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Turkey: Annual international press freedom mission to Ankara, Diyarbakır…

Turkey: Annual international press freedom mission to Ankara, Diyarbakır and Istanbul

Between 2 and 5 October 2023, five international media freedom organisations will conduct an annual joint press freedom mission to Ankara, Diyarbakır and Istanbul. The mission will focus on the state of media freedom, the challenges experienced by journalists, media workers and the media landscape in general in the aftermath of devastating earthquakes, and the parliamentary and presidential elections this year.

The mission will start with a series of meetings with representatives of different political parties, the media regulator RTÜK, the Constitutional Court, journalism and media associations, and international mission representatives. As part of the mission, the delegation will also monitor the first hearing of Tele1 TV director Merdan Yanardağ in Istanbul who has been in prison since 27 June. On the last day of the mission, simultaneous press conferences will be held in Istanbul and Diyarbakır.

 

The mission will be led by the International Press Institute (IPI) as part of its #FreeTurkeyJournalists campaign and the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), and will be joined by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT), as well as the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).


During the visit, the delegation will meet with leading media professionals, political officials, state representatives, international diplomatic missions, and other relevant stakeholders in the country. As part of the annual press freedom mission, the delegation confirms the long-standing commitment of the participating organisations to improving press freedom in the country. The delegation will examine the problems experienced by journalists and media workers in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes in February 2023, as well as during the election period in the spring, threats to the safety of journalists and media pluralism, and legal safeguards.


On 5 October, the delegation will hold simultaneous press conferences in Diyarbakır and Istanbul to present initial observations and recommendations. A detailed mission report will be published by the end of the year.

This mission was coordinated as part of IPI’s #FreeTurkeyJournalists campaign and in cooperation with Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) partners. The MFRR is 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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Ariane Lavrilleux Library

France: IPI condemns arrest of investigative journalist Ariane Lavrilleux

France: IPI condemns arrest of investigative journalist Ariane Lavrilleux

Journalist for Disclose detained for alleged violation of national security secrets.

The International Press Institute (IPI) today condemns the arrest and interrogation of French journalist Ariane Lavrilleux and demands her immediate release from custody. IPI further calls on French law enforcement authorities to ensure full respect for international media freedom standards on source protection.

 

Lavrilleux, a journalist with French non-profit investigative platform Disclose was taken into custody on Tuesday 19 September after a dawn raid on her home by officers from the domestic intelligence agency, the DGSI. Her apartment was searched and her computer was confiscated, in the presence of a judge, according to media reports.

 

The journalist was taken to the DGSI headquarters in Marseille and questioned for several hours in the presence of her lawyer as part of an investigation into the publication of highly confidential documents in the investigative series, the “Egypt Papers”. She remained in custody overnight and into Wednesday 20 September.

 

In November 2021, Lavrilleux had co-authored and published the Egypt Papers, an investigative series based on hundreds of leaked documents which revealed how information gathered by French counter-intelligence bodies was abused by the Egyptian military to carry out a campaign of bombings and arbitrary killings of alleged smugglers and innocent civilians.

 

At the time, Disclose had issued a statement justifying its decision to publish the confidential information, citing the evidence of the French state’s potential complicity in serious human rights abuses committed by a foreign regime, and the public’s right to know about such matters of public interest.

 

In July 2022, prosecutors in Paris opened an investigation that was later handed over to the DGSI. They alleged the publication had compromised national defence secrets and revealed information that could lead to the identification of a protected agent. It is unclear whether any intelligence official was compromised.

 

“IPI is highly alarmed by the continued detention and interrogation of Ariane Lavrilleux and urges the General Directorate for Internal Security to proceed with extreme caution and full respect for French law and international legal standards regarding journalistic source protection”, IPI Executive Director Frane Maroevic said. “Any charges against Lavrilleux must be dropped immediately and all pressure on Disclose and its journalists related to their investigative work must cease.

 

“The arrest of an investigative journalist is extremely serious, as it has major ramifications for press freedom”, he added. “Journalists’ right to protect their sources is enshrined in national and international law as it essential for journalists to expose wrongdoing and hold power to account. The public interest defense of revealing the information published in Disclose’s investigative reporting on the Egyptian military is clear. IPI and our global network stand behind Lavrilleux and her colleagues at Disclose and will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

 

The arrest of Lavrilleux is believed to be the first time since 2007 that the home of a French journalist had been searched by police.

 

In a statement released immediately after the arrest, Disclose said: “The aim of this latest episode of unacceptable intimidation of Disclose journalists is clear: to identify our sources that revealed the Sirli military operation in Egypt. In November 2021, Disclose revealed an alleged campaign of arbitrary executions orchestrated by the Egyptian dictatorship of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, with the complicity of the French state, based on several hundred documents marked ‘defence – confidential”.

 

Maroevic added that IPI had been in contact with staff at Disclose after the arrest and has offered to help provide legal support through the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a European consortium which offers legal aid. He noted that the arrest was the latest in a number of worrying incidents involving the interrogation of journalists from Disclose in relation to their reporting on the Egyptian government, and its sources for those stories.

This statement was 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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Library

Surveillance: after Pegasus and Predator, the EU is (slowly)…

While the European Parliament’s Commission enquires on the various states where surveillance technologies have been commercialised despite the bans, the emphasis remains on civil society and digital security.

 

Interview with Lorenzo Bagnoli of IrpiMedia by Paola Rosà

The new technological scenarios entail unprecedented challenges, like the Pegasus case with dozens of journalists, activists, and human rights defenders subjected to surveillance and wiretaps. The EU has responded with the Commission of Inquiry of the European Parliament on the amendments and the regulation on the export of civil and military dual-use technologies. The European Data Protection Authority (EDPS) itself was unequivocal in its analysis    published on 15 February 2022: it is not just about the right to privacy and the violation of privacy – fundamental freedoms as well as democracy and the rule of law are also at stake. For this reason, the Authority had recalled, “the entire system of safeguarding our fundamental rights and freedoms must be rethought, because they are endangered by these instruments”. The measures suggested by the EDPS include some changes to the export regulation, so as to “condition the export of technologies suitable for digital surveillance on respect for fundamental rights and privacy”.

 

Now that several months have passed since those concerned declarations, now that the regulations and reports have been published, many doubts remain about the actual guarantees and protections, while the intra-European surveillance market appears to thrive, which an investigation by IrpiMedia   defines “a black hole”.

 

We talk about it with Lorenzo Bagnoli, senior reporter and editor at IrpiMedia.
What is the focus of your research?

The global surveillance industry. One of our objectives is to understand how the relationship between countries producing and importing surveillance technologies works and to analyse money flows, to look for those who finances this world.

 

IrpiMedia is an independent, non-profit transnational investigative journalism outlet that covers organised crime, corruption, environment, migration, and justice. How did surveillance enter into the picture?

It has always been a topic of interest, for me even as a freelancer before the foundation of IrpiMedia. It is a pivotal theme on which in the past the collaborative approach that distinguishes our work has been lacking. Our #Sorveglianze   series was born from the collaboration with Privacy International, a British organisation that deals with advocacy on the topic, with which we try to identify the most interesting threads.

 

When looking for a definition of “surveillance system”, what should we think about?

The mass surveillance system is a political and technological infrastructure that a state sets up with the ideal aim of building a safer society through the use of technological tools. In fact, the technological tools used are so invasive that in some cases they damage digital rights, especially among the poorest segments of the population. Those who produce technologies that power surveillance systems have the power to influence the decisions of a nation state.

 

The alarm was also raised at the European Union level, especially for some countries such as Hungary, Poland, and Cyprus.

We must thank the European Parliament and the Commission of Inquiry established in March 2022. Compared to the past, there are parliamentary groups that are more aware of how mass surveillance can arbitrarily target minorities and oppositions. However, I don’t think there is consensus in European fora to consider the spread of these technologies “alarming”. The presence of Cyprus among the problem countries according to the monitoring of the PEGA Committee is not too surprising, for historical and geographical reasons.

 

For this reason, at a certain point IrpiMedia also dealt with Cyprus.

Our interest in Cyprus was only due to the sale of Predator and the role the country played as a broker for Israeli technology in Greece. In general, in terms of public attention, since 2019 the spotlight has certainly been on Cyprus after the founder of Intellexa himself – the company involved in the scandal in Greece – had shown in an interview   one of his own vans sold by a company of the group full of surveillance technologies.

 

Business deals passing through Cyprus bypassing the bans have since emerged.

Since at least 2015, around the time of the HackingTeam leak, it has been clear that there is a problem in the functioning of the licensing system for surveillance technologies such as spyware. In the case of Cyprus and the Predator case, the problem is the use of specific technology and the manufacturer NSO. NSO must comply with the export authorisation granted by the Defense Exports Control Agency (DECA) of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, but if the technology is exported by a company owned by NSO but registered in a country like Cyprus then it can create a hole in the control network. Cyprus can apply looser control to exports and, since exports between EU countries are less strictly regulated, at that point the intra-European resale system is the problem. Furthermore, Cyprus is a border country, which manages to use its position to act as a bridge between the EU and the Eastern Mediterranean.

 

Last January, the Commission of Inquiry produced a recommendation in which it condemns any export of these technologies to countries where human rights are violated and, noting that some abuses have been committed by Cyprus, calls on the government to provide a precise list of all export permits, revoking inappropriate ones, and to collaborate with Europol on alleged cases of spyware use against journalists, lawyers, and members of civil society. But Cyprus is not an isolated case, and the Commission reiterates that in other member states too there is “the presence of a thriving spyware industry which takes advantage of the good reputation, the single market and freedom of movement in the EU, allowing states such as Cyprus and Bulgaria to become clearinghouses for spyware to non-democratic regimes around the world”. The reality is therefore known. Are the solutions only legal or can there be other tools?

It is necessary to put in place a strategy to strengthen the cybersecurity of digital devices, providing both economic support to device manufacturing companies and including new obligations, such as extending security updates to older devices that would otherwise remain vulnerable.

Furthermore, a simplification of access to device analysis could be envisaged, in order to collect telemetry information useful for verifying infections. Until now this activity has been carried out almost exclusively by civil society organisations, let’s think about tools like the one developed by Amnesty Tech  , which are very useful because they also allow those without high IT knowledge to carry out a preliminary analysis of a device and understand if there is any trace of infection.

Regulation, however, remains an important point: even just thinking about creating a public list of companies that sell surveillance technologies could be a step forward. At this moment journalists and associations are trying to put together a puzzle whose dimensions and number of pieces are unknown: we are walking in the dark, waiting to discover the name of yet another new company.

 

Is there something that public opinion could do at European level?

If we think about the behaviour of some member countries during the PEGA Commission’s investigation into the use of spyware such as Pegasus, we realise how some did not want to cooperate and respond to the Commission’s requests. In some cases they even almost sabotaged the works, like Spain with the case linked to Catalonia or Greece. Public opinion could put pressure to ensure that, in the next European elections in 2024, MEPs are much more aware of the risks of these technologies and have a much more incisive approach, also starting from the results of the report and recommendations of the PEGA Commission. Furthermore, public opinion could also ask for greater transparency from their governments regarding data on exports of these technologies: the European Commission collects data on exports but only publishes aggregate data without detailing the activities of each individual member state. States, in turn, barricade themselves behind this fiction of transparency to deny access to any data.

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 Watergate Library

Greece: Refugee reporting in times of surveillance

Greece: Refugee reporting in times of surveillance

It could be the plot of a psychological thriller movie. It’s the true story of a young investigative journalist, Stavros Malichudis, who unintentionally became one of the protagonists of the Greek Watergate. His reports, awarded with many international prizes, told the stories of refugees in Greece.

 

By Mary Dosopoulos

Originally published by OBCT . Available also in ITA.

There is a new generation of Greek journalists, whose voice stands for a healthy form of active citizenship and human rights-oriented political participation. For them, reporting on topics that have been considered controversial or too ‘sensitive’ for the Greek state, such as refugees or corruption, has been quite challenging. Stavros Malichudis, a reporter covering migration, is one of the journalists who had reportedly been targeted with spyware for investigating the living conditions of a young Syrian boy detained on a Greek island. One year after a hearing organized by the European Parliament’s investigative committee and despite international pressure to proceed with investigations, little has been done at a national level.

 

Refugee reporting: a brief chronicle of a scandal

It could have been the scenario of a psychological thriller movie. It is an ordinary Saturday, in November 2021. A young journalist, Stavros Malichudis, is scrolling through his Facebook feed, when an interesting title catches his eye: ‘Citizens under surveillance by the National Intelligence Services’. The article, published by a leftist cooperative media outlet called EFSYN (Efimerida ton Syntakton, lit. ‘Newspaper of the Editors’) describes a dystopic landscape for freedom of expression in Greece, claiming that EYP (the Hellenic Intelligence Service) has been monitoring the activity of people engaged into two controversial topics: Refugees and Pandemic denial. Alluding to the ‘Stone Years’, when the government would hold files on citizens based on their ‘ideological status’, the writer reveals, among others, how the secret services had been following every single step of a reporter researching the story of a young refugee boy on a Greek island. It doesn’t take long for Stavros to understand that the article is about him.

This is how journalist Stavros Malichudis unintentionally became one of the protagonists of the Greek Watergate, a wiretapping scandal referring to the prolonged monitoring of the mobile phones of politicians and investigative reporters. While the spying scandal was unfolding, Malichudis was nominated together with Iliana Papangeli for a major European journalism award for their project documenting the stories of unaccompanied minors in Moria’s refugee camp. In 2022, they won the IJ4EU Impact Award  . In the same year, the annual World Press Freedom Index classified Greece as the lowest-ranked EU member for press freedom.

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) stood since the beginning in solidarity with Malichudis and the journalistic team at Solomon and issued a statement urging the European Commission and European Parliament to seek immediate responses from the Greek government. In light of these serious developments, in September, 8, 2022, the PEGA committee of the European Parliament organized a hearing on the ‘Use of spyware in Greece’, where Malichudis attended as one of the victims of wire-tapping, together with Thanasis Koukakis, journalist targeted with Predator and Eliza Triantafillou, investigative journalist with the Inside story. One month later, the MFRR partner organisations would publicly support ‘the calls for the testing of mobile devices belonging to journalists in Greece who suspect they may have been targets of intrusive spyware or other advanced surveillance’.

Despite the outcry by foreign media outlets, as well as local left-leaning platforms, the dominant media in Greece kept a distance from the scandal, focusing mainly on the cases of politicians under surveillance and often illustrating the story as a complex game of political rivalry. There were also cases of popular media outlets documenting the story, yet highlighting fragmented aspects of it, creating thus, a different impression. The title of an article published in capital.gr in November, 4, 2022, is indicative of this tendency: ‘PEGA Commission: no proof of spyware use was found, but the complaints should be investigated in detail’.

The dominant tv channels of the country were certainly not interested in hearing what the affected reporters had to say, not to mention what their research findings were, despite them gaining international appraisal and recognition. ‘Even until today, I have never been invited to the news to talk about my work’, said Malichudis, interviewed for the OBCT in March 2023. ‘I have talked to the national radio stations of other countries, but not in my own. In Greece, the political reportage has gone extinct’.

 

One year later: Slow progress, low hope

After more than a year of vigorous investigations, in May, 8, 2023, PEGA adopted its final report and recommendation, introducing an EU-wide regulatory framework and a condition-based moratorium for the use of spyware. One month later, in June, 14, 2023, the Committee published a press release, calling for the conduction of full and credible investigations on the topic and also, for the adoption of institutional and legal safeguards to prevent abuse. The communique mentioned that ‘spyware should only be allowed in exceptional cases and for limited time’, while it also involved targeted recommendations to Greece and Cyprus. MEPs stressed that the illicit surveillance has put ‘democracy itself at stake’ and that ‘when used wrongly by governments, spyware is a huge risk to the rule of law and fundamental rights’. To help uncover and address such phenomena, Parliament proposed the creation of an EU Tech Lab, an independent research institute that would be mandated to investigate surveillance and provide technological support.

The news of these EU-related initiatives barely reached the Greek audience, as they were overshadowed by the deadly shipwreck of a boat carrying refugees that took place in the early hours of the first day, near Pylos; one of the worst accidents in its kind ever recorded in the Mediterranean sea. This dramatic incident triggered a wave of critical questions coming from independent local media regarding the government’s management of the tragedy and its stance towards refugees, overall. The shipwreck would mark the beginning of a turbulent summer for Greece. In the past two months, the country has been tormented by wildfires and deadly floodings; in this context, the focus of national media has been on extreme weather phenomena and alleviation measures for the struggling population. Once again, the government’s response has been heavily criticized by a small part of the media, who have not attributed this catastrophe primarily on climate change, but rather on lack of preparedness, disorganization and mismanagement. These opinions have been circulated mainly on the social media.

 

Personal implications for reporters and trauma

Looking at the wider picture, PEGA-led developments are certainly positive; at the same time, however, recommendations are vague and leave an open door for ‘exceptional cases’, meaning that governments will still be able to rely on loopholes to justify surveillance of citizens. It could be argued that the Committee has missed the opportunity to voice a strong message against practices that undermine media freedom in its member states, downsizing at the same time, the impact that such practices can have on reporters’ well-being, social circle and career.

Refugee reporting is a controversial issue in Greece. While investigative reporters’ mission is to document and shed light on the turbulences experienced by migrants, legal or not, research findings are limited when it comes to understanding and assessing the implications that this procedure as a whole has on reporters’ wellbeing, starting with the process per se of on-the-ground critical covering on refugee trauma to the implications of getting spied upon. Malichudis shares the impact that the surveillance scandal had on him both as a person and as a professional: “In the beginning, I would be scared to even touch my phone. My main fear was unwillingly putting friends or colleagues on the spotlight. I didn’t know why I had become a target, what these people wanted from me and what their intentions were; this made me feel unsafe and often suspicious. With time, I managed to distance myself from this situation. I understood that it wasn’t personal”. Becoming conscious of how vulnerable one can be to surveillance – or even physical attacks (as in the recent case of Kostas Vaxevanis) – might also have practical implications for one’s daily working routine: Adjusting one’s working space/offices to become less visible and less approachable or learning to work in smaller and more flexible teams are some of the ‘remedies’ that Malichudis and his team have resorted to.

Reporters in Greece, especially the young ones, continue being underpaid and relying on short-term contracts; furthermore, they are frequently reminded that there are some topics that simply should not be researched and some sectors that are meant to be untouched, such as the banking or the shipping sector in Greece. The fact that the biggest media outlets in the country are donor-dependent implies that one should not investigate anything exposing the donor and jeopardizing their interests. In this framework, there is a significant part of independent investigative journalists from Greece, in their majority young, who have chosen to report for foreign media only, driven both by financial reasons, but also by the fact that they enjoy more freedom. In an article written for the New York Times, Lauren Markham and Lydia Emmanouilidou share that ‘any journalist who covers refugee arrivals to the Aegean Islands or the Evros land border with Turkey risks arrest’.

Nevertheless, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Recent survey findings conducted in Greece speak of a gradual shift in public opinion regarding the credibility of information served en masse by the popular local media: For instance, according to the 2023 Digital News Report of the Reuters Institute, recently published in Kathimerini, there is growing mistrust among Greeks towards the ‘social media of well-established news platforms’ and the so-called ‘popular’ or ‘dominant’ news.  Malichudis believes that the spyware scandal has helped restore the negative public image of journalists, by debunking the narrative of journalists as pawns of each ruling party. ‘The Greek audience is becoming aware’, says Malichudis. ‘Due to the scandal and all the discussions that it triggered, they are starting to understand that some journalists are, in fact, OK. This is why they are looking for alternative forms of media to access more reliable information. I believe that eventually, people will save Greek journalism’.

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

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Cyprus: Call for thorough investigations into surveillance of Makarios…

Cyprus: Call for thorough investigations into surveillance of Makarios Drousiotis

We are highly concerned about the alleged surveillance of journalist Makarios Drousiotis, and the lack of prompt, adequate or thorough investigation of the matter.

To:

Office of the Attorney General of the Republic of Cyprus, George L. Savvides

Minister of Justice and Public Order, Anna Koukkides Procopiou

Chief of Police, Stylianos Papatheodorou

 

19 September 2023

 

Re: the alleged surveillance of Makarios Drousiotis and the lack of adequate investigations into the matter

 

Dear Mr Savvides, Ms Koukkides Procopiou and Mr Papatheodorou,

 

We, the undersigned international media freedom organisations and journalists’ associations, are highly concerned about the alleged surveillance of journalist Makarios Drousiotis, and the fact that there has not been a prompt, adequate or thorough investigation of the matter. As the responsible authorities, we call on you to act at last and ensure a proper investigation and prosecution of those responsible for any wrongdoing.

 

In recent years, Drousiotis, a well-known and widely-read investigative journalist, has published a series of books in which he has documented corruption in the Cypriot Government. Starting in February 2018, Drousiotis was allegedly spied on by the Cypriot Government using both eavesdropping techniques and spyware, as documented in the Report of the European Parliament on the use of Pegasus and equivalent surveillance software. At the time, Drousiotis was assistant to the Cypriot EU Commissioner Christos Stylianides. In parallel, he also investigated financial connections between the then-President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, and Russian oligarchs.

 

Amidst revelations in the media about NSO Group operating from Cyprus and suspicions voiced by CitizenLab that the country used NSO technologies, Drousiotis noticed several indications of possible infiltration of his phone with Pegasus spyware. These included a suspicious missed WhatsApp call, rapid battery depletion, and frequent overheating of his device while he was not using it. In the following months, Drousiotis faced several intimidation attempts, including the disconnection of security cameras at his home and being followed by unknown persons.

 

After going public with his story and filing a complaint with the Cypriot police, Drousiotis contacted a private security expert who – unbeknownst to Drousiotis – also appears to cooperate on various projects with the Cypriot Government. The expert installed software on Drousiotis’s computer, which, without his consent, allowed remote access to all archives and data stored on the machine. These included sensitive information identifying Drousiotis’s sources, who had wished to remain anonymous.

 

Despite repeated requests to the Cypriot police, no progress in the investigation of the breach has been reported. A forensic lab in the Netherlands, which was provided with the same information that was shared with the police, has independently documented the security breach, which Drousiotis described in his book Mafia State: How the Gang Abolished the Rule of Law in Cyprus, published in September 2022.

 

It is wholly unacceptable that despite complaints to the authorities and repeated follow-ups by Drousiotis and his representatives, there has been no progress in the investigation and prosecution of these grave allegations. Intimidation, harassment and surreptitious surveillance of investigative reporters undermine their watchdog role and the protection of their journalistic sources, which are essential in a functioning democracy.

 

We call on you to step up and finally take the appropriate investigative measures and prosecutorial action. While respecting the confidentiality of the investigation, we also ask you to respect its basic transparency and duly inform the journalist and the public about the results. We stand in solidarity with Drousiotis and will continue to follow the case closely.

 

Sincerely,

ARTICLE 19 Europe

Association of European Journalists (AEJ)

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

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

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MFRR mission to Greece Library

Greece: International press freedom mission to Athens

Greece: International press freedom mission to Athens

Between 25 and 27 September 2023, eight international press freedom and freedom of expression organisations will conduct a joint advocacy and fact-finding mission to Athens. Following the parliamentary elections and nomination of the new government, the delegation will examine the challenges to media freedom, pluralism and independence in Greece and the impact of measures taken by the authorities to address them.

Between 25 and 27 September 2023, eight international press freedom and freedom of expression organisations will conduct a joint advocacy and fact-finding mission to Athens. Following the parliamentary elections and nomination of the new government, the delegation will examine the challenges to media freedom, pluralism and independence in Greece and the impact of measures taken by the authorities to address them.

 

The delegation will consist of representatives of the partners in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), namely 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). Representatives of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) join the mission.

 

During the visit, the delegation will meet with leading media professionals, political officials, state representatives and other important stakeholders. A follow-up to last year’s MFRR online fact-finding mission to Greece, the mission confirms the long-standing commitment of the participating organisations to improving press freedom in the country. It will examine threats to the safety of journalists, impunity of crimes committed against them, surveillance, risks to media pluralism, and legal threats, including Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). 

 

On 27 September, the delegation will hold a press conference in Athens to present initial observations and recommendations. A detailed mission report will be published in autumn.

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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MFRR fact-finding mission Poland Library

Polish media grapple with unprecedented challenges and uncertain future…

Polish media grapple with unprecedented challenges and uncertain future as the country faces electoral crossroads

At the conclusion of their press freedom mission to Warsaw from 11-13 September, partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) declared that the media and journalists in Poland are facing unprecedented challenges including legal threats, financial precarity, political pressure, regulatory capture and growing polarisation.

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), met with editors, journalists, regulators, civil society groups, lawyers, the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ministry of Culture to hear directly about the conditions under which media are currently operating in the build up to the parliamentary elections due on 15 October.  

Poland has long enjoyed one of the most robust and pluralistic media markets in central and eastern Europe, however in recent years Poland has witnessed intensifying efforts to assert control and influence over large sections of the media. The situation is further exacerbated by the deep polarisation within the media and between journalists.

Within weeks of the 2015 election, the ruling coalition led by the Law and Justice (PiS) party passed a provisional law to dismiss the board and senior management of public service media enabling it to take full control on the information it aired. The Telewizja Polska (TVP) today occupies approximately a third of the broadcast market and enjoys an annual budget of 2.5 billion Zlotys (550 million euros). According to monitoring figures provided by the Polish National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) for the second quarter of 2023, the governing coalition dominates TVP news, enjoying 80% of political coverage, of which 73% is dedicated to PiS. Oppositional political parties meanwhile share the remaining 20% of coverage, which is overwhelmingly negative. 

These figures alone demonstrate how TVP is failing in the fundamental duty of any public broadcaster to provide fair and balanced political coverage between and during elections.

The private broadcast sector has also come under intense pressure through a variety of means to ensure pliable media that are cautious of holding the government to account.

KRRiT, whose composition is controlled by PiS allies, has used its licensing powers to create business uncertainty and intimidate broadcasters such as TVN and RADIO TOK FM.  In the past years, KRRiT has also issued a number of financial penalties against broadcasters for reporting on issues such as the new school history books, questioning the official report into the Smolensk air crash tragedy and child abuse within the catholic church.

Media pluralism was further compromised when the state controlled energy giant PKN Orlen took over the largest regional media company, Polska Press, in 2021 leading to the rapid replacement of most of the editors in chief with journalists from TVP and other pro-PiS media. The purchase has further restricted access to diverse media, particularly in rural areas with limited internet access. 

Local independent media are in an exceptionally precarious situation facing financial and distribution troubles, legal threats and uneven competition against media backed by the local authorities. 

Meanwhile, many private media are denied access to state advertising funds which PiS has weaponised to fund favourable media outlets and undermine independent journalism. The move exacerbates the financial pressures on media, particularly print media, that are still trying to find sustainable income streams to support the transition to digital. 

Polish media are additionally subjected to one of the largest number of vexatious lawsuits, or SLAPPs, in the European Union. Though judicial harassment of journalists is not new, since PiS came to power abusive litigation has become an inherent strategy for weakening critical media. Most SLAPPs are taken by politicians from the governing parties or state companies and public institutions and are therefore financed by public funds. 

The overwhelming majority of commentators met by the mission expressed the 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 situations in Hungary, Turkey or Russia.

The mission will issue its full report in the first week of October.

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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Library

Wiretapping and trojans: The Nordio bill alarms journalists

Wiretapping and trojans: The Nordio bill alarms journalists

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

By Paola Rosà

Originally published by OBCT. Also available in ITA

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

General interest and media excesses

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

 

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

 

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

 

The spectre of Trojans and questions from senators

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Balance between rights and mass surveillance

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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Event

Funding favourable coverage? Big tech’s influence over independent journalism

Funding favourable coverage? Big tech’s influence over independent journalism

11 September, 15:00 CEST.

Through philanthropic funding mechanisms such as the Meta Journalism Project and the Google News Initiative, big tech platforms have extended their reach into the world of journalism and news media. Billed as initiatives to strengthen independent journalism at a time when media sustainability is in crisis, recent research shows that they may have instead fostered a climate of reliance on big tech and provided an opportunity for platforms to reap reputational gain through favourable media coverage from grantees. 

 

This webinar will feature a panel of experts discussing the undue influence of big tech companies over independent media through such mechanisms and their possible impact on press freedom and editorial independence.

Moderator

Mark Dempsey

Senior Advocacy Officer, ARTICLE 19

Speakers

Marius Dragomir

Founding Director of the Media and Journalism Research Centre

Charis Papaevangelou

Postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Information Law of the University of Amsterdam.

Dr. Courtney Radsch

Director of the Center for Journalism and Liberty at the Open Markets Institute

Library

Greece: Swift investigations required after two attacks against journalists

Greece: Swift investigations required after two attacks against journalists

The undersigned journalists’ and media freedom organisations strongly condemn the recent attacks against Greek journalists Giorgos Papachristos and Kostas Vaxevanis and call on the authorities to swiftly investigate the attacks and ensure that those responsible are held accountable.

On 29 August, Giorgos Papachristos, an editorialist and adviser at the centrist daily Ta Nea, was attacked at a football match in Athens. According to the case filed by the journalist, businessman and ship owner Yiannis Karagiorgis, backed by two bodyguards, punched him in the face and head in an unprovoked attack. Karagiorgis also reportedly threatened to kill Papachristos and ordered his associates to “kill him on the spot”. Papachristos was taken to the Sismanoglio hospital for medical examinations and was treated for injuries. The motive behind the attack is not yet established, however Papachristos had written critical reports on Karagiorgis’s business activities.

 

On 26 August, Kostas Vaxevanis, a veteran investigative journalist and publisher of the weekly Documento, was attacked along with his family while dining, on the island of Evia. The attack occurred after an individual entered the restaurant, approached the journalist and began swearing at him aggressively: “You are a spoiled brat, I will sort you out but not now. You bastard for daring to write about me because I have money in Switzerland.” The man continued to insult and threaten Vaxevanis, complaining about a name put “on the Lagarde list”. As the situation escalated, Vaxevanis’s mother-in-law was physically assaulted and required treatment for facial injuries. The man fled the restaurant.

 

As reported on Mapping Media Freedom, Documento journalists conducted research to identify the man and cross-check his name against the Lagarde list, a spreadsheet published by Vaxevanis in 2012, containing around 2,000 potential tax evaders with undeclared accounts at Swiss HSBC bank’s Geneva branch. According to Documento, the attacker was a relative of Michalis Stasinopoulos, one of the richest businessmen in Greece, whose name was included on the list.

 

Vaxevanis is known for his numerous investigations into corruption, for which he has received numerous threats and death threats. In 2021, he was given increased police protection after the Athens Prosecutor’s Office ordered a preliminary investigation into information about a murder contract issued against him.

 

The Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers published statements condemning both attacks. While our organisations welcome the swift statement of condemnation of the attack on Papachristos by the Greek government spokesperson, we note that no similar denunciation was made regarding the attack against Vaxevanis and his family days previously.

 

Our organisations further call on the Greek authorities to swiftly investigate the complaints filed by the two journalists and to bring criminal charges against those responsible. These two cases of violence again underscore the worrying situation for the safety of journalists in Greece, and media freedom more widely.

 

In both cases, the identity of the alleged perpetrators are known to police and the incidents occurred in front of multiple witnesses. Arrests should therefore follow quickly. Those behind these brazen attacks must not be permitted to act with impunity. Our organisations have reported these cases to the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Safety of Journalists and will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Signed by:

  • European Federation of Journalists
  • International Federation of Journalists
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • 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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