provisions directed at increasing the fines for criminal defamation up to 50,000 euros and introduces disciplinary penalties intended to disqualify journalists from practising the profession for a period of up to six months Similarly, the introduction of automatic rectifications without the chance for the editor to add a title, comment or reply risks compressing the space for press freedom. Such provisions represent a serious source of concern for Italian civil society and collide with the interpretation of the right to freedom of expression provided by the European Court of Human Rights. They risk triggering a chilling effect on freedom of the press and expression.


More recently, the Costa bill emerged as one more example of Italian decision makers’ attempt to control media reporting. Approved by the lower chamber of the Parliament before the Winter break, the amendment forbids transcripts’ publications of pre-trial detention orders until the end of the preliminary investigations, severely restricting court reporting. In a national context characterized by a sizable phenomenon of collusion between politics and criminal organizations, the Costa amendment poses a threat to citizens’ right to be informed.


Another critical episode which has been shaping the relation between media and the Meloni government pertains to the interreference of the executive in the governance of the public broadcasting service. To be sure, the independence of RAI, Radiotelevisione italiana, the Italian national public broadcasting company, is a traditionally sensitive topic which periodically surfaces on Italian political agenda, its funding and governance being subjected to political interference. The 2023 Media Pluralism Monitor, placed Italy among the countries in which the independence of public service media is most threatened, RAI’s governance and funding being both subjected to political interference. Last Spring, the current cabinet operated significant internal management changes which led to the resignation of the public broadcaster CEO. On that occasion, international media freedom groups raised alarm about Italian public service broadcaster’s independence. Such political appointment set a worrisome precedent for two reasons. Firstly, RAI CEO resigned one year prior to his term conclusion citing political pressure, just few weeks before the yearly expiration of a number of RAI’s tv show contracts. Secondly, the newly appointed CEO, Roberto Sergio, swiftly invoked “a new storytelling”, arguably in line with the ruling coalition’s agenda, which had immediate consequences on RAI’s programming. The timing resulted in a flood of well-established shows migrating to private broadcasting companies, such as the celebrated show Che Tempo Che Fa led by Italian journalist Fabio Fazio. Similarly, the case of Roberto Saviano’s anti-mafia showInsider, which had been already recorded and cancelled abruptly caused international resentment. What both Fazio and Saviano have in common, alongside with other professionals who left RAI over the past few months, is their criticism, subtle or vocal, toward members of the current cabinet.


Six months later, tv shows introduced by the new RAI management, aligned to an agenda which favored political interests over the public one, have shown their limits, audience shares having dropped significantly. Additionally, Giorgia Meloni’s coalition partner, Lega’s leader Matteo Salvini has succeeded in shrinking the funding allocation to the broadcasting service, a provision which was introduced into the recently approved Budget Law. A condition which further threatens RAI’s financial autonomy.


The use of SLAPPs by public figures, attempts to control court reporting, and political interference in the public broadcasting service, are part of a broader contraction of the space for public contestation in Italy. A trend which cannot be dissociated from other worrying endeavors of the current Government to restrict the civic space, such as the criminalization of climate dissent. It is not by chance that such factors are accounted for in the assessment of the European Commission’s Rule of Law mechanism. Francesca De Benedetti, Domani’s journalist who leads the European affairs department, indicates vexatious lawsuits and political interreference as deterioration signals of the rule of law in Italy. She draws the attention on a further alarming conduct of the ruling party, “the PM’s unwillingness or irritation at having to respond to questions from journalists, who are sometimes accused of going against the country if they ask her about some ongoing scandal.” According to De Benedetti, “Of all the attacks on the rule of law, attacks on the media and judges are among the most insidious, because it means attacking the sentinels of democracy, with knock-on effects in all areas”.


The distress signals sent by Italian journalists, local stakeholders, and trade unions as well as international media freedom organizations are to be taken seriously. Academic evidence has proved that amid the ongoing trend of autocratization, electoral systems and procedures usually stand strong. It’s media freedom, the right to express oneself, access to alternative information sources, that are facing erosion. While V-Dem Institute 2023 Democracy Report shows how in the past ten years autocratization processes (i.e. denoting the decline of democratic qualities) have been mushrooming globally, its authors argue that media freedom and freedom of expression have been dramatically impacted by these dynamics. To be sure, the report highlights how attacks on media and contraction of the freedom of expression are the first targets of “wanna-be dictators”.


Intolerance to criticism pertaining political conduct and political interference in the public broadcasting service both signal a disquieting trend of Italian leadership which fails to take into consideration the public interest. It also constitutes an early warning of the erosion of one of the most important democratic features, media freedom and freedom of expression. Falling short on criticism acceptance is a tendency which is reminiscent of what Umberto Eco, during a lesson delivered at Columbia University in the 1990s, identified as a feature of Ur-Fascism. According to Eco, “In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason”.

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MFRR highlights threats to media freedom in EU Commission’s…

MFRR highlights threats to media freedom in EU Commission’s Rule of Law report

Updates on some of the biggest developments and threats to media freedom and pluralism across European Union Member States throughout 2023 were submitted to the EU Commission’s annual Rule of Law Report by partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR).

On 15 January 2024, MFRR consortium partners Free Press Unlimited (FPU), International Press Institute (IPI) and the Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT) filed detailed submissions to the report on the topic of media freedom and pluralism in Hungary, Greece, Italy, Netherlands and the Czech Republic.


The joint and individual submissions provide information of major developments in the media freedom landscapes in each country and assess progress – or lack of progress – made on the EU Commission’s recommendations to each state in the 2023 report. They are based on advocacy and monitoring work carried out by MFRR partners throughout the year.


Key rule of law issues examined in the information submitted included the passing of the recent Sovereignty Protection Act by the government of Victor Orbán in Hungary, for which MFRR partners have called for infringement proceedings from the EU Commission. The submission on Hungary also detailed the major wave of cyber-attacks on critical and independent media outlets in 2023.


Submissions on Greece examined the ongoing state of total impunity for the 2021 murder of crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz, the widow of whom MFRR partners met in Athens during a press freedom mission to the country in September 2023. The submission also examines a previous case of impunity for the assassination of a journalist and addresses the wider landscape for the safety of journalists in Greece, and efforts by the government to address it. The submission reflects especially on the effectiveness of the government Task Force for the safety of journalists – the establishment of which was a key recommendation in previous reports.


The submission on Italy provides details on several attacks on independent journalism by the far-right coalition government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni throughout 2023. Among the indicators identified as deteriorating signals of the rule of law in Italy include a steep increase in vexatious lawsuits filed against the press by leading government ministers; an alarming defamation bill advanced by the ruling coalition which risks producing a chilling effect on press freedom; a bill forbidding transcripts’ publications of pre-trial detention orders, which risks severely restricting court reporting; and escalating political pressure on the public broadcaster RAI.


In the Czech Republic meanwhile, the submission instead detailed positive legal reforms undertaken by the centre-right government of Petr Fiala, including welcome changes which strengthened the system for appointments to the supervisory bodies of the public broadcaster and improved conflicts of interest law that stops politicians from owning media. This latter change forced the former Prime Minister, Andrej Babis, leader of the opposition ANO party, to sell Mafra media, one of the country’s largest media companies. It also sets out the lack of progress in other areas.


In the Netherlands, the submission voiced concern over media pluralism as the Dutch landscape is characterized by a high concentration of foreign media ownership. This became more prevalent with the recent announcement that DPG Media intends to take over RTL Group. Furthermore, the submission also highlighted several threats to press freedom and the safety of journalists, including the recent wiretapping scandal of journalists of de Correspondent by the Public Prosecution Office; transnational repression of both foreign and Dutch journalists; and the rise of SLAPPs and other forms of legal intimidation such as the abusive lawsuit against Het Financieele Dagblad, which MFRR partners deplored. The submission focused on several positive developments too, including increased funding and capacity for the journalist safety initiative Persveilig and the passing of a new law to criminalise doxing.


MFRR partners continue to support the Rule of Law Report as a valuable tool that increases scrutiny of threats to the rule of law and media freedom and empowers civil society and Member State governments to promote and enforce the rule of law in the EU. To strengthen the process further, MFRR partners call for the EU Commission to provide more detailed country-specific recommendations to Member States on all areas of work, including media freedom and pluralism. These should be more targeted and provide concrete reforms and improvements to be undertaken to media regulatory bodies, systems for state support to media, media transparency registers, and the establishment of bodies dedicated to strengthening the protection and security of journalists.


Our organisations remain committed to documenting, reporting and raising awareness about all threats and attacks on media freedom, media pluralism and independent journalism across the bloc on our Mapping Media Freedom platform and look forward to continuing the consortium’s monitoring, advocacy and support work in 2024.

Signed by:

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

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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Greece: Ahead of court hearing, SLAPP lawsuit against media…

Greece: Ahead of court hearing, SLAPP lawsuit against media and journalists must be dropped

The undersigned international freedom of expression and media freedom organisations today renew our condemnation of a groundless defamation lawsuit filed against Greek journalists and media by Grigoris Dimitriadis, the nephew of the Prime Minister, and urge the plaintiff to urgently withdraw the lawsuit ahead of an upcoming hearing.

With the first hearing due at an Athens court of First Instance on 25 January, 2024 after a year-and-a-half delay, our organisations restate our shared characterisation of this lawsuit as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) – a vexatious effort to muzzle investigative reporting on Dimitriadis’ links to the Greek spyware scandal.

The claim by Dimitriadis – who belongs to the powerful Mitsotakis family – was filed on 5 August 2022 against newspaper EFSYN and online investigative portal Reporters United and their reporters Nikolas Leontopoulos and Thodoris Chondrogiannos, plus freelance journalist Thanasis Koukakis. It demands compensation of €250,000 from EFSYN, €150,000 from Reporters United and its journalists. Dimitriadis also demanded that Koukakis, a journalist targeted with spyware, take down his sharing of Reporters United’s investigation on social media which referred to Dimitriadis and the wiretapping scandal and pay damages of €150,000. The total amount claimed is €550,000.

The defamation lawsuit was filed on the day Dimitriadis resigned from his position as the general secretary of Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, his uncle. The previous day, EFSYN and Reporters United made revelations about Dimitriadis’ connection to the surveillance scandal at a time when he oversaw the National Intelligence Agency. On June 3, another joint report had provided evidence Dimitriadis was connected to a network of businesspeople and companies linked directly or indirectly with businessman Felix Bitzios, former deputy administrator and shareholder of the spyware firm Intellexa, which at the time marketed the Predator spyware, which was revealed to have been used by unconfirmed actors to surveil multiple high-profile political and media figures.

After the lawsuit was filed, many of our organisations branded the lawsuit as a startling example of a SLAPP and an attempt to muzzle investigative reporting on a matter of significant public interest. This assessment was supported by the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE). One-and-a-half years on, the frivolous nature of this lawsuit remains, and recent revelations have only further supported the reporting. Rather than being targeted by financially and psychologically draining lawsuits, both Reporters United and EFSYN instead deserve credit for their watchdog reporting.

Our organisations met with journalists from Reporters United during a recent international press freedom mission to Athens in September 2023 to discuss the lawsuit and its impact further. Through the Media Freedom Rapid Response, our organisations are proud to have helped provide support to cover the legal fees of the targeted media outlets and journalists in this court case.

Concerningly, we note that on 24 November 2023, Dimitriadis filed a second lawsuit against many of the same plaintiffs: EFSYN, three executives from the newspaper, as well as three journalists from Reporters United and Thanasis Koukakis. This second lawsuit – totalling €3.3 million for all the defendants – also stems from their reporting on Dimitriadis’ alleged links to the spyware scandal. Another lawsuit was filed against Alter Ego Media, as well as other threats of legal action.

Our organisations stress an alarming pattern of legal efforts to smother journalistic reporting on Dimitriadis’ connections to the spyware scandal. Ahead of the first-instance hearing, we urge Mr. Dimitriadis to withdraw the lawsuit and retract demands for the removal of the article and financial compensation. If the claim is not withdrawn, we urge the court to dismiss the complaint and to recognise the vexatious nature of this lawsuit, the accuracy and public interest of the report, and the pattern of legal intimidation by Mr Dimitriadis against independent journalistic reporting. We ask the judge to carefully assess international freedom of expression standards when making any decision.

Our organisations will continue to monitor the situation closely and report further attacks on the freedom of the press in Greece to international organisations and the European Union. We will also continue to raise SLAPP cases as a matter of concern with the Greek government and its Task Force for journalists’ safety. As the European institutions move to formally approve the EU anti-SLAPP Directive and the Council of Europe anti-SLAPP recommendation, the Greek authorities should take all national measures to ensure that journalists are not silenced by these vexatious lawsuits, in line with European standards. Our organisations remain committed to defending free and independent journalism in Greece and hope for a positive outcome in this case.

Signed by:

  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • ARTICLE 19 Europe (A19)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • 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 and candidate countries. 

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Croatia, the assault on the local press

Croatia, the assault on the local press

2024 is the year of elections for Croatia: European, political and presidential elections will take place between next June and December. And with the electoral competitions, the race for control of the local media, particularly the regional ones, is gaining ground in a hardly transparent way.


By Giovanni Vale

Originally published by OBCT. Also available in ITA and BHS

2024 will be a big election year in Croatia. Voting takes place in June to renew the European Parliament, in September to elect the Sabor and in December to choose the new President of the Republic. This “super izborna godina” – or “super election year” as the Croatian press has already christened it – is a crucial moment for the country. The new political balance will be decided in the next twelve months and the results will also influence the local elections to be held in 2025.

In short, the stakes are very high and the Association of Croatian Journalists (HND) looks with concern at the latest changes in the Croatian media landscape, which is under ever greater pressure. Between changes of ownership and controversial relations between power and journalists, the independence of the local press is crumbling.


The latest scandal

2023 ended in Croatia with a political scandal. Yet another “afera” cost the conservative government of Andrej Plenković (HDZ) another minister, without however unseating the prime minister, who has been in power since 2016. The affair concerned precisely the relationship between power and the press.

Some wiretaps published by the weekly Nacional revealed that Jurica Lovrinčević, an advisor to the Minister of Economy Davor Filipović, offered public money to a local television with the promise of dividing part of the sum between some television presenters and Lovrinčević himself.

Following the revelations, an investigation was opened and Plenković fired both the advisor and minister Filipović. The scandal, which broke out in mid-December, monopolised the Croatian media for several days, but in the end the prime minister succeeded in yet another slalom and replaced the 30th minister in seven years   without striking a blow.

Sitting at a table in a bar in central Zagreb, Hrvoje Zovko shrugs. “There is nothing new in this scandal”, says the president of the Association of Croatian Journalists (HND). “What has emerged is worrying, but it has been the HDZ’s modus operandi for decades”, explains Zovko, according to whom “the Croatian media are being captured and with the election year approaching, there will be even greater pressure on the Croatian press”.

Croatia has just under four million inhabitants and has a varied media landscape, albeit weakened by the economic crisis. There are over 150 registered radio stations in the country and over 30 televisions, not to mention the dozens of newspapers printed at national and regional level and the many portals. However, editorial offices are often understaffed and overworked, and in this context public funding plays a decisive role.


A new relationship between power and the press

“We are not against public funding of the press and we do not want to deprive institutions, municipalities or regions of the right to advertise in the media, but we cannot continue like this. We need a public fund for journalism with clear rules and sanctions for those who do not respect the code of ethics. We must clearly separate advertising from journalism”, continues Hrvoje Zovko.

In 2022, the Association of Croatian Journalists created a transparent media financing model and is now presenting it to municipalities and regions with the hope that they will join the initiative. “Makarska and Split have already accepted, Zagreb and Pazin have adopted the model almost completely and now we are discussing with Karlovac, Virovitica, Slavonski Brod…”, concludes the HND president.

The new financing model should avoid the many small abuses that are regularly recorded in Croatia and which often do not get the visibility of the Lovrinčević case. For example, the mayor of Valpovo in Slavonia invented a newspaper distributed free of charge in every home and of which the mayor himself is the editor-in-chief and main protagonist of the articles.

A similar scenario occurred in Čađavica near Virovitica: here the mayor achieved the record of producing a 16-page newspaper with as many photos of himself. The incorrect use of advertising financed with public money often becomes an instrument of pressure by the authorities on the local press, whose survival is sometimes linked to these funds.
But the opposite also happens, that is, a local media asks the municipality for money to cover the local city council and otherwise deserts it. In any case, we end up with a weakened local press, not very independent and at the mercy of local power.


Media Solutions and the assault on the local press

But while experts from the Association of Croatian Journalists travel far and wide across the country to promote a more virtuous model of relations between local administrations and the press, power continues to grab the media at all levels.

The most striking case is that of Media Solutions, a company founded in 2017 in Osijek and which will soon control four important local newspapers: the Novi List in Rijeka, the Zadarski List in Zadar, the Glas Slavonije in Osijek and the Glas Istre in Pula. Chiara Bilić, a long-time journalist at Glas Istre and now employed at the new portal Istra24  , has written on several occasions about the background to this earthquake in the world of Croatian publishing.

The two co-owners of Media Solutions, writes Bilić, are Bojan Divjak – nephew of Vladimir Šeks, one of the founders of HDZ – and lawyer Oleg Uskoković, who in 2017 donated around 5,000 Euros to the electoral campaign of Damir Habijan, at the time HDZ mayoral candidate and the new Minister of Economy for a few days in place of Davor Filipović. According to Chiara Bilić, “the HDZ takes control of regional newspapers   through a venture by Šeks’ nephew and a generous donor of Damir Habijan’s”.

However, the ownership of Media Solutions is not the only problem in this matter. The entire operation that will lead to the merger of the Novi List and Glas Slavonije group is in fact unclear.

Drago Hedl was editor-in-chief at Glas Slavonije in 1991, when young Bojan Divjak joined the paper. “He was a good journalist at the time”, recalls Hedl, reached by phone while he drives through Slavonia. “I don’t know how his company managed to buy these newspapers”, continues the famous journalist. “After his experience at Glas Slavonije, Divjak worked at Slobodna Dalmacija and Vjesnik before it closed. He then ended up at Narodne Novine (the publisher of the Croatian Official Gazette) and then returned to Osijek as editor-in-chief and co-owner”, summarises Drago Hedl.

“Who owns the media is an often unclear question in Croatia”, says the journalist and writer. While Glas Slavonije, with an editorial team now counting “less than thirty journalists”, is often late in paying salaries (“minimum figures”, comments Hedl), a company born from nothing and without employees – Media Solutions – will soon control four outlets. “And it’s all happening right now, on the eve of the elections…”, mutters Drago Hedl at the wheel.

This content is part of 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. The project is co-funded by the European Commission.

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