How the European Media Freedom Act could affect Hungary…

How the European Media Freedom Act could affect Hungary and Poland

Meanwhile, the EU has existing tools to defend media pluralism and freedom

By IPI contributor Anna Wójcik

The European Union’s institutions are well aware of the concerted, structural attacks on media freedom and pluralism in Hungary and Poland plus several other member states, and the European Commission’s flagship annual rule of law reports are proof of that.

However, the EU’s treatment of the media freedom crises in Poland and Hungary, which are part of a broader backsliding of the rule of law, has been fragmented and differs qualitatively from the EU’s response to the assaults on judicial independence, academic freedom, or migrants’ rights by the Fidesz and PiS governments.

Other than monitoring the violations of media freedom and pluralism in the two Visegrad states the EU’s response has been limited to some action in the scope of the Article 7 Rule of Law procedure against Hungary, and a single EU law infringement action against the Hungarian government contesting the media regulator’s independence and accusing it of discriminatory action following its decision not to renew the license of independent radio broadcaster Klubrádió.

Frustrated by the lack of legal tools available to it, the European Commission is seeking new EU-wide legislation in the form of the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), presented in September, that would harmonize some aspects of regulation over public and private media in member states.

Until now, public and private media regulation has been mainly the responsibility of member states. With no legal mandate to act on media freedom issues, the Commission has based the EMFA on rules protecting the single market.

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe has developed extensive standards for public media and media pluralism and the EMFA is a welcome opportunity to turn some of these standards into binding law in EU member states.

While the EMFA has not been devised solely to address the challenges that the current governments in Budapest and Warsaw have posed to media freedom and pluralism, the draft regulation holds specific promises in this regard.

New rules, new regulations

The first concern in Hungary and Poland is the media regulators’ lack of independence. The Media Council in Hungary, and, in Poland, the National Broadcasting Council (Krajowa Rada Radiofonii i Telewizji, KRRiT) and the PiS-established National Media Council (Rada Mediów Narodowych) are part of the respective governments’ informal power grab. Loyalists with links to the governing parties dominate these media regulators, which have contributed to limiting media freedom.

In 2020, the Hungarian Media Council did not renew Klubrádió’s license, forcing the station to move online with a limited audience. After Fidesz secured a fourth term in power in April 2022, the regulator refused to renew the license of non-profit Tilos Rádió, citing violations of rules on the use of inappropriate language on air. Tilos won back the licence in the subsequent application process.

In Poland, in 2020/2021, KRRiT delayed the renewal of the broadcasting licenses of the television broadcasters TVN24 and TVN7, which are owned by the U.S. company Warner Bros. Discovery. In 2017, KRRiT fined TVN for reporting about a protest; the fine was rescinded in 2022.

The EMFA seeks to nurture greater independence through the enhanced European Board of Media Services that promotes cooperation between the national regulators. It doesn’t enhance any standards, but it does endorse the requirements of independence of national regulatory set out in Article 30 of the 2018-revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), which Hungary and Poland already transposed.

This means that the media regulators are required to be independent of political and business influence and exercise their powers impartially and transparently, in keeping with principles of media pluralism, cultural and linguistic diversity, consumer protection, accessibility, non-discrimination, the proper functioning of the internal market, and the promotion of fair competition. It also prohibits media regulators from seeking or taking instructions from any other bodies regarding the assigned tasks.

If it so wished, the European Commission could already have started infringement proceedings against the biased decisions of media regulators in Hungary and Poland that are detrimental to media freedom and pluralism, based on Article 30 AVMSD. The time to do so is of the essence, especially as the European Parliament elections and local elections in Poland and Hungary are approaching in 2024.

EU law protects European voters’ rights to participate in the EP and elections that are free and fair. The OSCE/ODIHR found in election observation mission reports on general elections in Hungary in 2018 and 2022 and in general elections in 2019 and presidential elections in 2020 in Poland that the elections were tarnished by the apparent bias of public media towards the governing majority or incumbent president and that public broadcasters failed in their duty to provide impartial coverage.

Moreover, the EMFA envisages the creation of the European Board for Media Services, which would succeed the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA) and include national media regulators’ representatives. The Board would advise the Commission on regulation and EU law application issues. It is yet unclear how the Board could insulate itself from internal disruption by rogue member states that are systematically assaulting media freedom and pluralism and quite successfully playing catch-me-if-you-can with Brussels.

Unwinding media capture

Another significant problem is the media capture process, particularly advanced in Hungary and mimicked in Poland. Fidesz has captured media through  a network loyal oligarchs, who in 2018 “donated” media to the Central European Press and Media Foundation (Közép-Európai Sajtó és Média Alapítvány, KESMA). Outside of KESMA, the process of forcing journalists to resign or closing some captured media outlets continues.

The PiS party in Poland used the state-controlled oil and gas company PKN Orlen in 2021 to acquire the country’s the most prominent regional daily newspaper group, Polska Press, from the German publisher Verlagsgruppe Passau. The transaction raised major concerns about editorial independence and media concentration. The EMFA would require member states to carry out a “media pluralism and independence” test when taking any new regulatory measures that impact the media market. It would apply, for instance, to decisions impacting media concentration or on private media licensing.

Governments in Hungary and Poland also boost friendly private media with state funds through advertising and partnerships. The EMFA would include rules enhancing transparency and fairness in the allocation of state advertising to media outlets. It would require member states to distribute state advertising to media in a non-discriminatory way.

Article 24 would further require member states’ central and local governments to publish a list of the media supported with public funds and the amounts allocated to them. The national media regulators would be responsible for verifying government-provided information. Without independent regulators however, this provision is unlikely to be effective.

Strengthening the existing toolbox

It is uncertain what shape the EMFA will eventually take in the long EU legislative process. Several objections have been posed to it from interest groups, notably European association of press publishers. Moreover, member states governments may raise objections to specific elements of the act.

Negative developments regarding media freedom impact also other member states than Hungary and Poland, where such problems further entrench democratic backsliding. Greece scores the lowest among member states on RSF’s Press Freedom Index. In the countries ranking high in media freedom, threats of media concentration in the hands of businesspeople with solid political agendas risk destabilizing the electoral process. The opposition to various solutions included in the EMFA may come from a variety of interest groups.

It must also be emphasized that although the EMFA brings some opportunities, focusing on developing new legislation should not be an excuse for not taking action, as the EU already has avenues for legal actions to protect media freedom and pluralism in member states and could apply more political pressure, for example, at the Article 7 hearings against Hungary. The Council should also consider expanding the Article 7 procedure against the Polish government to include specific issues negatively affecting media freedom and pluralism. For now, the EU is not acting as strongly as it could.


Anna Wójcik, PhD, is an assistant professor at the Institute of Legal Sciences of the Polish Academy of Sciences. She was Re:Constitution fellow at the CEU Democracy Institute in 2022. She specializes in the rule of law and freedom of expression. As RethinkCEE program fellow, has recently published with the German Marshall Fund of the United States a policy report on the EUs response to the media freedom and pluralism backsliding in Hungary and Poland.

This article is part of IPI’s series “Media freedom in Europe in shadow of Covid”, which comprises news and analysis from IPI’s network of correspondets throughout the EU. Articles do not necessarily reflect the views of IPI. The reporting series is supported by funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for FReedom and by the European Commission (DG Connect) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response coalition.

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Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is accusing Roberto Salvani of defamation.

Italy: Lawsuits against Saviano and Domani highlight wider SLAPP…

Italy: Lawsuits against Saviano and Domani highlight wider SLAPP problem

Ongoing litigation against media by new PM and Defence Minister raise media freedom concerns


By IPI contibutor Christian Elia

In recent weeks there has been much talk in Italy about a recently opened legal case against the journalist and writer Roberto Saviano, who is accused of defamation in a lawsuit filed in 2020 by Giorgia Meloni, the new prime minister. Saviano had called Meloni and Lega leader Matteo Salvini ‘bastards’ during a La7 television programme for their policy on rescuing migrants at sea.

There have been multiple stances in defence of Saviano in newspapers and by associations for freedom of the press and freedom of expression. They have been critical of Meloni and of Salvini, who is a plaintiff in the trial, and say that Meloni’s lawsuit is intimidatory and aimed at discouraging criticism of Saviano and her.

This is not an isolated incident, however. At the end of November 2021, Prime Minister Meloni also filed a defamation case against the daily newspaper Domani. The court decided to indict journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi and the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Stefano Feltri, over a year-old article about Meloni, who was not prime minister at the time.

The article dates back to October 2021 and reported on Domenico Arcuri, former extraordinary commissioner for the Covid emergency. Arcuri mentioned, talking to magistrates, the names of some MPs who, according to him, had contacted him to promote individuals or companies able to supply masks on “far less advantageous” terms. The MPs included Meloni, Domani reported.

In response, Meloni has demanded €25,000 in damages from the newspaper. The requested financial compensation is part of civil proceedings that can be claimed in addition to criminal proceedings, which is the legal framework for “aggravated defamation” lawsuits.

“Until a law on reckless litigation is passed, lawsuits and civil lawsuits remain the sword of Damocles over freedom of information in the country”, Feltri said in an article.

Domani’s journalists have also pointed out that while is possible for Meloni to sue the newspaper, the PM – herself under investigation for aggravated defamation for a tweet against one of her former candidates – is sheltering      behind parliamentary protections from prosecution.

“Meloni as a ‘citizen, journalist and politician’, as she had her lawyer write, decided to take this newspaper to trial but her personal position has changed. As prime minister she is called upon to protect among the constitutional values also freedom of expression of all, also because as a ‘politician she can already protect her own,’” the journalists of Domani wrote.

The new Italian government had already come out against Domani. Last month, Defence Minister Guido Crosetto had announced his intention to sue the newspaper for defamation over an investigation by journalists Emiliano Fittipaldi and Giovanni Tizian into the current minister’s potential conflict of interest with companies in the sector he now oversees. For now, Minister Crosetto has not followed up on the announcement.

Italy’s SLAPP problem

The president of the Federazione Nazionale della Stampa Italiana (FNSI), Giuseppe Giulietti, recalled how ”the law to oppose gagging complaints and punish reckless actions has been at a standstill since 2002 and will remain so due to increasingly clear transversal intentions”.

The law Giulietti is referring to is the law against SLAPPs, as lawsuits are called in which there is a gross disproportion of power between the person or organization suing and the accused. The goal of accusers or plaintiffs in SLAPP cases is not necessarily to win the case, but to intimidate the defendant – even if only through the many burdens and effects of a trial – and discourage his or her work, taking away time, money and initiative. Plaintiffs also take advantage of the public bias against the presumption of innocence, placing the defendant in a position of weakness and risk.

Most of the time the accusation in SLAPP cases is defamation, and these cases are almost always directed at journalists, bloggers or activists who have written or said something in public that someone claims is defamatory against them. The consequences can be both criminal and civil.In Italy, both civil and criminal lawsuits are often referred to as “querele temerarie” (reckless lawsuits), with some confusion: “querela”, however, in legal language refers only to criminal cases. They are referred to as “reckless” because they are brought despite the uncertainty of the final outcome, but precisely for the purpose of responding or threatening the defendant.

2016 dossier edited by the association Ossigeno per l’informazione, based on data provided by the Ministry of Justice, estimated that around 70 per cent of defamation lawsuits are dropped by the public prosecutor and therefore do not go to trial.

There is no more recent data, but lawyer Andrea Di Pietro, who has been dealing with the issue for many years, said in an interview that in 2019 the ministry confirmed to Ossigeno that that percentage was still valid. According to him and several other experts in the field, it probably still is today.Until recently, Article 13 of Law 47 of 1948 on the press, which set forth a mandatory term of imprisonment from one to six years “in the event of conviction for libel in the press committed by attributing a specific fact”, was also taken into account for defamation in the press.

This article was declared illegitimate in June last year by the Constitutional Court. By contrast, the court deemed Article 595 of the Criminal Code, which deals with defamation, compatible with the Constitution, since that provision allows the judge to apply a prison sentence only in cases of exceptional gravity and in all other cases to limit it to a fine.

Article 595 of the Criminal Code concerns anyone who”’by communicating with several persons, offends the reputation of others”. It is punishable by imprisonment of up to two years or a fine of up to EUR 2,065, but both can be increased if the offence is against “a political, administrative or judicial body”.

In the case of defamation “in the press” – a definition that today includes both newspapers and other media, e.g. social networks, and therefore potentially concerns almost everyone – the penalty can be up to three years and the fine is at least EUR 516.

EU anti-SLAPP directive on the way

After years of calls for action, last April the European Commission presented two measures that are still awaiting approval. The first is a legislative proposal for a directive that would intervene precisely on the problems of civil lawsuits, which also exist in Italy: the most important measure is the introduction of a mechanism that would allow civil lawsuits that are manifestly unfounded to be dismissed quickly.

This mechanism, should the directive be approved, will, however, only be valid for cases of European relevance: i.e. cases relating to articles or public speeches involving, for example, more than one EU member country.

The directive also envisages protection for journalists working in the EU who receive convictions from courts in non-EU states, and penalties to discourage the frequent use of SLAPPs, including the possibility for an accused party who proves his or her innocence to claim damages from the plaintiff.

The other measure proposed by the European Commission is a recommendation to member states to implement measures to encourage this kind of practice in their national legislation. The recommendation, however, is not binding, and much will depend on whether and how it is implemented in each country.

The next hearing in Saviano’s trial has been set for December 12, 2022. Many journalists and members of the cultural world will be present at the hearing in support of the defendant. In the courtroom will also be the president of the FNSI, Giuseppe Giulietti, and the spokesperson of Articolo 21, an association that fights for press freedom, Elisa Marincola, as well as a delegation of CASE Italia observers who are following the case with a view to write a repor.

“It is necessary to say ‘enough to reckless lawsuits’ with a law that at this point can only be induced by the European Directive given that the Italian Parliament has failed to produce even a minimal amendment that could act as a deterrent against gag lawsuits,” Giulietti commented.

This article is part of IPI’s series “Media freedom in Europe in shadow of Covid”, which comprises news and analysis from IPI’s network of correspondets throughout the EU. Articles do not necessarily reflect the views of IPI. The reporting series is supported by funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for FReedom and by the European Commission (DG Connect) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response coalition.

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Portugal media freedom is high

Portugal: Press freedom remains robust even as media face…

Portugal: Press freedom remains robust even as media face resource strains

Strong legal framework and lack of political interference in media create open climate for independent journalism

By IPI contributor Cláudia Marques Santos

Press freedom remains strong in Portugal. The country is democratically stable and the risks of government interference in the media are low. Both the constitution and the national Press Law safeguard journalists in their daily reporting.

But there are some areas of concern: journalists’ deteriorating work conditions and precarity, as well as significant concentration of media groups. The number of cases from Portugal that end up in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) regarding press freedom violations is also high. The ECtHR has convicted Portugal in three major cases this year alone.

Portugal consistently ranks well in international press freedom rankings. In addition, according to the 2022 Digital News Report, 61 percent of Portuguese people have trust in news overall as well as in news they read or listen to. The European University Institute’s 2022 Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM) finds that Portugal presents a stable situation.

“Portugal is not a problematic country”, says Carla Baptista, academic and one of the authors of the 2022 MPM entry on Portugal. “In the case of political independence, the question is whether there are media outlets that are directly controlled by political forces, by parties or others. [In Portugal] Political parties cannot own television or radio stations, they can only own newspapers. There is no direct use of the media [by political parties] as there is in many European countries.”

Besides this low risk concerning political independence, the country has a strong legal framework regarding the practice of journalism and the right to inform, as well as guaranteeing the fundamental right not to reveal sources.

Plus, according to the Media for Democracy Monitor, Portugal scores maximum points concerning pluralism in newsrooms’ rules and practices. “There’s no tradition for news media to endorse publicly a political party or a presidential candidate”, it said in its 2022 report. “All of the main media insist on independence as their supreme value, promising to offer their audience all the relevant perspectives on any issue under debate.”

Some challenges remain, however. In early 2021, controversy erupted when it became known that two Portuguese journalists were subject to a two-month long police surveillance operation, in 2018 April and May, ordered by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, with the purpose of revealing their confidential sources, because of investigations they were doing about corruption and a major football club.

As a result, the European Commission severely criticized Portugal, considering it “unacceptable” that, in a state governed by the rule of law, journalists are subject to police surveillance and harassment when it comes to accessing sources. Just last April, the Lisbon Court of Appeal reverted the investigating judge’s decision not to order a trial of the two journalists for crimes of breach of secrecy of justice.

Legal landscape for press freedom

Though the rights of Portuguese journalists are secured by the Press Law (nr. 2/99, whose Article 1 says “freedom of the press includes the right to inform, to be informed and to be informed without hindrance or discrimination”), the practice of Portuguese courts explains why many cases end up in ECtHR.

Since 2005, the European Court of Human Rights (EctHR) has ruled in more than 20 cases that Portugal violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding freedom of expression. These have included cases involving the television broadcaster SIC, daily newspaper Público and newsmagazine Visão.

In December 2003 SIC reported that the then Azores’ secretary of Agriculture and Fisheries was implicated in a pedophile case in the islands, which was being investigated. Last year the ECtHR found in favour of SIC.

In 2017 the ECtHR found in favour of José Manuel Fernandes, Público’s former director, who had been convicted in court over a 2006 editorial article he wrote about the then newly elected president of the Supreme Court, criticizing his inauguration speech.

In 2016 the ECtHR also found in favour of Visão. Six years earlier, the news magazine had been convicted over an opinion article saying that the then prime minister would have to be on drugs to start a war with a political commentator (who is today the president of Portugal).

And only this year the ECtHR found against Portugal in the case of a satirical newspaper based in Madeira. In 2007, this newspaper had written that “unloading a ship at Caniças is the same thing as unloading a pallet of money at the orange foundation”, referring to the orange-coloured PSD party that ruled the island for decades.

“It’s cultural”, says Ricardo Correia Afonso, a Portuguese lawyer whose career has been built on defending journalists in court. “Until very recently, Portugal was a country where you’d put freedom of expression and the right to inform on one side and the right to honour and good name on the other.” Afonso said that, traditionally, the latter principle prevailed.

Another concern is the horizontal concentration of media companies, with several big media groups controlling the market, as noted in the 2022 Media Pluralism Monitor. In 2015, a new Transparency Law obliged media companies to report every year their financial outcomes and ownership details to Portugal’s media regulator, Entidade Reguladora para a Comunicação Social (ERC). While this has increased transparency in media ownership, concerns remain about some large media companies not sending all the required data. Another concern this study points out is the lack of funding of this institution, which has an ex-judge as president.


Working conditions

Job security is another major concern in Portuguese journalism. According to the Media for Democracy Monitor, Portugal scores poorly on this metric. “In the last 10 years, all of the most important Portuguese news media downsized their newsrooms, dismissing dozens of journalists”. Between 2009 and 2020 the number of professional journalists decreased 23 percent, from 6,673 to 5,124.

Resources for Investigative journalism have also dropped, which isn’t a good indicator for democracy. News media are clearly underfunded. Most journalists in newsrooms aren’t given time to investigate- Freelancers cannot afford going to court if someone presses charges against them. All of this raises the risk that important stories may not come to light.

Another matter in discussion in Portugal is the fact that the Press Law, which dates from 1999, hasn’t been updated since. Digital media, for instance, remain unregulated. In Portugal, media matters are under the umbrella of the Ministry of Culture. The last government had a secretary of state for cinema, television and media affairs. This specific position no longer exists, although media still remain under the culture ministry.

Disinformation also stands out as a great risk for democracy and news reporting in Portugal. In May 2021 a law (no. 27/2021) was published approving the Portuguese Charter on Human Rights in the Digital Era. “Alongside ensuring basic rights, freedoms, and guarantees for citizens in the online environment, the legislation establishes that the state must protect citizens from people who produce, reproduce, and disseminate misinformation, in line with the European Action Plan against Disinformation”, writes the Digital News Report. On the other hand, according to Media Democracy Monitor, there’s no significant online harassment of Portuguese journalists. There are exceptions, however.

In December 2020 and January 2021, journalists who made an investigation on the broadcaster SIC about the far-right populist party Chega were subjected to a torrent of insults, harassment, and threats online. The same happened earlier this month, with the release in several media of an investigation made by a new consortium of Portuguese investigative journalists about online hate speech made by police forces in private social media groups, powered by movements linked to Chega.

Another concerning phenomenon is the increasing bias displayed in online news platforms. “There is a proliferation of digital news media that are a one person company”, says Carla Baptista. “The law only demands an editorial project and a director which means ERC approves news media almost automatically.” Fake news is a big problem, and Portugal is no exception.

This article is part of IPI’s series “Media freedom in Europe in shadow of Covid”, which comprises news and analysis from IPI’s network of correspondets throughout the EU. Articles do not necessarily reflect the views of IPI. The reporting series is supported by funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for FReedom and by the European Commission (DG Connect) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response coalition.

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Czech Republic's Prime Minister Petr Fiala speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU Summit at Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, Friday, Oct 7, 2022.

Czech government edges closer to disinformation and public media…

Czech government edges closer to disinformation and public media initiatives

One year into term, progress on media reform remains slow


By IPI Contributor Tim Gosling

In October 2021, a new Czech government was elected amid promises to shore up democracy by fighting disinformation and strengthening public media. But one year into its term and with a key media legislation yet to be passed, there are calls for greater urgency in the ongoing reform process.


Critics admit that Prime Minister Petr Fiala’s governing coalition has had plenty on its plate since taking power during the tail end of the Covid pandemic. Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine soon unleashed a wave of refugees, and energy and inflation crunches have followed. But at the same time, they contend that these crises make action all the more urgent.

The worry is that, having leveraged the threat stalking the media environment to help depose populist billionaire Andrej Babis a year ago, the five-party coalition is struggling to maintain the enthusiasm of all factions for the plan to protect the free press. However, there are signs that the role of disinformation networks in driving recent anti-government rallies may help to revive the effort.


“Pensioner’s Facebook”

With a population highly sceptical of the political establishment, the Czech Republic has proved fertile ground for the development of disinformation networks.

Ironically, it’s the relative health of the media landscape that has encouraged the growth of “alternative” networks, says Vaclav Stetka, senior lecturer in Communication and Media Studies at Loughborough University.

Elsewhere in the region, disinformation can find its way through mainstream media. In Czechia, it must find alternative channels, often fairly unique, he says.

“Chain emails have become something of a speciality,” he notes, pointing at research by The Illiberal Turn project that shows that this format enjoys far deeper penetration than in neighbouring states.

The “pensioner’s Facebook,” as these email networks have been dubbed, was instrumental in mass protests in September. Claims that sanctions against Russia and support for Ukrainian refugees are preventing the government from offering more help amid the energy and inflation crises helped put an estimated 70,000 on Prague’s Wenceslas Square.

The turnout was a surprise, in no small part because the networks used to set the protest up are largely hidden, says investigative journalist Lukas Valasek. The pro-Russian agenda put forward by the organisers – veterans of the anti-vax movement – was a shock.

These unexpected developments seem to have helped jolt the government into action, agrees Dominik Presl, a member of a team being assembled by the commissioner for media and disinformation that Fiala appointed in March. In the wake of the protests, government and security officials have been busy warning of the dangers.

“Russian disinformation is an effective means to try to weaken our democracy, as we saw in the streets last month,” Markéta Pekarová Adamová, head of the Top09 coalition party and parliament speaker, told IPI.

Alongside the rhetoric, the interior ministry is reportedly set to deliver a bill this month aimed at laying down a legislative framework that will allow the authorities to block websites considered a security risk. While the legislation is still being crafted, currently it would allow the interior ministry to order internet providers to restrict access to website content that threatens security or democracy. The ministry stresses that the bill is not aimed at halting the publication of disinformation per se, although measures to supress the spread of fake news are being developed separately.

An option to hand the oversight to an independent body is being left open to assuage worries regarding abuse by the government. Websites targeted would be able to challenge the action in court and seek compensation.


Talking the walk

Researchers say, however, that such headline-grabbing restrictive tools need to be matched with more strategic measures. And one of the prime weapons is a strong and independent public media. A bastion of independent journalism in Central & Eastern Europe, Česká televize (Czech Television; CT) has faced assault from political forces jealous of its nonalignment for decades.

The broadcaster came under sustained pressure during Babis’s reign, as populist forces sought to wrest control of its executive body, the CT Council. Then in opposition, the parties now making up the government, fought hard to hold off the assault. It was this fight as much as anything that prompted Fiala’s campaign promises. But the momentum in carrying them out has slowed.

“The promise to strengthen the resilience and independence of public media was key, especially after accusing Babis of being a threat,” points out Stetka. “But up to now it seems it was more talk than walk. The effort and the results have been disappointing.”

Progress towards this goal now looks to finally be on the way, with a package of reforms regarding appointments to the CT Council on the cards. As overseer of the broadcaster’s management, and therefore its editorial independence, many have sought to stuff the executive board with political lackeys in the past.

The proposed new measures would aim to prevent that by allowing the upper house Senate to join the lower house Chamber of Deputies in appointing the council, which would be expanded by three seats to eighteen. New rules would also govern who could propose candidates and how the executive could discipline management.

“The goal is to avoid the Polish or Hungarian route, where the current governments have taken over the public service media and completely subjugated them,” says one of the sponsors, Jan Lacina

The bill has been awaiting a hearing in parliament for months. It was finally introduced to the Chamber of Deputies for initial debate on October 13, with Lacina insisting that the government was prepared for a “big battle”.

The effort quickly turned to farce. With Fiala absent from the chamber, the opposition blocked the proceedings. It is understood that the bill should be ready to be voted on again on November 1.

A spokesperson for the ministry of culture told IPI that “we believe the amendment will enter into force at the beginning of 2023”.

On a leash

However, even if the bill is passed and the changes are made, the long-term future of the country’s public service media remains under question.

While the CT Council reform should help protect the broadcaster, it will remain under political pressure unless its perilous financial situation is solved. And Fiala’s government has ruled out dealing with the chronic underfunding at CT and its public broadcasting cousin Český rozhlas (Czech Radio) by raising the licence fees that feed their finances.

The annual fee for CT was last raised in 2008, to CZK135 (€5.48) per household. The fee for Český rozhlas has sat at CZK45 since 2005. Both broadcasters have long warned that this leaves them unable to maintain all services. And the inflation surge is only antagonising the situation.

However, Minister of Culture Martin Baxa insists that, amid the cost-of-living crisis, the government cannot propose even a minor increase. “It’s difficult to tell people that fifteen or twenty crowns is nothing for them,” he said last month, even though vulnerable households are exempt from paying.

The lack of funding threatens to leave the two public broadcasters dependent on the government, and is therefore a serious risk to independence, watchdogs warn. Stetka calls it “a means of keeping public service media on a leash”.

Others insist that it reflects an unwillingness on the part of some government factions to lose control of public media.

“It’s an open secret that the conservative wing of Fiala’s ODS party has little time for public media independence,” said one journalist, who’s close to the topic, off record. “They have no intention of handing the country’s main TV broadcaster free reign.”

The country’s illiberal forces are just as opposed to allowing CT its financial freedom. And in the absence of action to protect the broadcaster, MPs from ANO and SPD are proposing that all pensioners be made exempt from paying fees.

“It’s another … attempt to starve the public media and … push them to future dependence on the state budget – de facto to nationalization and easy control and service of political interests,” states Robert Břešťan, editor at independent media outlet HlídacíPes.

The culture ministry is discussing options regarding the “sustainability of public media,” the spokesperson said, but noted that “increasing fees is not on the agenda”.

Alongside the failure to so far put in place a cohesive strategy for fighting disinformation or to reform the oversight of public media, that appears to leave Fiala’s promises of media reform still needing a shot in the arm.

This article is part of IPI’s reporting series “Media freedom in Europe in the shadow of Covid”, which comprises news and analysis from IPI’s network of correspondents throughout the EU. Articles do not necessarily reflect the views of IPI. This reporting series is supported by funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and by the European Commisson (DG Connect) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response coalition.

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Memorial photo and candles for Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova are seen in Trnava, Slovakia, on 29th February, 2020. Kuciak, a Slovak investigative journalist, along with his girlfriend, was found shot dead on 25 February 2018 in their home in Slovakia

How Slovak politicians did not learn from the murder…

How Slovak politicians did not learn from the murder of a journalist

Recent legal reforms show promise, yet discrediting attacks on journalists continue


By IPI contributor Beata Balogová, editor-in-chief of SME

Igor Matovič, the current finance minister of Slovakia and former prime minister, sailed to power on the wave of public anger and disappointment that in 2018 followed the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová.


“Permanent attacks on journalists, defamations, suggesting that journalists are anti-Slovak prostitutes and enemies of the nation” – Matovič listed the sins of former prime minister Robert Fico against the press in an official press release on the day the public learned about the murders. He blamed Fico for “creating an atmosphere” that resulted in the killing of a journalist.

Robert Fico made journalists who uncovered corruption scandals of his governments targets through his permanent attacks. In less than a month after the murders, he had to resign on the heel of massive anti-corruption protests.

In the following parliamentary elections in 2019, Matovič, who throughout his political career used findings of top investigative journalists to build an image of himself of an anti-corruption activist, defeated Fico and became the next prime minister.

But how did it happen that almost five years later Matovič is not far behind Fico when it comes to verbal attacks against journalists? Most recently Matovič likened critical journalists to propagandists of Adolf Hitler and suggested that journalists can be bought for 500 euros to write favorable stories about their client. On a live radio show he also said he would gradually take down the corrupt journalists.


Promises and reality

The bouquet of political promises over the grave of Jan and Martina included stronger protection for journalists. This should have partially materialized in a constitutional law granting a special status for journalists along with an equal approach of state institutions to private and state-owned or public media. This law would also curb the possibility of state intervention (such as nationalization) against private media, for example.

The draft of this law is still parked at the ministry of culture, and it is unlikely that this government will find enough political will to pass such legislation.

The parliament, however, in June 2022 did adopt a long-due package of media laws to replace the legislation that had been ignoring the existence of digital media. The beginnings were promising, with the process appearing to reflect what one would find in a press-freedom-conscious country. The ministry of culture consulted on the draft with publishers of key media and experts so that it creates equal ground for different types of media (print, digital, broadcast).

The ambition is to bring more transparency to media ownership by creating a register for media. The state can remove any media from the register if it is financed by someone from the UN sanction list. Media companies must report their sponsors and all financial donations over 1,200 euros annually to the state. The legislation also introduces regulation for video-sharing platforms.

However, in parliament the law became a victim of political bargaining. In a last-minute move, part of the ruling coalition conditioned the adoption of the law packages on the insertion of a “right of reply” for public officials who feel that a media report affects their privacy, honour or dignity into the legislation. This applies also to opinions if these rise from false information.

It was either with a right to statement or no legislation passed at all. Journalists felt that the right of statement was an act of revenge from the ruling coalition in response to journalists’ critical approach to the government and the way they fulfilled their watchdog role during the pandemic.


Inspiration from Orbán

In September 2022, the Ordinary People, the party of Matovič, unexpectedly and without any previous discussion submitted to the parliament a proposal to impose a levy on the largest private broadcasters. The public broadcaster would not pay such a levy under this proposed legislation. If adopted, the levy would be a discriminatory measure that directly threatens independent media and allows the state to make interventions into their operation, media lawyers and press freedom advocates have warned.

Many see behind the move an inspiration from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has been trying to suffocate the last television station that still broadcasts critical news, RTL Klub. Earlier this year Orbán announced the reintroduction of a tailor-made tax for broadcasters, like the one he had to kill four years ago after massive criticism from European institutions. Since the announcement, the government provided no further details, thus the broadcaster did not know what to expect. However, on October 19 the Orbán government said it will not collect the advertisement tax next year.

Matovič did not discuss this law with experts or the independent broadcasters.


Ján and Martina

It was clear from the day of the murder that some politicians would abuse the memory of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová, using them for their own benefit. Matovič would often refer to Jan Kuciak when lashing out at independent media for criticizing his political performance.

When marking the anniversary of the murder in 2022, in a rather ambiguous statement, he said he wished that journalists become like Ján Kuciak. He publicly lashed out at Kuciak’s editor at Aktuality, Peter Bárdy, and said that he does not come anywhere close to Kuciak and only pretends to be his mentor. He called Bardy a shame.

Matovič had a chance to change the approach of politicians towards the media in Slovakia –  not only in the sense of improving the legal environment but also cleaning the atmosphere of hate and verbal attacks. Instead, he sees himself as a victim of the media and compared his situation to those of Holocaust victims. The fact that he is now finance minister, and therefore wields signficiant influence in government, represents a challenge to the independent media as well: having to ponder when to react and when to ignore his attacks against the press.

Orbán succeeded in building elected autocracy in Hungary because he completely captured the press and significantly complicated the functioning of the independent media. Therefore, people in Slovakia should be disturbed by similar tendencies, including politicians describing the press as an organized criminal group or enemies of the nation.

This article is part of IPI’s reporting series “Media freedom in Europe in the shadow of Covid”, which comprises news and analysis from IPI’s network of correspondents throughout the EU. Articles do not necessarily reflect the views of IPI. This reporting series is supported by funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and by the European Commisson (DG Connect) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response coalition.

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New Italian government under Georgia Meloni makes international observers and watchdogs question her position on freedom of the press.

Italy: Journalists brace for impact as Giorgia Meloni’s new…

Italy: Journalists brace for impact as Giorgia Meloni’s new government begins

Questions over how new administration will handle press freedom challenges

By IPI contributor Christian Elia

“On World Press Freedom Day my thanks go to the many journalists who fight for the truth. We will always be at their side against all forms of censorship and imposition of the single thought.” 


With these words Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Fratelli d’Italia party, commented on the anniversary of 3 May earlier this year.

Now, after Meloni was sworn in as prime minister of a hard-right government on October 23, international observers are questioning the position of Meloni and the main supporters of her party on freedom of the press and pondering how the administration will address the many challenges facing the country’s journalists.

The coalition government, in addition to Fratelli d’Italia, includes the Lega, led by Matteo Salvini, and Forza Italia, led by Silvio Berlusconi – figures with a problematic track record on media freedom.

With major European Union initiatives to safeguard media independence and pluralism on the horizon, and major reform initiatives within the country stalled, questions also emerge over how the new administration will handle more systemic changes to the legislative and media landscapes.


European inspirations

Meloni’s first international outing after the elections, with a speech at the VOX party meeting in Spain, caused much concern in the media world.

In front of an audience that had heard messages from former U.S. President Donald Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Meloni reiterated how Poland and Hungary are models of government for her, glossing over the fact that both governments are currently facing sanctions proceedings under Article 7 of the EU Treaty for breaches of fundamental values.

Meloni has not only defended Hungary and Poland when she was in opposition, but also reiterated this approach as soon as she won the elections. Press freedom in both countries remains under serious pressure. There are major questions about how far she will take inspiration in governing from these ideological allies, and how far she will support them in democratic forums.

In general, looking at Meloni’s rhetoric, it seems clear that she is now trying to present herself as a moderate leader. However, she remains president of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), a pan-European umbrella party that includes the ruling party in Poland as well as increasingly influential far-right parties in countries such as Spain and Sweden.

In the past, Meloni has also spread and supported conspiracy theories on her social media channels, such as ethnic replacement by migrants and disinformation about vaccines. Unlike other far-right leaders in Europe, however, she has not publicly made hostile comments against journalists or the press in general. Under increased scrutiny and critical reporting from the media, this may yet change.

Her government’s approach to EU efforts to strengthen media freedom and pluralism will be another key issue. To date, she has never taken a position on the European Commission’s Media Freedom Act (EMFA) or other press freedom legislation. Only her actions in government will clarify her positions in Italy and Europe on these issues.

Another major issue on the agenda regarding media will be reform of the country’s penal code regarding “defamation through the press”, which can currently be punished with prison sentences from six months to three years. In the past two years, the Constitutional Court has urged lawmakers to initiate a comprehensive reform of defamation provisions and ruled that incarceration in such cases is unconstitutional. Until now, however, parliament has dragged its feet. Observers are concerned the new government appears unlikely to push forward the reform process.


Party problems

Meloni, while always defending her staunchest supporters, has been very careful not to attack freedom of the press directly, taking a cautious stance on the issue of journalists’ work, but not failing to emphasise that in her opinion there is a widespread desire to damage Fratelli d’Italia politically.

What is certain, however, is the attitude of many supporters of her party towards the press. Recent incidents of physical or verbal aggression against journalists can be traced back to extreme right-wing militants, however not directly linked to the Fratelli d’Italia party

The most notorious cases are those of journalist Federico Gervasoni, of the daily newspaper La Stampa, who was threatened with death on social networks for having carried out an investigation into the neo-fascist organisation Avanguardia Nazionale, where some current members of Fratelli d’Italia have operated in the past.

Then there is the case of the journalist Federico Marconi and the photographer Paolo Marchetti, of the weekly magazine L’Espresso, who were physically assaulted for filming during the commemoration by a group of neo-fascists of three right-wing militants murdered in the 1970s. For this attack, exponents of Forza Nuova, an organisation that supported Meloni for a period, were prosecuted by the Italian justice system, but has now distanced itself from her.

The latest episode is the persistent threats against Repubblica journalist Paolo Berizzi, known for his investigations into Italian neo-fascism.

Leading journalist unions and organisations – Ordine dei Giornalisti and the Federazione Nazionale della Stampa Italiana – have called for intervention by the political class in these cases.

Meloni and the party leaders immediately distanced themselves publicly and expressed solidarity with the affected journalists, but never definitively ended relations with the most radical part of her supporters.


Journalists’ safety

In recent years the Italian state has become a model with regard to the protection of journalists threatened by the mafia. Roberto Saviano is the best-known symbol of many journalists who have enjoyed not only physical protection,  but also the support of civil society through awareness-raising campaigns.

Another major source of physical attacks and threats over the past 10 years, according to the Italian Order of Journalists, has been politically motivated attacks on the press from groups associated with the far and extreme right.

In order to guarantee the work of journalists and freedom of the press, press freedom groups have stressed that it is necessary for these attacks to not only be punished by the judiciary, but also to be recognised as systematic attacks, so that the Ministry of the Interior and the police, who must protect journalists during these public events and in general, are constantly vigilant.

Whether the new occupants of the Ministry of Interior will continue the important work laid down by previous administrations will be vital for the safety of journalists in Italy moving forward.


Media ownership

With respect to the concentration of media ownership, currently Meloni’s leadership team in Fratelli d’Italia does not represent any particular editorial interests.

However, the former deputy Guido Crosetto, an executive of the company Federazione Aziende Italiane per l’Aerospazio, la Difesa e la Sicurezza (AIAD), linked to Confindustria (the trade representation of Italian industrialists), is the one Meloni will be counting on to obtain the support of industrial groups with interests in the media, which until now have never explicitly supported Meloni in her political rise. Crosetto was appointed Minister of Defence in the Meloni government.

Ever since Silvio Berlusconi entered politics in the 1990s, the problem of media freedom arose because the leader of Forza Italia could count on control of important Italian media. Since then, many things have changed and Berlusconi has reduced his role in media, selling the newspaper Il Giornale and negotiating the sale of the Mediaset TV networks.

Today, in the absence yet of a definitive law on the control of the media by politicians, which even the Democratic Party has never achieved, Guido Crosetto seems to be the mediator between the industrial groups and the media they control.

Until now, Giorgia Meloni, as former leader of the opposition and as party leader, has never expressed any particular indications with respect to a whole series of Italian and international regulations on the subject of freedom of the press. Generally, Meloni has preferred communication linked to social networks over mainstream media.

As the new government takes the reins, many of these questions will become apparent. Until then, journalists are preparing for a bumpy ride.

This article is part of IPI’s reporting series “Media freedom in Europe in the shadow of Covid”, which comprises news and analysis from IPI’s network of correspondents throughout the EU. Articles do not necessarily reflect the views of IPI. This reporting series is supported by funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and by the European Commisson (DG Connect) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response coalition.

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