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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signed by:

  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • ARTICLE 19 Europe (A19)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

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

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Croatia, the assault on the local press

Croatia, the assault on the local press

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


By Giovanni Vale

Originally published by OBCT. Also available in ITA and BHS

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

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


The latest scandal

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

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

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

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

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


A new relationship between power and the press

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

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

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

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


Media Solutions and the assault on the local press

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

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

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

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

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

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

This content is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. The project is co-funded by the European Commission.

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Poland: MFRR reasserts recommendations for democratic reform for press…

Poland: MFRR reasserts recommendations for democratic reform for press freedom and public media

The undersigned partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today renew their call for democratic and comprehensive reform to Poland’s public broadcasters which creates systematic safeguards to limit the ability of all governments, future and present, to meddle in editorial or institutional independence of the country’s public media.

The MFRR coalition also reaffirms the set of recommendations for steps that can be taken by the new coalition government to improve the wider situation for media freedom and independent journalism in Poland. These recommendations were jointly developed following a recent mission of the MFRR to Warsaw ahead of the election.


Our organisations jointly urge the new Civic Platform-led government to heed the concerns and recommendations of media freedom organisations. We call on political leaders to ensure that all reforms to the media space in Poland – both underway and planned – adhere to democratic values and follow the rule of law.


The call comes amidst an ongoing battle over the future of public broadcaster TVP and Polish Radio. Since coming to power, the new government abruptly dismissed the supervisory bodies of TVP and national news agency PAP and put the public media into liquidation, an unprecedented move which uses a legal loophole to allow the government to continue financing the broadcaster while also making internal changes.


While the new administration has defended the moves as necessary to dismantle the propaganda output of TVP, the former ruling party has criticized the changes as undemocratic and aimed at cementing a new form of political control over the channels.


While the MFRR continues to support much needed reforms by the new coalition government to restore the impartiality, reliability and professionalism of public media in Poland, the means used to do so must be democratic, legal and truly aimed at increasing pluralistic and balanced coverage, prioritizing the public interest over any one political interest.


With a new law on public service media reportedly being developed by the coalition parties, our organizations also call on the new government to conduct a thorough consultative process on any proposed legislative changes, urge that that the concerns of the media community are heeded, and stress that reforms are fully in line with the principles outlined in the European Commission’s European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), particularly regarding guarantees for political independence.


Crucially, any reforms by the new government must not perpetuate the cycle of capture and control that was taken to extremes by the Law and Justice (PiS) party during its years in power and ensure that deep structural changes to the management and regulation of TVP and Polish Radio are undertaken which will put an end to repeated periods of politicization after elections.


Given the importance of regulation of public media in Poland, the new administration must address the National Media Council (NMC), which has been identified as a key instrument created by PiS to wield greater control over TVP. The NMC remains an unconstitutional body dominated by PiS appointees and should be addressed under relevant law.


Democratic changes to address the ongoing crisis at public media in Poland are possible, but must be made with restraint and the utmost respect for the rule of law and democracy. The MFRR therefore reasserts the recommendations regarding the future of the public media that were made jointly by our organisations in September 2023 ahead of the election and calls on the new government to carefully consider and implement them. The full MFRR mission report can be read here.



Public service media

  • Public broadcasting requires a root and branch reform of both the governance structures and financing mechanism to guarantee political independence and the fulfilling of the public service remit. In particular:
  • The appointment process for management and governing bodies must be depoliticised with candidates appointed through transparent, open, and non-discriminatory procedures on the basis of their professional skills and experience with guarantees of political neutrality.
  • PSM funding must be conducted through arms-length decision making ideally through a form of TV licensing to ensure that the funds are free of political interference. Any government supplementary allocation should be taken in transparent decision making, that guarantees stable long-term financing, adequate to fulfil the public service mission.


The MFRR mission made further recommendations on wider improvements to the press freedom landscape in Poland.

Media regulation

Media regulators must be able to operate fully independent of government in line with Article 30 of the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive that demands regulators are legally distinct from government and functionally independent of their respective government. Reform of KRRiT should include:

  • Depoliticising the appointments process to ensure candidates are appointed through transparent, open, and non-discriminatory procedures on the basis of their professional skills and experience with explicit guarantees of political neutrality.
  • Ensuring all processes with respect to licensing and investigations into breaches of the code are subject to clear and transparent procedures and collegiate decision making. Failure to meet those procedures, such as undue delays in licensing decisions, or manifestly politicized investigations, must have clear consequences for those responsible with commensurate compensation provided to the broadcaster affected.
  • All decisions must be duly justified in line with the regulatory powers of the office and broadcast code.
  • All investigations into alleged breaches of the broadcast code must be conducted by the full board and not placed in the hands of the Chair alone. Investigations should follow due process allowing the accused to present its arguments. Decisions should be accompanied by detailed justifications. There should be an appeals process for condemned media including the option to revisit rulings in the courts in line with European standards of free expression.
  • Information should be publicly available on the handling of all complaints received with detailed reports issued at least annually on all decisions with due justification.


Media pluralism

Media pluralism must be ensured through a diverse range of media and owners that operate independently of the state with strong guarantees of editorial independence. Recommended measures include:

  • PKN Orlen should be required to immediately divest its media investments and state-controlled companies, outside of the public media framework, should be barred from owning media.
  • A media plurality test should be developed to measure the impact of transfers of ownership in the media market on pluralism and to guarantee media pluralism.
  • The government must guarantee a level economic playing field for all media and end practices that discriminate against, and create a negative investment climate for, private media operating independent of government.
  • Media should guarantee minimum levels of editorial independence and ethical standards that protect the newsroom from external interference and ensure journalistic integrity.


State support to media

  • The discriminatory use of state resources to manipulate the media market must end.
  • Public funds and state advertising must be distributed according to transparent, objective, proportionate, and non-discriminatory criteria through open, proportionate, and non-discriminatory procedures.
  • Annual reports should be issued on the distribution of all state advertising to media. This should include details of revenue from contracts with state bodies received by companies that belong to the same business grouping as media companies.
  • The awarding of all public contracts to companies whose beneficial owners also own media must be subject to particularly careful scrutiny and safeguards to ensure that the awarding of such contracts are not used to influence editorial content of those media.


Vexatious lawsuits

  • The judicial appointment procedure must be transparent and independent in practice and in line with European norms and standards.
  • The judiciary must be properly trained on the use of strategic lawsuits and mechanisms should be put in place allowing for the early dismissal of evidently vexatious cases and a requirement for claimants to cover the cost of proceedings in such instances.
  • Defamation must be decriminalized and become a matter for civil law only.
  • The government must end the sponsoring of self evidently vexatious lawsuits taken against media or other actors, for legitimate criticism and free expression.

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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Elton Qyno Library

Albania: SPAK must respect source protection in case of…

Albania: SPAK must respect source protection in case of journalist Elton Qyno

The MFRR partners today join our partners in the Safe Journalists Network and Reporters Without Borders to express our concerns over the recent actions taken by Albania’s Special Prosecution against Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK) and their decision to seize journalist Elton Qyno’s equipment and to pressure him to reveal his sources.

Mr. Altin Dumani

Head of the Special Prosecution against Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK)

Re: The case of journalist Elton Qyno


Dear Mr. Dumani,


We at SafeJournalists Network, the partner organizations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response and Reporters Without Borders, are writing to express our concerns over the recent actions taken by SPAK against journalist Elton Qyno. The decision to seize Mr. Qyno’s equipment and pressure him to reveal his sources is a matter of significant alarm for us as organizations dedicated to the protection of the rights of journalists, media freedom, and journalistic integrity. The actions taken against Mr. Qyno, including the inspection of his residence and office and the seizure of his personal and professional equipment, set a worrying precedent. Such measures will impact journalist’s rights and media freedom in Albania and beyond.


We recognize the necessity of legal compliance in judicial processes. However, balancing this with the internationally recognized principle of the protection of journalistic sources is imperative. This principle is not only critical to the rights of journalists but is also essential to the public’s right to information and the overall health of a democratic society.


Given these considerations, we urge SPAK to reassess its approach in this case. Returning the seized equipment to Mr. Qyno and ceasing all efforts to uncover his sources would demonstrate understanding, respecting, and upholding media freedom and the protection of journalistic sources in Albania. This approach would align with the standards established by the European Court of Human Rights and other international entities dedicated to media freedom.


We appeal to your office to prioritize the protection of journalistic sources, which is crucial for maintaining press freedom and democratic principles. The relationship of trust between journalists, their sources, the public, and law enforcement depends heavily on the respect and upholding of these values.


We thank you for your attention to this matter and look forward to a resolution that upholds media freedom and protects journalistic sources in Albania. Our organizations will continue to monitor the situation closely and report any further developments.

Signed by:

  • SafeJournalists Network 
  • Association of Journalists of Kosovo 
  • Association of Journalists of Macedonia 
  • BH Journalists Association 
  • Croatian Journalists’ Association 
  • Independent Journalists Association of Serbia 
  • Trade Union of Media of Montenegro 
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom 
  • European Federation of Journalists 
  • Free Press Unlimited 
  • International Press Institute 
  • OBC Transeuropa 
  • Reporters Without Borders

This statement was coordinated by the SafeJournalists Network and signed by the partners 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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Podcast: Navigating Hungary’s new Sovereignty Protection Act

Podcast: Navigating Hungary’s new Sovereignty Protection Act

The situation for Hungary’s embattled independent media is about to become even more challenging.

On 12 December, the Hungarian parliament voted to pass the Protection of Sovereignty Act. It was debated for less than two weeks and passed without any serious public consultation.7 Its stated motivation is the protection of Hungarian sovereignty from malign external threats, and the criminalisation of foreign funding to political parties during election campaigns.

A new body will now be established to map and report on perceived threats to national sovereignty and identify bodies or individuals suspected of serving foreign interests or receiving foreign funds. In a country where government politicians have previously smeared some media as serving foreign interests, media have criticized the vague language of the law, and decried the bill as being part of the government’s decade-long attempt to dial up the pressure on critical voices.

Ahead of elections in 2024, and amidst ongoing negotiations with the European Commission over the release of frozen EU funds, the new law looks set to be another divisive issue pitting Budapest against Brussels – and create further uncertainty for media and NGOs.

In this episode of the MFRR In Focus, we spoke to renowned Hungarian journalist Szabolcs Panyi about the details of the law, what its real motivations are, and what impact it will have on the already destabilised independent media community.

Guests: Szabolcs Panyi, investigative editor at VSQUARE and investigative journalist at Direkt36

Producer and Host: Jamie Wiseman, Europe Advocacy Officer at International Press Institute (IPI)

Editor: Javier Luque, Head of Digital Communications at IPI


Listen to more episodes of the MFRR in Focus Podcast here.

This podcast series is part of the MFRR in Focus project sponsored by Media Freedom Rapid Response, which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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Leader of Civic Platform (PO) and Poland Prime Minister Donald Tusk speaks during a rally on the 'Nowy Targ' square in Wroclaw, Poland, 24 June 2023. EPA-EFE/Tomasz Golla Library

Poland: Upheaval at Polish public broadcaster must lead to…

Upheaval at Polish public broadcaster must lead to comprehensive reform to restore and safeguard independence

Sudden dismissal of supervisory boards risks setting dangerous precedent. The new Polish government’s abrupt dismissal of the supervisory bodies of the country’s public television broadcaster TVP and national news agency PAP risks setting an alarming precedent that must be urgently rectified by new rules to permanently protect these institutions’ independence, the International Press Institute (IPI) said today.

The previous Law and Justice (PiS) government had shamelessly turned Poland’s public media into instruments of state propaganda. The new coalition’s goal of ending this situation is therefore unquestionably justified. However, these reform efforts must take care not to perpetuate a cycle of politicization or perceived politicization. The new government must now work to pass comprehensive reform that guarantees the right of Poland’s public media to work freely and shields them from future interference by political parties of all stripes.

On Tuesday, December 19, the new parliament passed a resolution calling for the restoration of “impartiality and reliability of the public media.”

On Wednesday, the minister of culture, Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz, announced the appointment  of new supervisory boards for public television, public radio and the news agency PAP, as well as the appointment of new management in the three government-owned companies.

Minutes after the dismissal of the supervisory boards, TVP’s 24-hour news channel TVP Info, was taken off air, while TVP’s Channel One aired no news bulletins throughout the day on Wednesday.

The changes provoked a furious reaction from the outgoing party of Law and Justice (PiS) whose members staged an overnight sit-in on Tuesday in the broadcaster’s headquarters, also  joined by PiS  leader, Jaroslaw Kaczyński.

The new government asserted its right to act on two main grounds: firstly that the establishment of the National Media Council, the supervisory body for public TV and Radio set up by PiS in early 2016, had been ruled unconstitutional in December 2016; and secondly that the ministry of culture, as the sole owner of the public radio and TV, must now take on the NMC responsibilities and exercise the authority to restore impartiality to public media.

During their eight years in government (2015 to 2023) PiS converted the public media into an unapologetically hardline propaganda outfit designed not only to promote government policy but also to aggressively delegitimize its critics and the political opposition.

IPI visited Poland in September as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response mission and concluded that the public media had been fully converted into a propaganda arm of the ruling party. Successive reports of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring of Poland’s elections concluded that PiS “enjoyed clear advantage through its undue influence over the use of state resources and public media” during the 2023 October elections; and that the broadcaster was ‘frequently portraying the [party’s] main challenger as a threat to Polish values and national interests’ in the 2020 Presidential elections.

“While there is no question that the TVP and Polish Radio are both in need of drastic reform, IPI is troubled by the approach adopted that appears to be stretching the rule of law,” said IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen. “While the ultimate aim is unquestionably legitimate, such an act may set a dangerous precedent for every incoming government to use legal loopholes to overturn the actions of the previous government.”

“The government must now ensure that what emerges from the changes is a fully independent public broadcaster that represents the voices and views of all of society without discrimination. The Tusk government must work with journalists groups and media experts from across Poland to establish the necessary legal safeguards that can protect public media in the future from all forms of political interference.”

The Media Freedom Rapid Responses mission report from September 2023 outlines the full range of challenges facing media freedom in Poland including media pluralism, vexatious lawsuits and safety of journalists. We urge the Civic Platform-led government to make media independence and journalists rights a central element of their programme.

This statement by IPI is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries, and Ukraine. The project is co-funded by the European Commission.

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Romania: IPI stands by Libertatea as layoffs deepen concerns…

Romania: IPI stands by Libertatea as layoffs deepen concerns over pressure on editorial independence

The International Press Institute (IPI) today outlines its support for staff at the Romanian daily newspaper Libertatea and expresses growing concern over alleged pressures on its independent journalism after the recent firing of three members of its editorial management team.

IPI is proud to count Libertatea, one of the highest quality media outlets and sources of independent news in Romania, as a member of our Central European Independent Media Network, which brings together leading independent news outlets in the region.

On 6 December 2023, the newspaper’s Swiss owner Ringier announced that editorial director Cătălin Tolontan, deputy editor-in-chief Iulia Roșu, and editor of the print edition, Camelia Stan, would all lose their jobs, and that 20% of journalists would also be laid off. The decision was branded as a dark day for press freedom in Romania.

The move was justified by Ringier Romania as restructuring required to place more focus on digital revenue in an era of declining print sales. It follows the abrupt closure in early November of the print edition of Libertatea’s sister newspaper Gazeta Sporturilor (GSP), which is also owned by Ringier.

However, the dismissals came amidst ongoing accusations by staff at both Libertatea and GSP about what they claim is interference in the editorial independence in both titles by figures within Ringier’s management. The accusations – denied by Ringier – stem from an alleged attempt by representatives from the company to preview articles about gambling firms that are advertising clients.

Although print sales were cited as the main reason for the restructuring at Libertatea, IPI notes that Cătălin Tolontan did not have duties that exclusively concerned the printed edition, while Iulia Roșu worked exclusively on the digital edition. Both had been among a group of editors from the two newspapers who had brought complaints to Ringier about unjustified meddling by Ringier management linked to the gambling industry. Both had also questioned the reported suggestion by a representative of Ringier Sports Management Group – who has well-established connections with the gambling industry, including being the founder of the national gambling association in neighbouring Bulgaria – for weaker separation between editorial and advertising teams. Of the six editors who in August 2023 requested a meeting with Ringier management to discuss the requests to preview articles, four have since lost their jobs and another, Libertatea’s editor-in-chief, has resigned.

After the initial dismissal of GSP’s then editor-in-chief in October, IPI wrote to Ringier to outline our concerns. In this correspondence, the company strongly and repeatedly rejected accusations made by staff of editorial interference. IPI has now sent a second letter to Ringier to seek additional clarifications on the disputed facts in this case and to underline our concerns.

Following the latest developments, IPI outlines our support for the continuation of high quality and independent journalism at Libertatea, and the important investigative journalism on the betting industry conducted in recent years by GSP. This kind of public interest and watchdog journalism is sorely needed in Romania, which faces a super-electoral year in 2024.

Any and all efforts by external actors or management to meddle in the newspaper’s editorial independence, particularly regarding its reporting on the gambling industry and those affiliated with it, must be met with strong opposition. While financial sustainability is important and always required for a media company to retain its editorial independence, any suggestion from management of weakening the firewall between the advertising teams and editorial newsroom to achieve it must always be challenged.

In early 2024, IPI and other media freedom groups intend to conduct a fact-finding mission about the climate for media freedom and independent journalism in Romania. Among other themes, the mission will also scrutinize the increasing corrosive impact the gambling industry is having on the integrity and credibility of both current affairs and sports journalism in Romania, and the main figures associated with the betting industry responsible for the alleged pressures on editorial freedoms.

IPI will continue to monitor the situation closely and has requested to meet with Ringier management to discuss the matter further. IPI stands with all journalists in Romania who are committed to strong, free, and independent journalism.

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

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Turkey: Press freedom crisis deepens amid earthquake and national…

Turkey: Press freedom crisis deepens amid earthquake and national elections

The partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today publish the findings of an international press freedom mission to Turkey in a report titled “Press freedom crisis deepens amid earthquake and national elections”.

The report, which details the findings of an international press freedom mission to Turkey in October 2023, focuses on the challenges facing independent and critical journalism in Turkey in 2023, a year marked by the tragic February earthquakes and the parliamentary and presidential elections in May.


The mission included meetings with editors, journalists, local civil society groups, Constitutional Court officials, broadcast regulator Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) members, and representatives of opposition political parties. The mission was convened by the International Press Institute (IPI) and was joined by representatives from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT), and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

This mission report 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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Malta risks missing the opportunity to safeguard journalists

Malta risks missing the opportunity to safeguard journalists

By IPI contributor Elizabeth De Gaetano

On October 2, Prime Minister Robert Abela announced that he would publish a white paper on proposed laws for the media in Malta. This declaration came as he tabled in Parliament the final report of the Committee of Media Experts he had appointed last year to advise on reforming media laws in Malta.

Government officials touted this announcement as the culmination of a transparent and inclusive public consultation towards unprecedented reforms to safeguard the media in Malta following the death of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in Malta on October 16, 2017, and, to date, three men have been convicted, and three other suspects await trial, including the alleged mastermind.

Two years following her death and after pressure from the Caruana Galizia family, civil society and international media freedom organisations, the government commissioned a public inquiry to investigate the circumstances that led to her death.

In its 2021 report, the public inquiry found the state had to “shoulder responsibility” for Caruana Galizia’s death because it had created an “atmosphere of impunity”. It had also failed to take reasonable steps to protect her. The report went on to make critical recommendations for legislative reform within the establishment and within the police to fight corruption and improve the safety of journalists.

Two years after receiving the final report of the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta has yet to address the systemic failures that led to the journalist’s death.

Malta’s government has still only fully implemented one of the 28 key recommendations, which it proceeded to mishandle.

The Caruana Galizia inquiry report recommended setting up a Committee of Media Experts that was meant to examine the state of journalism and the fundamental right of freedom of expression. The committee was to produce specific recommendations that parliament would consider in a brief timeframe.

Instead, the government set up a Committee of Media Experts to advise on legislation already drafted rather than to advise the government during the drafting process. And ever since the Committee was set up, the entire two-year consultative process has been characterised by opacity and controversy, leaving journalists no better protected than before.

As journalists and civil society await the publication of the white paper and the details included within, there is some concern that this major opportunity for meaningful reform which better protects journalists could be lost, and that one element of the legacy many hoped to secure after the tragic murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia could be undermined.


A fraught and opaque process

Work to reform the laws governing Maltese media began in January 2022 after the government rejected legislative proposals presented in parliament by the opposition that were based on the public inquiry’s recommendations.

Instead, the government announced that it had appointed an eight-person committee to assess local laws and advise on improving them. The committee was given three months to submit their comments and suggestions on the draft legislation already prepared by the government.

The committee was never consulted during the drafting of the bills. It was also instructed to keep their discussions confidential, which led to criticism of the journalists who formed part of the Committee representing Malta’s Press Association.

The Committee of Media Experts submitted its first recommendations and proposals in June 2022. But the report was not made public until late September when Justice Minister Jonathan Attard presented the government’s proposals at a press conference.

Legal experts immediately identified several deficiencies in the Maltese government’s legislative proposals.

For example, a proposed amendment that seeks to protect the heirs of a deceased author or editor in defamation cases still raises concerns about the ability of publishers to defend against such allegations should a plaintiff decide to pursue their case against a publisher.

In addition, the proposed amendments address Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) by empowering Maltese courts to dismiss baseless cases. Damages in SLAPP suits from foreign courts can be capped locally, and local courts can disregard foreign judgments in such suits. However, the proposed legislation falls short of international recommendations, leaving journalists in Malta vulnerable to SLAPP threats.


About to miss an opportunity?

After unveiling the draft bills, over a hundred Maltese journalists, academics, and artists wrote to Prime Minister Robert Abela, urging him to hold a public consultation on the proposed legislation.

The prime minister initially resisted but eventually agreed to halt the legislative process to allow the media experts committee to consult the broader media sector.

The same committee, whose main recommendations had already been ignored and which the government blamed for the lack of consultation, was then tasked with consulting the public and returning with a revised set of recommendations.

The committee submitted its second report to the government last July. Malta’s Parliament had closed for the summer recess by then, allowing the government to keep the report under wraps until October 2 when it was tabled in the House of Representatives.

Proposals made by the committee include creating a system of transparent public funding for media houses, binding public authorities to provide information to journalists within a reasonable time, and constitutionally protecting journalists from revealing their sources.

These elements of the proposed reforms have been cautiously welcomed by media freedom groups, who stress that the devil will be in the detail of the proposed amendments, as well as the strictness of their implementation.

The committee also proposed amendments to the law protecting journalists from Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, allowing them to be dismissed early on in the court proceedings and recommended the removal of terms such as journalist, author or editor and extending the protection from SLAPPs to other possible targets, including NGOs and activists.

It also advised the government to empower magistrates who rule against a SLAPP case to order the payment of damages to the person or entity targeted by the SLAPP suit.

In its report, committee members noted that the government had again ignored its central original proposal, namely imposing an explicit obligation upon authorities to provide access to information within a reasonable time via Freedom of Information (FOI) requests..

There were also several recommendations, including those by international press freedom organisations, that the Media Committee should have considered in this second round of recommendations.

The committee did not introduce specific criteria for identifying a SLAPP suit and maintained the process of acknowledging foreign judgments that comply with the third country’s law. Experts, therefore, believe that in their current form, the suggested anti-SLAPP provisions will do little to deter plaintiffs from filing SLAPP suits.

When the report was tabled in parliament on October 2, Prime Minister Abela also announced that he would publish a white paper with the proposed laws for the media in Malta but gave no indication when this would be.

Given how fraught and protracted the entire consultation process has been, the white paper feedback may be the last chance to push for more ambitious legislation to create an enabling environment for public participation in Malta or risk being stuck with sub-optimal laws that will do little to change the status quo.

As the wait for the white paper continues, determination remains firm amongst media, journalists and international organisations to push for the best possible media laws for Malta, and the improvement in press freedom that such reforms would bring.

This article was commissioned by 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. The project is co-funded by the European Commission.

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Hungary: Draft Sovereignty Protection Act poses fresh threat to…

Hungary: Draft Sovereignty Protection Act poses fresh threat to independent media

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today alerts the European Union about the chilling impact that the Hungarian ruling party’s proposed Sovereignty Protection Act will have on what remains of the country’s embattled independent media community.

Our organisations stress that while media are not named directly within the text of the draft bill, the intentionally vague language and broad scope for application of the proposed law would effectively open the door to state-sponsored pressure on those media which receive foreign funding and produce journalism critical of the government.


The draft Sovereignty Protection Act is therefore the latest prong of a decade-long campaign by the government of Prime Minister Victor Orbán to harass critics and suppress democratic checks and balances. This has been effected in part through measures that restrict, punish, and stigmatize critical journalism and NGOs that are deemed to be hostile to national interests.


The bill, submitted to parliament on 21 November, would establish a new office headed by an individual appointed directly by the Prime Minister with a six-year mandate. Its main task would be to map and report on perceived threats to Hungary’s national sovereignty and identify bodies or individuals suspected of serving malign foreign interests. All foreign funding of parties’ election campaigns would be criminalised.


This new office would have broad investigatory powers to demand documents, financial records or data of any organisation or body operating in Hungary, including civil society groups, media organisations or journalist associations. It would publish public reports about these bodies’ allegedly negative impact on Hungarian public discourse or politics, with a focus on election periods. Organisations adjudged to be undermining national sovereignty could be unofficially labelled as such by the body in its reports.


While media and media activities are not referenced directly in the text, the vague language of the bill means it could easily be applied to media organisations and individual journalists. Within the current parameters, any media receiving foreign funding could be accused of undermining Hungarian sovereignty by spreading “disinformation”, carrying out activities which are “aimed at influencing the democratic debate” or “aimed at influencing the will of voters”. Domestic media freedom groups registered in Hungary could be included within the scope of the law, while international media freedom organisations carrying out work in the country could also be stigmatised in reports by the proposed Sovereignty Protection Office. Although it will be tasked with preparing recommendations, the body would have no legal powers to issue sanctions.


Government figures have indicated that the objective of the law is purely to stop domestic political actors from accepting foreign funds. However, when the bill was first announced, a leading Fidesz politician said that among other intended targets were so-called “dollar media” and “Soros media” – pejorative terms used to label media receiving money from the U.S. or European Union.


The bill therefore fits against the backdrop of a campaign of stigmatisation since the 2022 general election, and beyond, against media which receive foreign grants and funding. Last year, an organisation close to the government published a report examining the funding structure of several of the leading independent media, suggesting they were serving foreign interests. If this new body were to become operational, it would hang like a sword over the independent media and NGOs and represent an institutionalised escalation of pressure over acceptance of foreign funds.


Over the past decade, as numerous reports have documented, the Fidesz government has deliberately distorted the media market to weaken the finances of independent media. This has included abusing state advertising, pressuring private advertisers, engaging in smear campaigns against independent media and other tactics that drive readers away, using state funds to bankroll otherwise economically unviable pro-government media, and selectively applying competition law. Numerous independent outlets did not survive this onslaught, either closing or being sold off to pro-government owners. Those independent media that remain have been forced to modify their business models toward subscription systems and grants from foreign donors in order to survive and continue their watchdog work. This bill and the attacks on foreign funding must therefore be seen as the latest effort to undermine the business models and financial sustainability of the independent press.


The dire conditions for media freedom and independent journalism in Hungary have been constructed by the Fidesz government over the past decade under the eyes of the European Union. For too long, nothing was done to challenge the anti-pluralistic consolidation of a pro-government media bubble and the slow eradication of bastions of professional journalism through regulatory abuses and the politically-engineered takeovers of media houses. While the EU’s draft European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) does represent a principled effort to safeguard media pluralism and freedom in Member States, its fate remains uncertain.


As the debate continues in the Hungarian parliament, the EU must not flinch in its opposition to this bill. If the package of amendments is ultimately passed and the constitution and criminal code are changed by the parliament with Fidesz’s two-thirds majority, plans should already be in place for the EU Commission to launch infringement proceedings against Hungary and challenge the law in the EU courts. Even if the bill is never passed, the text and its proposed measures will have a chilling effect in the signal they send. We jointly call on the Hungarian government to scrap the bill and refrain from all forms of pressure on the media and NGOs.


In the coming weeks, our MFRR consortium partner ARTICLE 19 Europe will prepare a thorough legal assessment of the law’s alignment with European law and international media freedom standards. This will outline in detail the severity of the threat posed by the draft Sovereignty Protection Act to media and civil society organisations. Our organisations remain committed to protecting what remains of independent and pluralistic journalism in Hungary.

Signed by:

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