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MFRR partners to carry out media freedom mission to…

MFRR partners to carry out media freedom mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina

Partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) will travel to Banja Luka and Sarajevo from 22 to 25 October 2023 to assess the current state of play for media freedom in the country and start a dialogue with the authorities, less than a year after the European Union decided to grant Bosnia and Herzegovina candidate status.

The delegation will consist of representatives of the MFRR partners, including 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 Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT). A representative of the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) will also join the mission, as well as our local partner, the journalists’ association BH Novinari. 

 

During the visit, the delegation will meet media professionals, officials, international organisations, civil society organisations and lawyers. The mission will focus on the worrying legislations discussed or adopted recently: in Republika Srpska, one of the two entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, regarding the recriminalisation of defamation; the draft law on Public Order and Peace in the Sarajevo Canton; and the law on Freedom of Access to Information in the Federation. The safety of journalists, the verbal attacks from public officials and the lack of investigation into some cases will also be addressed with the authorities.

 

On 25 October, the delegation will hold a press conference in Sarajevo to present preliminary  findings and recommendations. A detailed mission report will be published later in autumn.

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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Report Launch – Relocation of Journalists in Distress in…

Relocation of Journalists in Distress in the European Union

Today, the partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) launch their report “Relocation of journalists in distress in the European Union: Emergency visa mechanisms in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Poland.”

Uncovering the truth is dangerous and can put journalists and media workers at serious risk. When a journalist finds him- or herself in danger because someone wants to keep the public in the dark, a situation can occur where the only way to safety is to seek refuge in another country. However, restrictive asylum and visa policies all too often hamper the pathways to international protection.

 

In this light, the latest MFRR report aims to contribute to a better understanding of six pioneering relocation mechanisms for journalists in distress within the European Union. It reflects the learnings of a thematic fact-finding mission organised in May and June 2023 by Free Press Unlimited (FPU) and the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) as part of the MFRR. The report examines existing schemes in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Poland, revealing salient differences and similarities in the scope and features of the responses.

This report was coordinated by Free Press Unlimited (FPU) and the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) as 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. 

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Turkey’s press freedom crisis deepens amid earthquake and national…

Turkey’s press freedom crisis deepens amid earthquake and national elections

Turkey’s press freedom crisis has deepened further in the last year. Journalists face steep harassment and intimidation for their work, including arbitrary imprisonment and prosecution. Those responsible for attacks and threats against the press enjoy alarming levels of impunity.

Turkish translation available here.

 

This year’s parliamentary and presidential elections have brought no relief for press freedom. On the contrary, pressure continues to mount on critical journalists ahead of next year’s municipal vote, including mayoral elections in Istanbul and Ankara. And the tragic February 2023 earthquakes laid bare efforts by authorities to control news and information, with local media being particularly targeted.

 

This week, five international media freedom and journalism organizations met with a range of key stakeholders in Turkey, including journalists, civil society groups, the Turkish Constitutional Court, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), and diplomatic representatives, including the EU Delegation, to discuss Turkey’s media freedom crisis. The delegation also met with members of parliament of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), Green Left Party (YSP), and Labor Party (EMEP). The delegation also monitored the trial of Tele1 Editor-in-Chief Merdan Yanardağ in Istanbul on October 4.

 

Led by the International Press Institute (IPI) and IPI’s Turkey National Committee, the mission included representatives from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT), and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

 

The mission’s requests for meetings with the Minister of Justice Yılmaz Tunç, Minister of Interior Ali Yerlikaya, head of the Turkish Parliament’s Chair Human Rights Investigation Commission Derya Yanık, head of the Digital Platforms Commission Hüseyin Yayman, head of the Justice Commission Cüneyt Yüksel, RTÜK Chair Ebubekir Şahin and Fahrettin Altun, the head of Directorate of Communications, were left unanswered.  The mission regrets not having the opportunity to engage in dialogue with key public officials and public authorities responsible for upholding fundamental rights and the rule of law and ensuring media freedom and pluralism in the country.

 

A key topic of this year’s mission was Turkey’s disinformation law. Last year, the AKP head of the Human Rights Investigation Commission of the Turkish Parliament assured our delegation that disinformation law would not be used to punish journalists. But in the past year, at least 20 journalists were targeted (with three jailed) on the basis of the disinformation law, mainly in relation to coverage of the earthquake.

  

Physical safety remains an issue of grave concern. In meetings with journalists, the delegation heard alarming examples of threats to reporters’ safety with authorities in some cases turning a blind eye, failing to uphold their duty to conduct an effective investigation and provide safety measures. Meanwhile, politicians, government authorities, and the courts continue to equate critical journalism with “terrorist propaganda”, disinformation, or a threat to national security, further increasing journalists’ physical and legal vulnerability.

 

Journalists targeted with legal harassment continue to face egregious violations of rule of law guarantees. The systematic use of pretrial detention for journalists has now become the norm, effectively resulting in punishment without conviction. Recent cases have seen Kurdish reporters jailed for over a year pending trial following mass arrests.

 

The granting of official press cards remains arbitrary – and their power is limited in the face of information control. Independent journalists fortunate to receive such cards reported that they were in some cases prevented by authorities from reporting in the earthquake zone despite providing their credentials. 

 

The Constitutional Court continues to issue important rulings in support of press freedom. However, it is hampered by a lack of resources, a failure by lower courts to implement the Court’s rulings, and a failure by the Turkish Parliament to introduce legislation addressing systematic violations identified by the Court.

 

Local elections are due to take place in Turkey in March 2024. The free flow of independent news and information is an essential condition to any democratic election. We call on the government of Turkey to guarantee that journalists are able to do their work free of intimidation and harassment in particular during the election period. 

 

Finally, amid the continued crackdown by the Turkish authorities, the delegation notes with concern a pattern of visa denials, delays, and arduous procedures for Turkey journalists applying for visas to Europe. This trend undermines the ability of Turkey’s journalists to build and sustain links to their peers abroad. The delegation calls on European governments and the EU to maintain firm and active support for Turkey’s free press. In addition to strong and clear public support for independent journalists, this must include ensuring that journalists’ applications for visas for professional purposes are fast tracked. 

Uluslararası heyet açıklaması: Türkiye’de basın özgürlüğü krizi deprem ve genel seçimlerin ortasında derinleşti

 

Beş uluslararası basın özgürlüğü ve gazetecilik kuruluşu Türkiye’deki basın özgürlüğü misyonunu tamamladı

 

Türkiye’nin basın özgürlüğü krizi geçtiğimiz yıl daha da derinleşti. Gazeteciler, keyfi tutukluluk ve kovuşturma dahil olmak üzere, mesleki faaliyetlerinden ötürü ağır tehditlerle karşı karşıya kaldı. Basına yönelik saldırı ve tehditlerden sorumlu olanlara karşı cezasızlık artarak devam etti. 

 

Bu yıl yapılan meclis ve cumhurbaşkanlığı seçimleri basın özgürlüğü açısından herhangi bir rahatlama getirmedi. Aksine, gelecek yıl yapılacak yerel seçimler öncesinde eleştirel gazeteciler üzerindeki baskı artmaya devam ediyor. Şubat 2023’te meydana gelen yıkıcı depremler sırasında yerel medyanın özellikle hedef alınması, yetkililerin haber ve bilgi akışını kontrol etmeye yönelik çabalarının açık bir örneğiydi.

 

Bu hafta, basın ve ifade özgürlüğü alanında çalışan beş uluslararası kuruluş; Türkiye’de gazeteciler, sivil toplum grupları, Anayasa Mahkemesi, Radyo ve Televizyon Üst Kurulu (RTÜK) ve Avrupa Birliği Türkiye Delegasyonu gibi pek çok paydaş ile ülkede medya özgürlüğünün içinde bulunduğu krizi görüşmek üzere toplantılar düzenledi. Heyet ayrıca Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP), Demokrasi ve İlerleme Partisi (DEVA), Emek Partisi (EMEP) ve Yeşiller ve Sol Gelecek Partisi (YSP) milletvekilleriyle de bir araya geldi.

 

Uluslararası Basın Enstitüsü (IPI) ve IPI Türkiye Ulusal Komitesi öncülüğündeki heyette Gazetecileri Koruma Komitesi (CPJ), Avrupa Basın ve Medya Özgürlüğü Merkezi (ECPMF), Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT) ve Sınır Tanımayan Gazeteciler (RSF) temsilcileri yer aldı.

 

Heyetin, Adalet Bakanı Yılmaz Tunç, İçişleri Bakanı Ali Yerlikaya, TBMM İnsan Haklarını İnceleme Komisyonu Başkanı Derya Yanık, Dijital Mecralar Komisyonu Başkanı Hüseyin Yayman, Adalet Komisyonu Başkanı Cüneyt Yüksel, RTÜK Başkanı Ebubekir Şahin ve Cumhurbaşkanlığı İletişim Başkanı Fahrettin Altun ile görüşme talepleri yanıtsız kaldı. Heyet, temel hakların ve hukukun üstünlüğünün korunmasından ve ülkede medya özgürlüğü ve medyada çok sesliliğin sağlanmasından sorumlu görevlileri ve kamu makamlarıyla diyalog kurma fırsatı bulamamaktan üzüntü duyuyor.

 

Bu yılki heyet ziyaretinin öne çıkan başlıklarından biri Türkiye’nin dezenformasyon yasasıydı. Geçen yıl TBMM İnsan Haklarını İnceleme Komisyonunun AKP’li başkanı, dezenformasyon yasasının gazetecileri cezalandırmak için kullanılmayacağı konusunda heyetimize güvence vermişti. Ancak geçtiğimiz yıl, başta deprem haberleriyle ilgili olmak üzere, en az 20 gazeteci dezenformasyon yasasına dayanılarak hedef alındı (üçü hapse atıldı).

 

Gazetecilerin fiziksel güvenliği ciddi bir endişe konusu olmaya devam ediyor. Heyet, gazetecilerle yaptığı görüşmelerde, muhabirlerin güvenliğini tehdit eden birçok endişe verici örnekle karşılaştı ve yetkililerin bazı durumlarda etkili bir soruşturma yürütme ve güvenlik önlemleri sağlama görevlerini yerine getirmek yerine bu tehditlere göz yumduklarını gördü. Aynı zamanda siyasetçiler, hükümet yetkilileri ve mahkemeler eleştirel gazeteciliği “terör propagandası”, dezenformasyon veya ulusal güvenliğe tehditle eş tutmaya devam ederek gazetecilerin fiziksel ve yasal savunmasızlığını daha da artırdı.

 

Hukuki tacizin hedefi olan gazetecilerin yasal güvenceleri, ağır ihlallere maruz kalmaya devam ediyor. Gazetecilerin sistematik bir biçimde tutuklu yargılanması artık olağan bir hale geldi ve bu durum sıklıkla mahkûmiyet kararı olmaksızın cezalandırma ile sonuçlandı. Geçtiğimiz yıl görülen bazı davalarda, Kürt gazeteciler toplu gözaltıların ardından bir yıldan fazla tutuklu kaldı.

 

Resmi basın kartlarının kime verileceği konusundaki keyfi uygulamalar devam ediyor ve bu kartlar bilgi kontrolü karşısında sınırlı bir güce sahip. Basın kartı alma şansına sahip olan bağımsız gazeteciler, kimlik bilgilerini vermelerine rağmen deprem bölgesinde bazı durumlarda haber yapmalarının yetkililer tarafından engellendiklerini bildirdi.

 

Anayasa Mahkemesi (AYM) basın özgürlüğünü destekleyen önemli kararlar vermeye devam ediyor. Ancak, kaynak yetersizliği, alt mahkemelerin AYM kararlarını uygulamadaki başarısızlığı ve TBMM’nin AYM  tarafından tespit edilen sistematik ihlalleri ele alan mevzuatı yürürlüğe koymadaki yetersizliği nedeniyle AYM’nin çalışmaları sekteye uğruyor.

 

Bir sonraki yerel seçimlerin Mart 2024’te yapılması planlanıyor. Bağımsız haber ve bilginin serbest dolaşımı tüm demokratik seçimler için hayati bir koşul. Türkiye hükümetini, özellikle seçim döneminde gazetecilerin işlerini tehditlere ve ihlallere maruz kalmadan yapabilmelerini güvence altına almaya çağırıyoruz.

 

Son olarak heyet, Türkiye’de baskıcı koşullar altında çalışırken Avrupa’ya vize başvurusunda bulunan gazetecilerin vize reddi, gecikme ve zorlu prosedürlerine ilişkin endişelerini dile getiriyor. Bu eğilim, Türkiye’deki gazetecilerin yurtdışındaki meslektaşlarıyla bağlantı kurma ve sürdürme imkanlarını azaltıyor. Heyet, Avrupa hükümetlerine Türkiye’deki özgür basına yönelik kararlı ve aktif desteklerini sürdürmeleri çağrısında bulunuyor. Bağımsız gazetecilere yönelik güçlü ve belirgin desteğinin yanı sıra, gazetecilerin mesleki amaçlarla yaptıkları vize başvurularının hızlı bir şekilde işlem görmesi de bu desteğin bir parçası olmalı.

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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Media freedom at a crossroads: Journalism in Poland faces…

Media freedom at a crossroads: Journalism in Poland faces uncertain future ahead of election

The Media Freedom Rapid Response today issued its report “Media Freedom at a crossroads: Journalism in Poland faces uncertain future ahead of election” following its mission to Warsaw on 11 – 13 September. 

The report explores how media capture and the widespread use of vexatious lawsuits have been used to create a hostile climate for independent journalism that weakens media’s ability to contribute to free and fair elections.  

Key findings include: 

  • The public media have been fully converted into a propaganda arm of the ruling party.
  • The National Broadcasting Council, KRRiT, has abused its licensing powers to create business uncertainty and is applying arbitrary financial penalties to impose fear and self-censorship in newsrooms.
  • Media pluralism was compromised when, in 2021, the state-controlled oil company, PKN Orlen, took over the largest regional media company, Polska Press. The subsequent editorial purge and shift in editorial lines to favour the ruling party ahead of upcoming elections makes it one of the most flagrant examples of media capture in Europe.
  • State advertising has been weaponised by the government to fund favourable media outlets and undermine independent journalism which exacerbates the financial pressure on media.
  • Polish media are subjected to one of the largest number of vexatious lawsuits, or SLAPPs, in the European Union. Most are initiated by ruling party politicians, state companies, and public institutions and therefore financed by public money.
  • While Polish media have proved resilient thanks to the presence of foreign owners, the hostile economic climate may force many to withdraw. Such a move is likely to have a devastating impact on media pluralism.
  • The overwhelming majority of commentators met by the mission expressed deep concern that the country was at a crossroads and that four more years of the current policy would accelerate media capture and push Poland down the path to emulating the media environment in Hungary, Turkey, or Russia.

The mission was organised by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR). The delegation comprised of representatives of ARTICLE 19 Europe, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), and International Press Institute (IPI). The mission took place in Warsaw between 11 – 13 September and met with a wide range of editors, journalists, regulators, civil society groups, lawyers, the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Ministry of Culture. 

A Polish language translation of the report will be published shortly.

Press contacts

ENG: Jordan Higgins (jordan.higgins@ecpmf.eu)

POL: Katia Mierzejewska (katiamierzejewska@article19.org)

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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Serbia: New draft media laws represent another step backward…

Serbia: New draft media laws represent another step backward for media freedom

The partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today raise the alarm about two draft media laws brought forward by the Serbian government for their lack of compliance with international freedom of expression standards. If passed they would represent a regressive step with wide-ranging implications for media freedom and pluralism. As the public debate on the legislation continues, the MFRR calls on the Serbian government to withdraw the problematic changes added into the latest drafts and ensure compliance with the country’s previously agreed Media Strategy.

The latest draft versions of the Law on Public Information and Media and the Law on Electronic Media, developed by the Ministry of Information and Telecommunications, propose a framework that would block the reform of the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM) and pave the way for a return to full state ownership of private media, including Telekom Srbjia. The MFRR is concerned that the proposed changes do not comply with international and European standards on media freedom and freedom of expression and diverge radically from the objectives of the Media Strategy adopted by the Government of Serbia in 2020.

 

First, the draft of the Law on Electronic Media does not foresee the election of new REM Council members after the adoption of the new law, despite the fact that the draft law prescribes completely new criteria for their election, as well as authorized proposers, as is foreseen in the Media Strategy adopted by the Government of the Republic of Serbia. The REM has faced both domestic and international criticism, including from the MFRR, for its lack of independence and politically-motivated decision-making processes. There has also been widespread criticism about how members of the REM are appointed. Proposed changes which would oblige the Council of REM to adopt the Code of Labour – a shift which would better regulate the ethics of its members – have also been disregarded. If passed, this proposal would solidify political control over REM and block much needed reforms to strengthen the regulator’s independence.

 

Secondly, the new proposal of the Law on Public Information and Media fails to establish legal provisions that would ensure that all media must meet ethical standards to receive public co-financing funding. Under the previous draft, sanctions issued by the Press Council could see media fail to receive public money from co-financing funding for public interest content. However, new rules provide a loophole for print and online media outlets which have not accepted the competence of the Press Council. For those media, such criteria would not apply, meaning they can continue to violate professional standards with impunity and still receive public funding. We fear this will disadvantage media which abide by professional standards and further encourage the dissemination of disinformation and violent rhetoric in the Serbian media landscape. This change was controversially included at the last-minute by the government and was not discussed in a wider Working Group established to discuss the draft laws, which comprises members of civil society and of the journalistic community.

 

Thirdly, the government also included in both draft laws an identical provision which would essentially facilitate the return to state co-ownership of private media in Serbia. Under the current Media Strategy, direct and indirect ownership of private media by the state is banned. However, the new law would formally allow the state to return to being the co-owner and founder of media outlets. This would formally legalise the ongoing ownership situation at telecommunications provider Telekom Srbija, which is majority state-owned, in violation of the current law. If passed, the MFRR fears the new law would further cement government control over Telekom Srbija and represent a damaging new form of media capture in an EU Candidate Country which is already experiencing its biggest crisis for independent journalism in years.

 

Finally, the MFRR highlights that the new proposals radically deviate from the Media Strategy, a landmark blueprint developed after widespread consultation with the journalistic community, which the government of Serbia has held up as proof of its commitment to positive reform of the media landscape. This new approach also undermines years of work by journalist associations and working groups to shape the laws and bring them closer in line with EU acquis and other European standards.

 

Our organisations warn that if passed, the new laws would undermine national and international confidence in the Media Strategy and pose serious questions for the government’s commitment to improve media freedom and pluralism as part of its potential accession to the European Union. Rather than ushering in positive steps in this direction, the last year has been marked by steps backward, as noted by many of our organisations following a visit to Belgrade, and in the most recent report of the European Parliament.

 

The MFRR therefore shares the concerns recently outlined by the Coalition for Media Freedom in Serbia, and calls for the government to reverse the problematic changes introduced in the two draft media laws and ensure that their provisions comply with international standards on freedom of expression. As the public debate on the legislation continues, we urge the government to return to discussions with the Coalition and other groups which remain committed to reform of the media landscape in Serbia in line with European values. Key provisions must be reintegrated into the draft laws, especially those which provide for more democratic management of the REM. Our organisations will continue to closely monitor the situation in Serbia and call for systemic media reform.

Signed by:

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

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

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Media-Democracy Nexus in the European Space

Media-Democracy Nexus in the European Space

On 17 October 2023, the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) will host a high-level conference in Rome, Italy and online to explore the intersection between media and rule of law across Europe from different thematic angles, geographic and/or professional backgrounds.

By unpacking the nexus between rule of law, media and democracy the high-level international conference aims at bringing together journalists, academics, legal experts and representatives of CSOs to discuss recent media-related developments and examine the ways in which a sound rule of law system contributes to the advancement of media freedom in the European space.

Media freedom is under serious pressure in Europe, in a context of political interferences, verbal, physical and legal attacks as well generalised conditions characterised by  lack of protection, that – albeit to different degrees – affect journalists and media professionals across all member states and candidate countries.

Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) are on the rise, employed by powerful individuals and companies to avoid public scrutiny and silence critical voices. At the same time, online harassment and intimidation, as well as surveillance incidents, are a growing phenomenon, directed against those dealing with corruption, human rights and other issues relevant to the rule of law.

Alongside with ensuring fair elections, and countering disinformation, strengthening media freedom figures as one of the key priorities on the EU current agenda, as articulated in the 2020 European Democracy Action Plan. Throughout the past few years, EU institutions have been issuing and discussing a number of measures directed towards ensuring a better protection of journalists, countering abusive and exaggerated   lawsuits, and protecting media pluralism and independence. Such endeavours testify to the role played by civil society in drawing the attention and establishing a dialogue with EU policymakers on the ways to support and promote media freedom and freedom of expression, and on the pivotal role played by such rights in strengthening the resilience of EU democracies.

Three thematic sessions will explore the intersection between media and rule of law across Europe from different thematic angles, geographic and/or professional backgrounds.

The event will take place in English with simultaneous translation in Italian.

Attendance is free, but registration is required. Register here.

It will also be broadcast live on OBC Transeuropa Facebook page.

You can find the full programme on the OBC Transeuropa website.

This event is coordinated as 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. 

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Slavko Curuvija Library

Serbia: Convicted killers of journalist Slavko Ćuruvija must not…

Serbia: Convicted killers of journalist Slavko Ćuruvija must not be acquitted

IPI renews call for justice to be secured as speculation mounts about potential acquittals.

The International Press Institute (IPI) today renews its two-decade long demand for the killers of Serbian journalist and newspaper publisher Slavko Ćuruvija to face justice for their crimes and for the Court of Appeal to reach its verdict on the landmark retrial in a fully impartial and independent manner.

IPI’s latest call comes as rumours swirl in Belgrade about the pending decision by the judges at the Court of Appeals to acquit the four former state security officers who have twice been convicted of orchestrating and carrying out the killing of Ćuruvija outside his apartment in the capital in 1999.

Multiple sources, including IPI World Press Freedom Hero Veran Matić, a member of the Permanent Working Group for the Safety of Journalists and head of the Commission for Investigating Murders of Journalists, have warned that they have received credible information in recent months that the court has already passed and written its verdict: to overturn the two previous convictions and find all the defendants not guilty.

Alarm bells were first sounded in May 2023 about the apparent verdict of the three-member judicial panel, which deliberated in private after the retrial hearings concluded in March 2023. Seven months later, it is unclear why no verdict has yet been announced and state authorities have not commented. In recent weeks reports emerged that the court was poised to publicly announce its decision.

IPI Executive Director Frane Maroević said: “If the acquittal  is confirmed, the state’s inability to secure the convictions of the four former members of the State Security Service (SBD) would represent an abysmal failure of the rule of law and deal a devastating blow to media freedom and the fight against impunity for the murder of journalists in Serbia. The relaunch of the investigation, subsequent trial and conviction for the murder of Slavko Ćuruvija were pioneering developments in combating impunity for killings attacks on journalists in Serbia. An acquittal in this case would be a terrible retrograde step.”

The four individuals have twice been convicted of carrying out the broad daylight assassination on April 11, 1999, which took place amidst the NATO intervention against Serbia. Among them is Radomir Marković, former head of the SDB. At the time Ćuruvija was the editor and founder of the Daily Telegraph and Evropljanin. The first trial began 16 years after the murder, in June 2015. In 2019, all four men were sentenced to a combined prison sentence of 100 years for their roles in the killing. A retrial confirmed the guilty verdicts in December 2021.

However, after the appeal was launched in 2022 leading journalist associations in Serbia, as well as media experts, journalist groups and the family of Slavko Ćuruvija, as well as the foundation set up in his name, have consistently warned that hard-won the guilty verdicts were in jeopardy amidst fears of political interference in the work of the court.

IPI joined several international media freedom organizations in Belgrade in April 2023 to jointly call for justice for Ćuruvija, warning that the verdict would be the most significant for the freedom of media and journalism in the modern history of Serbia and would serve as a litmus test for the rule of law and democracy in the Balkan country.

“As the Court of Appeal verdict approaches, IPI today renews these warnings and our calls for justice for those convicted of carrying out the murder of Slavko Ćuruvija to be confirmed”, Maroević said. “Media freedom and Ćuruvija journalism in Serbia are already in a deep and sustained crisis. An acquittal for Curuvija’s murder – for which the family and colleagues have fought for 24 years to secure – would further damage Serbia’s standing on media freedom within the international community and severely undermine its press commitments as part of its potential EU accession process.”

He added: “Regardless of the verdict, IPI will continue to fight for justice for Slavko Ćuruvija and his family until the very end and until convictions are secured. Our global network of journalists, editors and media executives also continue to stand with all those who have fought for accountability for this murder, and all journalists in Serbia who continue to uphold the values Curuvija exemplified: fiercely independent journalism which strives to hold power to account, even under significant pressures.

“IPI will continue to closely monitor the situation and expects the Court of Appeal to reach its verdict in an impartial and independent manner, based on the evidence presented, rather than on external pressures. The rule of law must be upheld and the cycle of impunity for the killing of Slavko Ćuruvija must end.”

This article was originally published by the International Press Institute (IPI) as 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. 

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Report Launch: Relocation of journalists in distress in the…

Report Launch: Relocation of journalists in distress in the European Union

Uncovering the truth is dangerous and can put journalists and media workers at serious risk. When a journalist finds him- or herself in danger because someone wants to keep the public in the dark, a situation can occur where the only way to safety is to seek refuge in another country. However, restrictive asylum and visa policies all too often hamper the pathways to international protection.

On October 9th 10:30-11:30 CEST, the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) will present the findings of a thematic fact-finding mission organised earlier this year, which aims to contribute to a better understanding of six pioneering relocation mechanisms for journalists in distress within the European Union. For this purpose, the MFRR partners examined existing schemes in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Poland, revealing salient differences and similarities in the scope and features of the responses.

Join us at the Czech Permanent Representation in Brussels or online for the report launch. The Czech mission to Brussels will host the conference. The Deputy Head of the Czech Permanent Representation to the EU Permanent Representative to the Political and Security Committee Ambassador Jitka Látal Znamenáčková will open the presentation. Professor Can Yeğinsu will then discuss the idea of emergency visa for journalists, which he developed as part of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts of the Media Freedom Coalition. Further, in a panel discussion, a journalist in exile will discuss their situation and path to obtain the emergency visa in an EU Member State. Lastly, the report’s authors will present key findings, conclusions and recommendations, and there will be time for a Q&A session.

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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For a transnational anti-SLAPP network: Countering gags on public…

For a transnational anti-SLAPP network: Countering gags on public participation

On October 16, 2023, the first public event of CASE Italia dedicated to countering SLAPPs will take place in Rome. Speakers include journalists, activists, experts in the field, and representatives of a range of organisations advocating for freedom of expression.

SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) are a form of legal harassment affecting not only press freedom, but the right to freedom of expression of our societies as a whole. The goal of those who resort to SLAPPs is to inhibit public participation by silencing critical voices on matters of public interest. Organised on the sixth anniversary of the murder of the Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the first public event of the CASE Italia working group aims at examining the impact of the SLAPP phenomenon in Italy, contextualise it in the European landscape, and offer recommendations so that journalists, activists, lawyers, and citizens can counter it.

The meeting is organised in two sessions. The first panel offers the chance to hear from journalists and activists targeted by SLAPP about their personal and professional experiences. The second panel is centred around a debate among a number of experts, such as media professionals, lawyers and activists, who will discuss specificities of the Italian context and the continuity with the broader European panorama, as well as possible proposals aimed at contrasting SLAPPs and at strengthening the European anti-SLAPP transnational network.

The event will take place in Italian. 

 

Programme

14:30 – 14: 45 Registration

14:45 – 15:00 Introduction: Sielke Beata Kelner – Researcher and advocacy officer OBCT

15:00 – 16: 30 Panel: SLAPPs: voices and experiences from the field

 

Speakers:

Francesco Zambon – Whistleblower

Nello Trocchia – Domani journalist

Sara Manisera – Freelance journalist

Antonio Tricarico – Public and corporate finance campaigner ReCommon

Cecilia Anesi – Editor and co-founder IrpiMedia

Antonella Napoli – Freelance journalist

Moderator: Martina Turola – Head of Communication The Good Lobby Italia

16:30 – 17:00 Coffee break

17:00 – 18: 30 Roundtable: Countering SLAPPs: What can Italian civil society do to strengthen the transnational network?

Speakers:

Vittorio di Trapani – FNSI president

Linda Ravo – Liberties – Liberties lawyer and activist

Virginia Ripa di Meana – lawyer

Giulio Vasaturo – Articolo 21 lawyer

Marino Bisso – Rete No Bavaglio journalist

Moderator: Graziella Di Mambro – Articolo 21 journalist

18:30 – 18:45 Closing remarks: Roberta Taveri – Media Freedom Senior Programme Officer ARTICLE 19 Europe

Address: Industrie Fluviali – Via del Porto Fluviale, 35, Rome, Italy 
Date: October 16, 2023 from 14:30 to 19:00 

Participation to the event is free, but registration is required by October 14, 2023 via this link  . The event will be live streamed via OBCT YouTube channel  .

Through the initiative of Articolo 21  , the meeting is approved as part of the professional training courses directed to Italian journalists. For the recognition of credits, members of the Ordine dei Giornalisti must register on the dedicated platform  .

This first CASE Italia event is co-organised by Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa and ARTICLE 19 Europe   in the framework of the Media Freedom Rapid Response  – MFRR project with the support of the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe  – CASE.

 

CASE Italia

CASE Italia is an informal working group established in 2020, whose work is coordinated by Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa. The working group supports CASE in countering SLAPPs in Europe. In support of journalists, activists, whistleblowers, human rights defenders and others targeted by SLAPPs, our efforts are directed at exposing legal harassment and intimidation, and protecting the rights of those who speak out on matters of public interest. CASE Italia members are: Amnesty International Italia, ARTICLE 19 Europe, Articolo 21, Certi Diritti, Environmental Paper Network, Greenpeace Italia, Meglio Legale, OBC Transeuropa, The Good Lobby Italia, Transparency International Italia.

 

Contacts:

resourcecentre@balcanicaucaso.org

kelner@balcanicaucaso.org

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Greece: Decisive action needed to protect journalists and salvage…

Murdered, surveilled and sued: decisive action needed to protect journalists and salvage press freedom in Greece 

Greek journalism is under sustained threat from the impact of the surveillance scandal “Predatorgate”, the unresolved killing of a reporter, abusive legal action and  economic and political pressures. Following a mission to Athens, eight international organisations today call on the Government and Prime Minister to show political courage and urgently take specific measures aimed at improving the climate for independent journalism and salvaging press freedom.

Although Europe has been shaken by the revelations about the targeting of Greek media professionals with spyware and the 2021 killing of veteran crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz, the domestic authorities – though verbally supportive of the European Union’s action in favour of press freedom – have done little to remedy the problems. Following the recent parliamentary elections and nomination of the new Government, our organisations conducted a joint mission to Athens to analyse the underlying reasons for the recent erosion of media freedom and examine the possible opportunities for improvement. Between 25 and 27 September 2023, they met a variety of media with the broadest possible range of editorial lines, officials of several state bodies, and civil society stakeholders. 

 

The delegation was composed of the six members 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) – joined by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

 

The mission identifies four significant systemic challenges for press freedom in Greece, which when combined contribute to distrust between the journalists and the Government and a toxic and dangerous environment for critical and independent reporting: arbitrary surveillance, threats to the safety of journalists, abusive lawsuits as well as economic and political pressures. Taking specific measures proposed by the delegation and complying with European standards will allow the Government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to make a clear demonstration of political commitment to improve press freedom in Greece and renew the trust of the media community. 

 

Provide guarantees against and punish arbitrary surveillance

Between 2020 and 2022, a number of journalists and media owners were subjected to wiretapping by the National Intelligence Service (EYP), which is controlled by the Office of the Prime Minister, under the pretext of protecting national security. Some also faced illegal surveillance with the powerful Predator spyware. Although numerous complaints were filed, justice has not yet been served for these serious cases of violation of individual privacy and of confidentiality of journalistic sources, a cornerstone of press freedom. Despite our alerts and specific proposals, the legislation regulating surveillance has undergone only cosmetic changes or changes designed to let the government off the hook. In line with the European Parliament’s recommendations and the extensive case law of the European Court of Human Rights, we ask: 

 

  • The Government and Parliament to urgently adopt amendments to the legislation, which will oblige competent prosecutors to provide a justification for any surveillance undertaken in the interest of national security that allows for proper scrutiny of its legality and proportionality, set up independent and effective judicial oversight o, allow for effective access to information by persons targeted with surveillance by removing the arbitrary three-year time limit and reinstating the sole responsibility of the Hellenic Authority for Communication Security and Privacy (ADAE), and establish specific safeguards for journalists;
  • The Government to quickly propose and the Greek President to adopt the decree – as stipulated in the law – regulating the use of spyware by the state, while applying the above-mentioned safeguards;
  • The Greek justice system to bring justice for the illegitimate and illegal spying on media professionals in a swift, independent and transparent manner, using the evidence provided by the journalists’ investigations and treating the specific cases as a felony (rather than as a misdemeanor which expires after five years).
  • The Government and Parliament to refrain from taking any steps that weaken the functional independence of the ADAE and ensure the body is free to carry out its mandate to investigate wiretapping without political pressures

 

Take enforceable action against impunity for crimes against journalists 

With the unsolved murder of crime reporter Giorgios Karaivaz as the gravest example, this mission finds that attacking a journalist in Greece continues to go unpunished in virtually all cases. We welcome the arrest in April 2023 of two suspected assassins in connection with the murder of Karaivaz, however, the case remains in a state of impunity as middlemen and masterminds have not been apprehended and no convictions have been secured. This delay in securing justice sends a worrying signal that impunity for the murder of journalists is tolerated. Other investigations of serious physical attacks on journalists have followed a similar course, such as the 2010 murder of Sokratis Giolias and the eleven physical attacks on media houses and journalists’ homes since 2019. Two further recent acts of violence and hostility against journalists Giorgos Papachristos (Ta Nea) and Kostas Vaxevanis (Documento), underline the need for urgent action.

 

After meetings with various Government officials, we conclude that no concrete measures have been taken to expedite justice. Complete data on attacks against journalists is not publicly available and no specific protocol for investigations of crimes against journalists appears to be in place. The establishment of the Task Force for the protection of journalists is a step in the right direction, but it requires sufficient resources, a timeline and the political backing required to be effective. Information on why investigations of these cases are not leading to convictions remains with individual prosecutors, and oversight authorities have not prioritised this issue. 

 

In line with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission’s Recommendation on the Safety of Journalists, we ask:

 

  • The Public Prosecutor to dedicate additional resources to and actively collaborate with international bodies such as Europol in the case of the murder of Giorgios Karaivaz;
  • The Parliament and Government, especially the Ministry of Civil Protection and Justice, to prioritise and commit to prompt, effective and independent investigations of crimes against journalists by dedicating additional resources and staff to these cases, recognising their special nature and impact on the public sphere;
  • The Prosecutor of the Supreme Court to commission an independent evaluation of all unresolved cases of attacks against journalists, including cases involving police violence, the conclusions of which should be publicised; 
  • The newly established spokesperson of the Prosecutor of the Supreme Court to take a leading role in the regular dissemination of information about investigations to restore faith in the commitment to justice and ensure greater transparency about ongoing investigations, in particular towards the victims and their families;
  • The Task Force to prioritise the establishment of a monitoring platform in which all attacks, including digital attacks and threats, are recorded and followed. 

 

Abusive litigation, including Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs)

 

When journalists in Greece report critically on powerful business and political interests, the possibility of facing abusive or frivolous legal action looms over them. During the mission, we heard from several journalists who face Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) and other abusive litigation from politicians and business owners who accuse reporters of defamation or the infraction of other laws including GDPR for their reporting on political affairs, environmental crimes, corruption and other matters in the public interest. 

 

This weaponised abuse of the civil and criminal legal system serves not to seek proportionate legal redress but rather to silence critical voices, tying up financial and human resources as reporters and newsrooms must spend an inordinate amount of time in court to defend against baseless accusations. Especially for smaller outlets and freelance journalists, SLAPPs pose an existential threat as often the compensation demanded greatly exceeds their resources, which further exacerbates their intended chilling effect beyond the targeted journalist.

 

We ask:

 

Media independence and pluralism

Undercutting these issues, the Greek media ecosystem continues to suffer from multiple long-term and systemic challenges that negatively affect the landscape for independent journalism and press freedom. Many of these issues can be traced to the country’s prolonged financial and economic crisis, which severely weakened the media market and deepened the toxic entanglement of media with vested political and business interests. While the media market remains densely populated, political polarisation is deeply ingrained and media pluralism is weak. Ownership of major print and television channels by familial dynasties and shipping magnates, many of whom have political connections and cross-ownership interests in industries dependent on state contracts, exposes these media to potential conflicts of interest and weakens their editorial independence. As a result, although direct acts of censorship are rare, self-censorship is rife within the journalistic profession and certain topics are widely understood to be off-limits. The economic precariousness of journalists in Greece caused by low wages and weak industry protections leaves media professionals more vulnerable to editorial pressures. Economic weaknesses in the media market likewise expose Greek media to capture by vested interests.

While several regulatory and legal reforms have been implemented by the Government in the last few years to try and address these issues, so far their impact remains unclear. Positive changes include the new Registry for Print Media (MET) and Registry for Electronic Press (MHT), which aim to improve the transparency of media ownership, including beneficial ownership. Under a new system, media not registered in these bodies are not eligible to benefit from state advertising. The Ethics Committee and the Directorate for Media Oversight likewise represent a new approach, which will hopefully have a positive impact on improving media ethics. Greater transparency over the allocation of state funding to media is also essential. However, the direct oversight of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) and the Athens-Macedonian News Agency by the office of the Prime Minister continue to pose questions over the independence of both public media bodies, despite ostensible safeguards. The independence and competence of the National Council for Radio and Television (NCRTV) regulator remains in doubt.

While the country benefits from a small but highly professional group of independent and investigative media publishing vital public interest journalism, these titles remain isolated on the fringes of the media landscape and lack systemic support. The combination of these many challenges means Greek journalism faces a crisis of credibility, being one of the EU countries with the lowest level of trust in media by citizens. The challenges of pluralism and media independence are among the most complex to address and any positive developments in Greece will require action and responsibility from journalists and media, backed by unions, supported by strong political will from the Government.

To begin this process the Government should:

  • Take concrete steps to better regulate the fair and non-discriminatory allocation of state advertising to media in a transparent manner and based on strict and publicly available criteria;
  • Enforce the full implementation of the transparency of media ownership in Greece in an accessible and regularly updated ownership registry for all forms of media, including beneficial ownership;
  • In consultation with media stakeholders, develop reforms aimed at safeguarding independent journalism in line with provisions outlined in the proposed European Media Freedom Act (EMFA).

The media community should:

  • Support the pending establishment of an independent self-regulatory Media Council to enhance adherence to journalistic ethics, ensuring that the composition of this body is pluralistic and representative;
  • In media owned by wealthy and politically connected commercial interests, particularly in legacy broadcast and print media, journalists and editors should establish strict internal safeguards to prevent all forms of interference of owners and other politics and business interests, while also protecting editorial independence and journalistic freedoms and discouraging self-censorship.

Journalist unions and associations should:

  • Enhance cooperation to fight for the rights and freedoms of journalists, as well as collective agreements to improve working conditions and labour rights of all media workers;
  • Continue to support and contribute to the work of the government Task Force, while also pushing the body to be more ambitious in its approach to strengthening the safety of journalists and improving the broader situation for media freedom.

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A detailed report with expanded recommendations will be published in the upcoming weeks, in both Greek and English, and will be shared with domestic stakeholders and European institutions.

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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