Italy: MFRR partners condemn summons of RAI presenter Sigfrido…

Italy: MFRR partners condemn summons of RAI presenter Sigfrido Ranucci

In a collective statement released today, the partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) condemn the summoning of Sigfrido Ranucci, a prominent presenter at Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI), by the Parliamentary Committee responsible for the oversight of radio and TV broadcasting. This development is viewed as a clear act of intimidation, specifically aimed at an independent investigative TV programme that has consistently produced critical reports on various members of the current government.

The partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today condemn the summoning of Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI) presenter Sigfrido Ranucci by the Parliamentary Committee for the general direction and supervision of radio and TV broadcasting. We see this summons as another intimidation practice targeting an independent investigative TV programme, whose reporting has been critical of a number of members of the current government. 

Our organisations also urge the Italian Parliament to guarantee the independence of the Italian public service broadcaster (RAI) and halt unjustified political interference on its journalistic output.

On 25 October 2023, representatives of the hard-right government coalition voted to  summon Ranucci in his capacity as deputy director of RAI In-Depth Broadcast Directorate (Direzione Approfondimento). The Committee is chaired by the opposition party Five Star Movement and consists of a group of 40 senators and deputies, its composition reflecting the parliamentary configuration. 

Ranucci appeared before the committee on 7 November alongside Paolo Corsini, who chairs the Directorate. This was the first time that the Parliamentary Committee has singled out the authors of a particular TV show for summons and questioning. On paper, the hearing was called to discuss the general criteria regarding RAI’s investigative broadcasting.  However, the parliamentary questioning ended up focusing exclusively on Ranucci’s investigative show, Report and its finances. 

Throughout the past 27 years, Report has investigated numerous important public interest matters ranging from politics to corruption to the environment. The previous month, two investigative episodes broadcasted by Report sparked hostile reactions among members of the ruling coalition: one episode was about the president of the senate Ignazio La Russa and the other on the late president of coalition partner Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi

During the hearing, Ranucci defended the program’s independence and presented data on audience shares, providing evidence of Reports’ consistent viewers’ trends and budget allocation. He reminded the Committee how Report’s journalists have been brought to court 178 times and never found guilty. 

The tone of the parliamentary interaction and the circumstances in which the hearing was called signal an increasing risk of political interference to independent public service broadcasting and media freedom in Italy. 

The MFRR acknowledges that RAI’s independence is under renewed pressure, after the announcement of significant budget cuts, and the previous resignation of its CEO and other major politically-influenced internal management changes. 

We condemn this summons as an act of unjustified pressure and intimidation against Report’s independent investigative work, and we are alarmed by the threatening signal it sends to the Italian media community. We also express our deep concern for the mocking behaviour shown by some members of the governing coalition during the summons.

Along with Italian civil society and the Italian trade union of journalists Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana (FNSI), we  stand strong in support of Ranucci and Report. We renew our call to the Italian Parliament to enact a legislation aimed at safeguarding public service media from unwarranted interference and ensuring its financial support, in line with the European Media Freedom Act’s proposal.

Signed by:

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

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, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

Italia: i partner MFRR condannano la convocazione del conduttore RAI Sigfrido Ranucci

 

Le organizzazioni partner del consorzio Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) condannano oggi la convocazione del conduttore della Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI) Sigfrido Ranucci da parte della Commissione parlamentare per la direzione generale e la vigilanza sulle trasmissioni radiofoniche e televisive. Consideriamo questa convocazione come un altro atto intimidatorio nei confronti di un programma di giornalismo investigativo indipendente i cui servizi sono stati critici nei confronti di numerosi membri dell’attuale governo.

Le nostre organizzazioni sollecitano inoltre il Parlamento italiano a garantire l’indipendenza del servizio pubblico televisivo (RAI) e a porre fine alle ingiustificate ingerenze politiche sulla sua produzione giornalistica.

Il 25 ottobre 2023, i rappresentanti della coalizione di governo di estrema destra hanno votato per convocare Ranucci in qualità di vicedirettore della Direzione Approfondimento della RAI. La Commissione è presieduta dal partito di opposizione Movimento Cinque Stelle ed è composta da 40 senatori e deputati scelti in modo da riflettere la configurazione parlamentare.

Ranucci è comparso davanti alla Commissione il 7 novembre insieme a Paolo Corsini, che presiede il Direttivo. È la prima volta che la Commissione parlamentare convoca e interroga gli autori di un programma televisivo. Sulla carta l’udienza era convocata per discutere i criteri generali riguardanti l’attività investigativa della Rai, ma l’interrogazione parlamentare si è concentrata esclusivamente sul programma d’inchiesta di Ranucci, Report, e sulle sue finanze.

Nel corso degli ultimi 27 anni, Report ha indagato su numerose importanti questioni di interesse pubblico che vanno dalla politica alla corruzione all’ambiente. Il mese precedente, due inchieste avevano suscitato reazioni ostili tra i membri della coalizione di governo: una riguardava il presidente del Senato Ignazio La Russa e l’altra il defunto presidente del partito partner di coalizione Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi.

Durante l’udienza, Ranucci ha ribadito l’indipendenza del programma e ha presentato i dati sugli ascolti, fornendo prove dell’andamento stabile del programma e dell’allocazione del budget. Ha inoltre ricordato alla Commissione come i giornalisti di Report siano stati portati in tribunale 178 volte e mai trovati colpevoli.

Il tono dell’udienza parlamentare e le circostanze in cui è stata convocata l’udienza segnalano un crescente rischio di ingerenza politica nel servizio pubblico indipendente e nella libertà dei media in Italia.

MFRR nota che l’indipendenza della RAI è sotto rinnovata pressione dopo l’annuncio di significativi tagli al budget, le precedenti dimissioni del suo amministratore delegato e altri importanti cambiamenti al management interno dettati da influenze politiche.

Condanniamo questa convocazione come un atto ingiustificato di pressione e intimidazione contro il lavoro investigativo indipendente di Report e siamo allarmati dal segnale minaccioso che invia alla comunità dei media italiani. Esprimiamo inoltre la nostra profonda preoccupazione per l’atteggiamento beffardo mostrato da alcuni membri della coalizione di governo nel corso della convocazione.

Insieme alla società civile italiana e al sindacato italiano dei giornalisti Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana (FNSI), ribadiamo il nostro sostegno a Ranucci ed a Report. Rinnoviamo il nostro appello al Parlamento italiano affinché promulghi una legislazione volta a salvaguardare i media di servizio pubblico da interferenze ingiustificate e ad assicurarne il sostegno economico in linea con la proposta dell’European Media Freedom Act.

Signed by:

  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) 
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Free Press Unlimited
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
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Slovakia: New PM rages against media while Culture Minister…

Slovakia: New PM rages against media while Culture Minister plans future of public service media

Robert Fico and his Smer party have returned to power in Slovakia. The politician who was forced to resign as prime minister after the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak in 2018 is back at the head of a new governing coalition creating deep unease among Slovakia’s journalists about the future for media freedoms and public service journalism.

On Sunday November 12, Fico published a ten minute video tirade against independent news organisations where he singles out TV Markiza, the dailies SME and Dennik N, and website Aktuality as ‘enemy media’.

Promising that he is “not a dog that only barks”, Fico then warns that TV Markiza’s advertising revenue will be at risk when he instructs his people in government to both “deal with the TV financially” and to “look into Markiza’s ‘monopolist behaviour’”.

On Monday November 13, Fico then issued a press release announcing the four news organizations are not welcome at the premises of the Government Office of the Slovak Republic adding that “We will review their access and work. Until then, they are uninvited guests.”

The new government had already signalled its intent by handing the ministry of culture, together with its media portfolio, to the Slovak National Party (SNS), which calls for the dissolution of public service media while also boycotting most traditional media.

The new Slovakian government is formed by a coalition of Smer, Hlas and SNS. Hlas is a new party, led by Peter Pellegrini, a former leading Smer politician who replaced Fico as prime minister, after Fico‘s forced resignation in 2018, until Smer was defeated in the 2020 elections. SNS are seen as right wing radicals with many of their newly elected members of parliament and candidates for government posts having made their reputations as stars of the disinformation scene including pro-Russian influencers, famous for spreading hoaxes and misinformation.

The new minister of culture is Martina Šimkovičová, a former TV anchor who was fired from the mainstream TV Markíza for racist comments in 2015. The following year she was elected to parliament on an anti-migration ticket and subsequently became a superstar of the pro-Russian disinformation scene. She is one of the main figures behind the SNS call for a ‘boycott of traditional media“. SNS ignore most of the interview requests and refuse to answer questions from the independent and critical media operating outside oligarch ownership. SNS refused access to journalists from the daily Sme, Denník N and Aktuality to their post-election press conference.

SNS, with support from Smer, promises to favour the disinformation media. Several of their politicians have stated that they could give exclusive access to information for websites known for their pro-Russian propaganda, some of which were banned for a short period at the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A Smer friendly website, Ereport, (owned by Mr. Flašík, a former Smer campaign strategist) is usually allowed to ask the first question at press conferences of the new coalition.

Even more worrying is what the government may be planning for the public service media, Rozhlas a televízia Slovenska (RTVS). In 2017, SNS leader Andrej Danko called for the replacement of public service media with ‘state media’ before his party helped orchestrate the political capture of RTVS. The new chairman of the parliamentary media and culture committee, SNS MP Roman Michelko, campaigned to dissolve RTVS altogether. He recently confirmed for Aktuality that the official programme of the new government will include the dissolution of RTVS into two separate entities, Slovak Television and Slovak Radio, as they existed before 2011. Prime Minister Fico also speculated about the future of RTVS while introducing the new minister of culture, saying, “It is hard to talk about the Slovak Television and Slovak Radio as public service, because this institution has rarely fulfilled this role.”

Journalists fear that the split of RTVS could make it easier for the political parties to establish and divide political control over public broadcasting by appointing their allies onto the board and into senior positions. MP Michelko has admitted that they might nominate members of the boards of the two new institutions that will be in line with the political values of the governing coalition.

Smer itself is a populist party with pro-Russian sympathies, feeding off anti-immigrant sentiment that campaigned to end the delivery of military help to Ukraine. Fico makes no secret of being inspired by Viktor Orbán mimicking his anti-journalist rhetoric and calls to label NGOs as ‘foreign agents’.

Fico’s attacks on journalists include calling them “idiots“, “hyenas“ and “dirty anti-Slovak prostitutes“. Fico also blamed the media for his 2018 resignation, claiming reporters had unfairly connected him and his party to the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancé, Martina Kusnirova. One theory at the time was that Italy’s Ndrangheta mafia may have sought to silence Kuciak because he had been working on a story exploring the connections between the mafia and Fico. The investigation subsequently prosecuted Marián Kočner (twice acquitted, but awaiting the results of an appeal) for the murders. Kočner was close to the oligarch Norbert Bodor and leaked communications between the two reveal them referring to Fico as ‘the boss’. At one point Fico and Bodor were charged with forming an organized criminal group, though the charges were later dropped by the Slovak general prosecution.

One more worrying development in the Slovak media market was announced just after the election. The oligarchic group Penta, has expanded its investments in the Slovak media to take over the largest daily tabloid newspaper, Nový Čas. The deal is still under review by the competition authority, but should it go through Penta will have a near monopoly on the Slovak tabloid newspaper market. Penta has been repeatedly accused of helping the Smer and Hlas parties by using their media to campaign against their political opponents. Over the last few years, Penta media published dozens of negative articles on the police and prosecutors to discredit investigations into Smer politicians and supporters for corruption or misuse of power.

In conclusion, it is clear that Slovak journalists can expect to face increased pressure and a government averse to accountable journalism. Under the previous Smer and SNS coalition government independent journalists were cast out of the public broadcaster, while dozens of investigative journalists were put under surveillance by corrupt police officials accused of being in the pay of Norbert Bodor. Leaked communications were used to discredit journalists and the persistent verbal attacks on critical journalists by Smer and SNS politicians created an atmosphere of threats and hostility in which the murder of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova became possible.

Nearly six years after their deaths Fico’s Sunday tirade against journalists will have shocked many but surprised few. Slovak journalists are once again bracing themselves for turbulent times.

This article was authored by Peter Hanak, journalist for the Slovak news site Aktuality.sk and author of IPI’s report ‘Media Capture in Slovakia: a story of fragile pluralism, media resilience and the struggle against corruption’. It was published by IPI as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response programme

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The Netherlands: The MFRR and the CASE deplore abusive…

The MFRR and the CASE deplore the lawsuit against Het Financieele Dagblad

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) deplore the lawsuit against Dutch daily newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad (FD) and stand in solidarity with the FD and its journalists. The case, of which the hearing will take place on 13 November 2023, is a clear attempt to silence and discourage Het Financieele Dagblad and its journalists from further reporting.

On April 6, 2023, het Financieele Dagblad (FD), a Dutch daily newspaper specialising in business and finance, received a summons from Willem Blijdorp, founder and majority shareholder of the wholesale company B&S. Blijdorp is suing the newspaper and its editor-in-chief Perry Feenstra in a civil case before the Amsterdam District Court over two articles published in November 2022 about his investments in Iranian quarries. The legal basis of the claim is a wrongful act: Blijdorp’s lawyers argue that the article violates his honour and good name, and thereby violates Article 8 of the ECHR and article 7 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. 

Published on November 2, 2022, the first article revealed that Blijdorp, who was vice-chairman of the B&S supervisory board, had hired nine B&S employees to advise and direct his private investment in Iranian marble. According to the newspaper, the involvement of B&S employees contradicts what the B&S executives had told other shareholders in April 2022, thereby omitting the risk that Blijdorp’s Iranian interests would violate sanctions.

A follow-up article was published on November 3, entitled “American watchdog: major shareholder B&S violates Iran sanctions”, which quotes the American non-profit organisation, United Against Nucluear Iran (UANI), describing Blijdorop’s simultaneous business relations with Iran and the United States as “a clear violation of Iran sanctions”.

The summons claim that the sole purpose of the reporting by the FD was to damage Blijdorp, and that the claims were “suggestive and partially incorrect”. Blijdorp asked for the two articles to be removed from the FD website, a correction in the print and online editions and for compensation of both material and immaterial damages to be paid.

 

Abusive tactics

Our organisations have closely assessed the legal claim and believe it qualifies as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPPs): abusive litigation filed by powerful individuals aimed at silencing and intimidating legitimate watchdog journalism.

Blijdorp did not opt for summary or preliminary relief proceedings (kort geding), the common route in the Netherlands for cases legitimately aimed at limiting reputational damage following a publication, but instead started main proceedings (bodemprocedure, i.e. proceedings on the merits). These proceedings are much longer than a kort geding and will unnecessarily drive up the legal costs for Het Financieele Dagblad. Blijdorp also asked the journalists to present all their sources to the court. In addition, he claims an excessive amount of €150.000 for non-material damages, while material damages will be calculated in separate proceedings.

In a concerning development on June 20, 2023, Blijdorp filed a petition to summon witnesses, including the journalist and possible sources. Furthermore, several sources received letters from Blijdorp’s lawyers – prior to the lawsuit – requesting them to urgently clarify which information the FD provided to them before giving their testimony. 

A hearing will be held at the Amsterdam Civil Court on November 13,  2023. The MFRR and CASE argue that this legal claim should be considered as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) and needs to be dismissed at the earliest stage. We also reiterate our solidarity with the journalists of Het Financieele Dagblad who have already had to devote a great deal of time and resources to their defense, while trying to protect the confidentiality of their sources.

 

Threat to press freedom

The case against Het Financieele Dagblad highlights the threat posed to press freedom in Europe. While the European Union has traditionally been considered a beacon of press freedom, we see an alarming increase in legal intimidation through the use of SLAPPs that threatens the freedom and safety of journalists.  

A draft EU Directive to protect targets of SLAPPs held high promise, but ongoing negotiations between the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of the European Union, may fail to translate European values into action. A watered-down version of the directive will provide no meaningful protection for journalists, media outlets, activists and civil society organisations in Europe. 

As we enter the final stages of the negotiations on the directive, this timely example again illustrates the crucial importance of a strong early dismissal mechanism, a wide definition of the notion of ‘cross-border’ and full compensation of damages. Otherwise similar cases will continue to mushroom throughout the EU, seriously weakening media freedom and the ability of journalists and media outlets to play their watchdog role, thereby undermining the public’s right to know.

Signed by:

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

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, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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Turkey: Repeal the “disinformation offence” and overreaching legal amendments

Turkey: Repeal the “disinformation offence” and overreaching legal amendments

As the Turkish Constitutional Court reviews the constitutionality of the “disinformation offence”, today on 8 November, the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) partner organisations reiterate their call for the annulment of Article 217/A of the Turkish Penal Code and related legal amendments passed in October 2022 that undermine international standards on the right to freedom of expression and of the press.

 

Turkish translation available here

Since its introduction a year ago, the offence of “publicly disseminating misleading information” under Article 217/A, known as the “disinformation offence”, has been weaponized to silence dissent. The broad and vague language of Article 217/A has resulted in at least 33 journalists confronting legal consequences, indicating the article’s potential to stifle legitimate dialogue and critical thought under the guise of curbing “false information.”

Any restrictions to the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the Article 26 of the Turkish Constitution, must be prescribed by law, must pursue a legitimate aim, be proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued and necessary in a democratic society. The Venice Commission’s urgent opinion on the offence highlighted that the ambiguous manner with which Art. 217/A is worded jeopardises the legality criterion and that it is doubtful the offence is proportionate or necessary in a democratic society considering the chilling effect it would create; making the law incompatible with international standards on the freedom of expression.

The review by the Constitutional Court presents a critical opportunity for Turkey to reestablish adherence to the principles of international human rights law and democratic values. We call upon the Turkish Constitutional Court to acknowledge the incompatibility of Article 217/A with international human rights conventions and to annul this and other restrictive amendments from October 2022. 

In solidarity with those who champion free expression and media freedom in Turkey, we will be closely monitoring the Turkish Constitutional Court’s forthcoming hearing today, on 8 November, on the annulment of the “publicly disseminating misleading information” offence.

 

Background on the October 2022 amendments

In October 2022, the Turkish parliament passed a series of legislative amendments to several laws, including the Turkish Penal Code, the Internet Law and the Press Law. This new “censorship” or “disinformation law” criminalised “spreading false information” while additional provisions have imposed heavy obligations on social media platforms and over-the-top service providers.

 

Before the October 2022 amendments, Turkish legislation was already placing tight constraints on online platforms, mandating swift compliance with content takedown requests under the threat of substantial penalties. Since the October 2022 changes, social media platforms (SMPs) risk advertising bans, hefty fines that could be as high as 3 percent of their global income, and significant reductions in their bandwidth, or ‘throttling’, if they do not follow government orders. Not adhering to even a single demand for content removal or user information can lead to up to 90 percent throttling of their services and a six-month ban on advertisements.

Signed by:

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

Türkiye: “Dezenformasyon suçu” ve diğer kısıtlayıcı yasal değişiklikler yürürlükten kaldırılsın

 

ARTICLE 19 Europe ve Medya Özgürlüğü Acil Müdahale (MFRR) paydaşları; Anayasa Mahkemesi’nin “dezenformasyon suçunun” anayasaya uygunluğunu incelediği bugün (8 Kasım), Türk Ceza Kanunu’nun 217/A maddesinin ve Ekim 2022’de kabul edilen ve ifade hürriyeti hakkına ilişkin uluslararası standartları hiçe sayan yasal değişikliklerin iptali çağrısını yinelemektedir.

Bir yıl önce yürürlüğe girmesinden bu yana, “dezenformasyon suçu” olarak bilinen 217/A maddesi kapsamındaki “halkı yanıltıcı bilgiyi alenen yayma” suçu, muhalefeti susturmak için silah olarak kullanılıyor. Madde 217/A’nın geniş ve muğlak dili, en az 33 gazeteciye soruşturma açılmasına neden oldu. Bu durum, maddenin “gerçeğe aykırı bilginin yayılmasını” engelleme kisvesi altında meşru diyaloğu ve eleştirel düşünceyi boğma potansiyeline işaret ediyor.

Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Anayasası’nın 26. maddesi ile düzenlenen ifade hürriyeti hakkına getirilecek her türlü kısıtlama kanunla öngörülmeli, meşru bir amaç gütmeli, güdülen meşru amaçla orantılı olmalı ve demokratik bir toplumda gerekli olmalıdır. Venedik Komisyonu’nun suçla ilgili acil görüşünde, 217/A maddesinin muğlak ifadesinin yasallık kriterini tehlikeye attığı belirtilmiş, fiilin suç olarak düzenlenmesinin yaratacağı caydırıcı etkinin bu düzenlemenin demokratik bir toplumun gereklerine uygun veya güdülen amaçla orantılı olduğunu şüpheye düşürdüğü vurgulanmıştır. Komisyon, bu durumun yasayı ifade hürriyetine ilişkin uluslararası standartlarla bağdaşmaz hale getirdiği kanaatine varmıştır. 

Anayasa Mahkemesi tarafından yapılacak inceleme, Türkiye’nin uluslararası insan hakları hukuku ilkelerine ve demokratik değerlere bağlılığını yeniden tesis etmesi için kritik bir fırsat sunmaktadır. Anayasa Mahkemesi’ni 217/A maddesinin uluslararası insan hakları sözleşmeleriyle uyumsuzluğunu kabul etmeye, Ekim 2022’de mevzuata eklenen bu ve diğer kısıtlayıcı değişiklikleri iptal etmeye çağırıyoruz

Türkiye’de ifade hürriyetini ve medya özgürlüğünü savunanlarla dayanışma içinde, Anayasa Mahkemesi’nde “halkı yanıltıcı bilgiyi alenen yayma” suçunu düzenleyen hükmün iptaline ilişkin bugün (8 Kasım) yapılacak incelemeyi yakından takip edeceğiz.

 

Ekim 2022’de yapılan yasa değişikliklerinin arka planı

Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi; Ekim 2022’de Türk Ceza Kanunu, İnternet Kanunu ve Basın Kanunu da dâhil olmak üzere çeşitli kanunlarda bir dizi değişiklik yaptı. Bu yeni “sansür” veya “dezenformasyon yasası”, “gerçeğe aykırı bilgi yaymayı” suç olarak düzenlerken, sosyal medya mecralarına ve internet servis sağlayıcılarına da ağır yükümlülükler getirdi.

 

Ekim 2022 değişikliklerinden önce Türkiye’deki mevzuat halihazırda dijital mecralar için ağır kısıtlamalar öngörüyor ve önemli ceza tehditleri altında içerik kaldırma emirlerine hızlı bir şekilde uyulmasını zorunlu kılıyordu. Bu değişikliklerin yürürlüğe girmesinden bu yana, sosyal medya mecraları (SMM’ler), iktidarın emirlerine uymadıkları takdirde reklam yasakları, küresel gelirlerinin yüzde 3’üne kadar çıkabilecek ağır para cezaları ve bant genişliklerinde önemli düşüşler veya “daraltma” riskiyle karşı karşıya bulunmaktadır. Mevcut düzenlemeye göre içerik kaldırılması ya da kullanıcı bilgilerine ilişkin tek bir talebe dahi uyulmaması, bant genişliklerinin yüzde 90’a varan oranda daraltılmasına ve altı aya kadar reklam yasağı almalarına neden olabilmektedir.

 

Ekim 2022 değişiklikleri hakkında daha fazla bilgi için aşağıdaki kaynakları ziyaret edebilirsiniz:

https://www.article19.org/resources/turkey-dangerous-dystopian-new-legal-amendments
https://freeturkeyjournalists.ipi.media/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/turkey-throttling-the-media-in-crucial-election-year-turkish.pdf

İMZALAYANLAR

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • Avrupa Basın ve Medya Özgürlüğü Merkezi (ECPMF)
  • Avrupa Gazeteciler Federasyonu (EFJ)
  • Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Uluslararası Basın Enstitüsü (IPI)

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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Political advertising Romania

Romania: Political advertising in media is further corroding independent…

Romania: Political advertising in media is further corroding independent journalism

Press freedom in Romania is under renewed threat as political parties have been distorting journalism with tens of millions of euros of public money flowing into the media.

 

By IPI contributor Tuukka Tuomasjukka

Major political parties and Romanian media outlets have in recent years signed significant contracts for political advertising, though transparency mechanisms are lacking. The content paid by parties is not marked as such, meaning the public can not distinguish bought publicity from legitimate journalistic content.

As Romania heads into a super electoral year in 2024 with four elections taking place, the issue of funding to the media – especially by the country’s largest political parties – is back in the spotlight.

Non-transparent funding of the media by some political parties distorts the public agenda and the tax payers are deceived by non-transparent politically sponsored content that is falsely promoted as journalism, Romanian press freedom NGO ActiveWatch writes in its recent report.

Cristian Andrei, a Romanian journalist specialized in contracts between press and political parties, told IPI that the mechanism is as follows: if a political party wants for example to promote a policy, they will take out a contract with a decoy agency, which then creates advertising contracts with news outlets. The content produced within the contract is not marked.

The contracts are paid with party subsidies that come from public money. Still, the content of these contracts are kept secret, as well as the media outlets that publish this content.

Citizens are basically being lied to with their own money, which, we must admit, is quite a feat, journalist Codruța Simina says in an interview for ActiveWatch.

According to journalists and civil society groups, these often lucrative advertising contracts have led to a drop in critical journalism as media soften or adapt their reporting to favour the party funding them. Romanian think tank Expert Forum states that the contracts reduce the independence of the media.

Romanian independent journalists have described the mechanism as a form of clientelistic bribery between politics and media which encourages self-censorship on certain topics or themes.

 

Increase in contracts after 2015

While the use of advertising money as a means of soft censorship of the press in Romania is by no means new, the money flowing into media from bigger political parties has surged in recent years, raising heightened concerns about its impact on editorial independence.

Political parties use public funds to buy the favorability of journalistic media”, says Cristian Andrei in an interview for IPI. “In big contracts of over one million euro annually, news outlets start to either avoid criticism or be less critical. A mechanism of auto-censorship appears. The political party is not demanding this directly, but the outlet changes its attitude as a result of the money it has received.

Politically paid content in Romanian press was made possible by a legislative change in 2015. Crucially, the contracts between political parties and media outlets are secret in Romania, which makes it hard to prove concerns about press freedom. According to public budgets, in 2022, the government coalition parties PSD and PNL spent altogether over 90 million Romanian lei (18.5 million euro) in contracts with media.

Contracts between political parties and news media have been growing significantly in recent years. According to Romanian news media Libertatea, in the first six months of each year, in 2021 the sum reached 24 million lei (4,8 million euro), in 2022 it was 47 million lei (9,5 million euro), and in 2023 it was 58 million lei (11,7 million euro). This has been happening simultaneously while the subsidies for political parties have been growing.

In some months the big Romanian political parties have bigger budgets allocated for press than big corporations, such as Coca Cola, Andrei compares.

The Prime Minister of Romania, Marcel Ciolacu, has justified the political advertising as allowing for parties to gauge the public reaction for different political initiatives. The advertising revenue has also represented a financial boost to many media outlets struggling in a small market.

There is no real debate, no pressure on politicians to change the system, ActiveWatch writes in its report.

However, the threat for democracy is strong especially due to the approaching bumper election year. In 2024, four different elections are due to be held in Romania: local elections, parliamentary elections, presidential elections and European parliament elections. As parties fight for public opinion, the already sizable influx of non-transparent money into the system will only increase, further complicating the ethical dilemmas of the media.

In the election year 2024, paid information can distort the vote, ActiveWatch writes.

 

International concerns

The millions of euros of politicized content pouring into Romanian media have also become a concern on the European level. In the Media Pluralism Monitor’s report in 2022, Romania was put into the highest risk group with Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovenia.

The Council of Europe and European Commission have both noted in recent reports that Romanian media does not provide enough information about the content paid by political parties and that these contracts have a detrimental effect on press freedom.

The Romanian public lacks trust in the system as well. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has recently reported that only one fifth of the country’s population thinks that the Romanian press is free from political influence. Only one third of the population trusts the news.

 

100,000 euros for an interview

Only a few of the numerous contracts between political parties and media companies in Romania have become public due to investigative journalism.

Online media Recorder published in autumn 2022 an investigation according to which political parties agreed contracts with some of the biggest television channels in Romania – Antena 3 and Digi24 – as well as online publication Hotnews and Newsweek-magazine.

Due to a lack of transparency, the exact number of media outlets benefiting from the advertising campaigns is not fully known. According to ActiveWatch, most of the time the money is channeled to websites of TV channels, as buying editorial content directly from the television channel outside the electoral period is prohibited by the broadcasting law.

The money goes through the websites of television channels, so that this money ends up feeding those that actually interest us: television channels, explained an anonymous member from PSD’s lead for Libertatea.

Recorder also had access to documents showing how PNL paid 1 000 euros per piece for 120 positive news articles about its activity. The paid articles were not marked as advertorials.

Companies have also been paid to distribute content that would most likely have been reported in any case, as they are in public interest. These include filming speeches in political meetings, being paid 5 000 euros per speech (65 000 euros altogether), broadcasting a press conference for 69 000 euros and conducting an interview with a presidential candidate costing 3,000 euros per minute, with a final cost of 100,000 euros. Two of the latter were marked ambiguously as “electoral debate” in TV due to the external funding.

“Many people watch such broadcasts and have no idea that the party paid for the airtime, and the moderator is not in the position of a journalist free of any constraint, but in the position of a host who has to put the client who paid for the broadcast in a favorable light”, Recorder explains in its story.

 

Distorting the media landscape

Journalist Dan Tăpălagă from the independent publication G4Media blames Romanian media for the situation. According to him the Romanian news media is distorted, non-functioning and its situation is critical.

“Romanian media accepted to play the political game. The watchdog of democracy is happy to receive small treats from the government and no longer barks at the government. It is wagging its tail happily, hoping that it will receive more easy money from the state. This easy money is distorting the media landscape”, he told IPI in an interview.

Tăpălagă says that only a part of Romanian media – some small online publications – covers topics that are unfavourable for the government. “Journalists here in Romania are not doing active propaganda on how good the political parties and government are. They play smarter: they avoid topics that are embarrassing for the government”, he added.

In September 2022, G4Media initiated a statement with two NGO’s in which they wanted to raise the alarm about the “unprecedented degradation of Romanian media landscape”. According to the statement, Romania risks facing the same situation where Hungary is and to lose European funds, if it won’t take measures to diminish political control over the free press.

We have a media that is completely quiet. Too quiet for this country, Tăpălagă says. He considers that the situation of Romanian media got worse with significant media subsidies, worth 40 million euros, that were given out during the corona pandemic in May 2020. These public funds are not unconditional money, Tăpălagă added.

 

Only hope for recovery comes from Brussels

The Romanian media market is suffering from Stockholm syndrome, says vice president Ionuț Codreanu from the Romanian press freedom NGO ActiveWatch “Mainstream media is too accustomed and familiar with political parties. The vast majority of media outlets don’t want to disturb political governance”, he says.

This also misleads the public, as they don’t get the actual news in their preferred media.

If people don’t hear something on the TV, they don’t believe it, journalist Ovidiu Vanghele describes the situation to ActiveWatch.

Codreanu underlines that solid independent media still exists in Romania, but it suffers from financial instability and brain drain.

According to ActiveWatch, there are also reasonable suspicions that political parties make contracts with media outlets to launch smear campaigns against their opponents.

ActiveWatch underlines media companies own responsibility for the current situation. “These commercial relations would not be possible without the active participation of media outlets that mislead their own audiences”, it writes in its report.

ActiveWatch considers that the mechanisms between press and political parties seem impossible to eradicate, and that the opacity of government parties is increasing in direct proportion to the sums these parties are investing in media. In its report, the NGO puts hope in forthcoming regulation on political advertising that the EU is working on, which should lead to more transparency in public communication. The European Parliament and European Council are currently negotiating the regulation.

The only hope for a slow recovery of these mechanisms also comes from Brussels, ActiveWatch wrote in its recent newsletter.

In the proposal for regulation, political advertisements need to be adequately labeled to distinguish them from editorial content. They will also be accompanied by a transparency notice, which will state for example the identity of the sponsor and the amounts spent.

The European Parliament has also been working on the draft Media Freedom Act (EMFA). Still, Codreanu considers the Romanian government to be superficial when transposing the European framework into national legislation.

I don’t believe our legislator is very serious when it comes to adapting new European principles, he says.

In its report, ActiveWatch says it has not identified any other country where political parties finance private media similarly to the current Romanian model.

How should the situation be solved? Journalist Cristian Andrei thinks that political parties should disclose the amounts they are paying, names of the publications and types of content and services they paid for on a monthly basis. In addition to this, all paid content should be marked.

However, Romanian politicians have opposed these ideas. The leader of the PSD group in the Chamber of Deputies, Alfred Simonis, told Europa Liberă that he “supports transparency in the spending of public funds, but that transparency should not lead to a situation where political competitors find out a party’s communication strategy and therefore the marking of articles paid for by the party should only be done 30 days after publication.”

The path forward remains unsure, but the situation is serious. Romanian civil society and journalists have hoped for reactive measures from an European level in 2023, before the electoral year starts. So far the international community has been quiet.

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. 

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Emilia Șercan

Media freedom groups dismayed at the abrupt closure of…

Media freedom groups dismayed at the abrupt closure of investigation into smear campaign against Romanian journalist

Journalists and media freedom groups today expressed dismay at the decision of Romania’s Prosecutor Office at the Bucharest Court of Appeal to close the investigation into the smear campaign against journalist Emilia Șercan. To do so the Prosecutor made the extraordinary ruling that ‘the offences’, including the publication of stolen private photos and the presumed disclosure of evidence held by the police, ‘were not provided for by the criminal law’.

This decision comes twenty months after Șercan first filed a complaint to the police about stolen personal photos posted on adult sites in February 2022. Within hours of filing the complaint, evidence provided by Șercan to the police was then posted on a Moldovan media web-site strongly suggesting that someone within the police had leaked the information.  

On 26 October, in anticipation of the probable closure of the investigation, media freedom groups appealed to the Prosecutor General, Alex Florin Florența, demanding the investigation be kept open and transferred to a new team supervised by himself. 

The letter noted the litany of failures and clear breaches of procedure in the original investigation, that suggest a deliberate attempt to scupper the investigation and to protect the perpetrators of the crime.

The smear campaign against Emilia Șercan began after she published, in January 2022, revelations that Nicolae Ciucă, President of the Romanian Senate who was at the time Prime Minister, had plagiarized his doctoral dissertation. 

This decision fails both Emilia Șercan and all Romanian journalists who seek to hold political power to account. 

We support Emilia Șercan’s search for justice and back her appeal to overturn this unjust decision. 

Signed by:

  • ActiveWatch
  • Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Free Press Unlimited
  • International Press Institute
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation

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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Tolga Şardan

Turkey: International groups condemn arrest of journalist Tolga Şardan

Turkey: International groups condemn arrest of journalist Tolga Şardan

The undersigned media freedom, freedom of expression, human rights and journalists’ organizsations strongly condemn the arrest of seasoned journalist Tolga Şardan in Ankara.

 

Turkish translation available here

On the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists (IDEI), the undersigned groups demand that instead of punishing journalists for informing the public, Turkey’s judiciary should hold accountable those violating press freedom in the country.

On November 1, Tolga Şardan, a journalist for the independent T24 news website, was detained in connection with his October 31, T24 article titled “What is in the ‘judicial report’ submitted by the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) to the Presidency?” which discusses a report on corruption in the justice system allegedly commissioned from Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MİT) by the President’s office. The Center for Combating Disinformation under the Presidency’s Communications Directorate refuted the existence of the MİT report on November 1 in a post on the X platform. Şardan’s article was blocked on November 2.

Şardan’s news article was the latest in a series of investigative reports of hard-hitting allegations of corruption in Turkey’s justice system which fall squarely within the frame of legitimate public concern. All of these reports were blocked online by court orders.

The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a statement stating that Şardan was under investigation on the charge of “publicly disseminating misleading information” under Article 217/A of Law No. 5237. This article is regulated under the so-called “disinformation law” introduced in October 2022 and those convicted face a prison sentence of up to three years for the offense.

After being detained, Şardan was brought to the Ankara courthouse where he testified before a prosecutor. “My article constitutes journalistic work carried out with the sole purpose of informing the public”, said Şardan, denying the allegations and demanded his immediate release. Şardan’s legal counsel added that the prosecutor should have started an investigation into the allegations raised in Şardan’s article instead of arresting his client.

Following his statement, the prosecutor transferred Şardan to the court on duty, with a request for his arrest. The court arrested Şardan and transferred the journalist to a prison in Ankara’s Sincan district. As the basis for its arrest decision, the court incorrectly cited Şardan’s alleged offense as one falling under the category of so-called “catalogue crimes” provided in Article 100/3 of the Turkish Criminal Procedure Code, which includes a list of offenses that call for immediate arrest of the suspect. However, Article 217/A of Law No. 5237 does not fall under the scope of this article.

Since its passing, the Disinformation Law has been used at least 12 times to target journalists for their news reporting. On the day of the passing of the law, Hakan Çavuşoğlu, the governing party’s representative and former head of the Parliament’s Human Rights Investigative Committee told a visiting international press freedom delegation to Turkey that  the law would not be used against journalists but had been passed only to deter people from sharing false information in times of upheaval and during emergency situations such as acute disasters. Earlier this year, journalist Sinan Aygül became the first journalist to be convicted under the Disinformation Law. Şardan’s arrest marks the 13th alert on Mapping Media Freedom concerning Disinformation Law cases reported in Turkey over the past year.

We therefore call on the Turkish authorities to immediately release Tolga Şardan from pretrial detention, and drop all charges against him. Authorities must end the systematic judicial harassment against him and other journalists, including the right to freedom of expression and media freedom in the country. We reiterate our solidarity with  all the  journalists arbitrarily detained in Turkey. Journalism is not a crime and every minute a journalist spends behind bars for their legitimate reporting and journalistic work is a violation of freedom of expression and media freedom. This must stop.

Signed by:

  • Article 19
  • Amnesty International
  • Association of Journalists (GC)
  • Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Foreign Media Association (FMA)
  • Freedom House
  • Human Rights Watch
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • KulturForum TürkeiDeutschland
  • Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA)
  • Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBC Transeuropa)
  • PEN Norway
  • Platform for Independent Journalism (P24)
  • Progressive Journalists Association (ÇGD)
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

Türkiye: Uluslararası kuruluşlar gazeteci Tolga Şardan’ın tutuklanmasını kınadı

 

Yetkilileri Tolga Şardan’ı derhal serbest bırakmaya çağırıyoruz

Aşağıda imzası bulunan basın özgürlüğü, ifade hürriyeti, insan hakları ve gazeteci örgütleri, deneyimli gazeteci Tolga Şardan’ın Ankara’da tutuklanmasını şiddetle kınamaktadır. 2 Kasım Uluslararası Gazetecilere Karşı İşlenen Suçlarda Cezasızlıkla Mücadele Günü vesilesiyle aşağıda imzası bulunan gruplar, Türkiye’de yargının, kamuoyunu bilgilendirdikleri için gazetecileri cezalandırmak yerine, ülkede basın özgürlüğünü ihlal edenlerden hesap sormasını talep etmektedir.

Bağımsız T24 haber sitesi muhabiri Tolga Şardan, 31 Ekim tarihli “MİT’in Cumhurbaşkanlığı’na sunduğu ‘yargı raporunda ne var?başlıklı yazısında, Cumhurbaşkanlığı tarafından MİT’e hazırlatıldığı iddia edilen yargıdaki yolsuzluklara ilişkin raporu ele aldığı gerekçesiyle 1 Kasım’da gözaltına alındı. Cumhurbaşkanlığı İletişim Başkanlığı’na bağlı Dezenformasyonla Mücadele Merkezi ayrıca 1 Kasım tarihinde paylaşım ile MİT raporunun varlığını yalanladı.  2 Kasım’da Şardan’ın yazısına erişim engeli getirildi. 

Şardan’ın haberi, Türkiye’nin adalet sistemindeki yolsuzluk iddialarını içeren ve kamuoyunun meşru kaygıları çerçevesine giren bir dizi araştırma raporunun sonuncusuydu. Bu haberlerin tamamına mahkeme kararıyla erişim engellendi.

İstanbul Cumhuriyet Başsavcılığı tarafından yapılan açıklamada, Şardan hakkında 5237 sayılı Kanunun 217/A maddesi uyarınca “kamuoyunu yanıltıcı bilgi yaymak” suçundan soruşturma yürütüldüğü belirtildi. Bu madde, Ekim 2022′de yürürlüğe giren ve “dezenformasyon yasası” olarak adlandırılan yasa kapsamında düzenleniyor.  Suçlu bulunanlar üç yıla kadar hapis cezasına çarptırılabiliyor.

 

Gözaltına alındıktan sonra Ankara Adliyesi’ne getirilen Şardan, burada savcıya ifade verdi. “Altını çizerek söylüyorum sadece halkı bilgilendirmek çerçevesinde gazetecilik yaptım” diyen Şardan suçlamaları reddetti ve derhal serbest bırakılmayı talep etti. Şardan’ın avukatı, savcının müvekkilini tutuklamak yerine Şardan’ın yazısında yer alan iddialarla ilgili soruşturma başlatması gerektiğini de sözlerine ekledi.

İfadesinin ardından savcı, Şardan’ı tutuklanması talebiyle nöbetçi mahkemeye sevk etti. Mahkeme Şardan’ı tutukladı ve gazeteciyi Ankara, Sincan Cezaevi’ne nakletti. Mahkeme, tutuklama kararına dayanak olarak, Şardan’ın işlediği iddia edilen suçun, şüphelinin derhal tutuklanmasını gerektiren suçların bir listesini içeren Türk Ceza Muhakemesi Kanunu’nun 100/3 maddesinde belirtilen “katalog suçlar” kategorisine girdiğini yanlış bir şekilde gösterdi. Ancak 5237 sayılı Kanun’un 217/A maddesi bu madde kapsamına girmemektedir.

Dezenformasyon Yasası, kabul edildiği günden bu yana en az 12 kez gazetecileri yaptıkları haberler nedeniyle hedef almak için kullanıldı. Yasanın kabul edildiği gün, iktidar partisi temsilcisi ve TBMM İnsan Haklarını İnceleme Komisyonu eski başkanı Hakan Çavuşoğlu, Türkiye’yi ziyaret eden uluslararası basın özgürlüğü heyetine, yasanın gazetecilere karşı kullanılmayacağını, sadece kargaşa dönemlerinde ve akut afetler gibi acil durumlarda insanları yanlış bilgi paylaşmaktan caydırmak için çıkarıldığını söyledi. Bu yılın başlarında gazeteci Sinan Aygül, Dezenformasyon Yasası kapsamında mahkum edilen ilk gazeteci oldu. Şardan’ın tutuklanması, geçtiğimiz yıl Türkiye’de tespit edilen Dezenformasyon Yasası vakalarına ilişkin 13. Medya Özgürlüğü Haritalama veritabanı uyarısı oldu.

Bu nedenle Türkiye makamlarına Tolga Şardan’ı derhal tutuksuz yargılanmak üzere serbest bırakmaları ve hakkındaki tüm suçlamaları düşürmeleri çağrısında bulunuyoruz. Yetkililer, ülkedeki ifade hürriyeti ve medya özgürlüğü hakkı da dahil olmak üzere, Şardan’a ve diğer gazetecilere yönelik sistematik hukuki tacize son vermelidir. Türkiye’de keyfi olarak gözaltına alınan tüm gazetecilerle dayanışma içinde olduğumuzu yineliyoruz. Gazetecilik suç değildir ve bir gazetecinin meşru habercilik ve gazetecilik faaliyetleri nedeniyle parmaklıklar ardında geçirdiği her dakika ifade ve basın özgürlüğünün ihlalidir. Buna bir son verilmelidir.

İmzalayanlar:

  • Article 19
  • Avrupa Basın ve Medya Özgürlüğü Merkezi (ECPMF)
  • Avrupa Gazeteciler Federasyonu (EFJ)
  • Çağdaş Gazeteciler Derneği (ÇGD)
  • Gazeteciler Cemiyeti (GC)
  • Gazetecilikte Kadın Koalisyonu (CFWIJ)
  • Gazetecileri Koruma Komitesi (CPJ)
  • Güney Doğu Avrupa Medya Örgütü (SEEMO)
  • İnsan Hakları İzleme Örgütü
  • Medya ve Hukuk Çalışmaları Derneği (MLSA)
  • Norveç PEN
  • Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBC Transeuropa)
  • Punto24 Bağımsız Gazetecilik Derneği (P24)
  • Türk Alman Kültür Forumu
  • Yabancı Medya Derneği (FMA)
  • Özgürlük Evi (Freedom House)
  • Uluslararası Af Örgütü
  • Uluslararası Basın Enstitüsü (IPI)

This statement was coordinated by IPI as part of its #FreeTurkeyJournalists campaign and members of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) consortium, 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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Candles are placed during a march in memory of murdered Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova.

End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists

End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists

Access to reliable information that journalists provide civil society is the lifeblood of a resilient democracy, where a robust system of checks and balances thrives. Impunity for the killings of journalists diminishes the rule of law and press freedom. As today we mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, we want to pay a special tribute to those reporters in Europe whose families still await justice for their murders. They were threatened, targeted and murdered for challenging the powerful and corrupt. We call on the states to redouble their political will to tackle impunity.

When Greek veteran crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz was shot dead in Athens in 2021, the authorities committed to prioritising the case and bringing all perpetrators to justice. Yet, for two long years, there was no significant progress. While the arrest in April 2023 of two suspects marks an important step towards accountability, the case remains in a state of impunity as potential middlemen and masterminds have not been apprehended and no convictions have been delivered. Justice can only be served when all those directly and indirectly involved in planning and executing the assassination are held responsible for their actions, without exceptions. 

Greek crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz, who was killed outside his home in Athens on Friday 9 April, 2021

Karaivaz was gunned down in front of his house in broad daylight sending a clear and chilling message to all reporters in Greece who hold power to account by exposing inconvenient truths. The abhorrent murder and the repeated failure to conduct a swift and thorough investigation is in part a consequence of inaction in the case of the 2010 murder of journalist Sokratis Giolias and came amidst numerous unresolved cases of threats and attacks against journalists. This worrying pattern ultimately underscores that despite declarations, the state continues to fall short of ensuring the safety of journalists with no concrete measures taken to improve the situation let alone secure justice. The recent MFRR mission to Greece, during which the delegation met with both journalists and public officials, further confirmed the stark erosion of media freedom in the country. We renewed our call for the authorities to dedicate additional resources and staff to the cases of violence against journalists and recognise their special nature to finally guarantee prompt, independent and efficient investigations. 

picture alliance/EPA-EFE | MATEJ KALINA

The murder of investigative reporter Ján Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kušnírová in 2018 sparked the biggest nationwide protest since the Velvet Revolution in 1989. The public’s rage subsequently translated into a vibrant quest for change and eventually toppled Robert Fico’s government. Kuciak, who was ruthlessly shot in his own home, reported on corruption, tax fraud and shady connections between businesses and oligarchs close to Fico’s SMER party. Five years on, Fico is back as Prime Minister for the 4th time, while the families of Kuciak and Kušnírová still await full justice. 

From the start, the process has been marked by allegations of political meddling in the police investigation. While the culprits who executed and facilitated the murder have since been prosecuted and sentenced to 25 years in prison, the suspected mastermind has continued to evade accountability. Businessman Marian Kočner was acquitted in a retrial in May 2023, a decision that the MFRR strongly condemned at the time stressing the massive setback for the protracted fight against impunity for Kuciak and Kušnírová’s murder. The verdict arrived amidst a resurgence of verbal attacks on Slovakian journalists, with top politicians launching smear campaigns that continue to go unaddressed. Before the September election, the SMER party disseminated at least 174 posts targeting journalists on social media which raises further concerns about whether the newly appointed government will rise to the occasion to tackle the climate of impunity and hostility against journalists. The MFRR delegation visited Bratislava in February 2023 to commemorate Kuciak and Kušnírová on the fifth anniversary of their murder and to reaffirm our steadfast support for the victims’ families. We reiterated the call for the authorities to provide law enforcement with all necessary means to bring justice for the crimes against journalists and to strengthen punishment for attacks against journalists targeted for their work.

picture alliance/AP Photo | Rene Rossignaud

The glaring illustration of how a total absence of political will perpetuates ongoing impunity has been bluntly demonstrated in the case of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was killed in a car bomb in October 2016. Incessant pressure from Daphne’s family and civil society groups resulted in the creation of an independent public inquiry to establish the circumstances that led to the journalist’s death. The final report published in 2021 found the state had to ‘shoulder responsibility’ for Caruana Galizia’s murder as it had created an ‘atmosphere of impunity’ and failed to take effective measures to protect her. The key findings included detailed recommendations on how to enhance the safety of journalists and restore the rule of law so that assassinations like that of Daphne could never happen again. Though in 2022, the hitmen were handed down harsh prison sentences, the masterminds still remain free. 

Though the report provided a historic opportunity for the Maltese government to create an enabling environment for independent journalists, and despite the repeated calls from the international community, the authorities remain reluctant to implement these vital safeguards. Civil society was not consulted in the production of draft media laws which resemble token gestures that do not offer robust and systemic reforms that are urgently needed. In addition, Malta consistently fails to address corruption and crime exposed by Caruana Galizia and other investigative journalists who operate in a high-risk environment. Daphne Caruana Galizia’s hard-hitting investigations into dirty money scandals, organized crime, and high-level government corruption earned her the nickname a ‘one-woman WikiLeaks’ – and in turn put a target on her back. Daphne was vilified, harassed and singled out as a public enemy. At the time of her death, she was facing 48 SLAPP cases. 

While the EU is still perceived as one of the safest places for journalists, year by year the various attacks are on the rise, with the most tragic examples being the assassinations of journalists. The vicious cycle of impunity tarnishes the press freedom and rule of law reputation of the authorities responsible. EU member states must genuinely engage in fulfilling their international obligations to safeguard media freedom including by redoubling their efforts and strengthening the political will to tackle impunity. In addition, they should fully implement the European Commission’s recommendation on journalists’ safety and report on their progress transparently. 

It is imperative to confront impunity for crimes committed against journalists to uphold the principles of free expression and support resilient civil society. Daphne Caruana Galizia, Giorgos Karaivaz and Jan Kuciak were brutally killed for their dedication to investigating and exposing crime, corruption, and other abuses of power that affect our communities. The assassination of a journalist seldom occurs in isolation. Instead, it is often preceded by consistent attempts to denigrate journalists and paint them as traitors to turn the public hostile towards them. We must collectively try harder to neuter and challenge vicious narratives aimed at decreasing trust in independent journalism. 

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • 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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Croatia: “Anti-leaks” legislation and new media law proposal spell…

Croatia: “Anti-leaks” legislation and new media law proposal spell trouble for journalists

The Croatian government is looking to criminalize unauthorized leaks of material from criminal proceedings. While the authorities insist that the new law will protect the presumption of innocence, media professionals and numerous law experts decry the proposal, warning it will silence journalists and their potential sources. The outcry over the “anti-leak” legislation comes shortly after the Culture and Media Ministry released a proposed draft of the new media law, which media associations labeled as “unprecedented state interference in journalistic freedoms”.

In February 2023, Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenković announced changes to the Criminal Code that would criminalize unauthorized disclosure of the content of investigative or evidentiary action. The declaration followed a highly mediatised leak of text messages from January 2023, which was used as evidence in an investigation launched by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, and ended up being somewhat embarrassing for Plenković. In the leaked correspondence, former EU Funds and Regional Development Minister Gabriela Žalac, caught up in a corruption probe over an allegedly inflated cost of software, makes a mention of a certain “A.P.”

Fast forward to September 2023. The law, dubbed ‘Lex A.P.’ in the media, after the initials of the Prime Minister, was submitted to a public consultation, and instantly alarmed journalists and law practitioners. “This law of silence that the government wants to pass is an attack on the journalistic profession and public interest,” said Hrvoje Zovko, the president of the Croatian Journalists’ Association (HND) in a phone interview with IPI.

The Prime Minister stated explicitly that the proposed changes to the law, which envisage punishment of up to three years in prison, would not target the media. However, “the proposed bill doesn’t include any protective clauses for journalists, and will dissuade potential sources from talking to them,” said Zovko. He stressed that this could make it possible to seize and search journalists’ communication tools – phones or laptops – in order to reveal the source of the leak. The Supreme Court judges also criticized the law proposal, stating that if no clause specifically stipulates the protection of journalists, the proposal leaves a possibility for them to be considered instigators or ‘guilty by association’.

The current Criminal Code already contains punishments for the violation of the confidentiality of proceedings (including evidentiary actions), as well as for the unauthorized disclosure of professional secrets, official secrets, and other secret information. This means, concretely, that a police officer can’t reveal that a defendant in a proceeding for drug trafficking is being secretly tapped, either to the defendant or to the media.

“If he did, he would be criminally liable”, explained Igor Martinović, associate professor at the Faculty of Law in Rijeka, Croatia. “But the proposed law changes would prohibit the public disclosure of any relevant information regarding the proceedings before the indictment is filed,” he told IPI in an email. “This would ban defendants from publically presenting their version of the story. If a victim, for example, submitted a video of the violence they suffered to the media, and if that video is also evidence in the proceedings, the victim would be liable for a criminal offense,” he added.

If the criminal proceedings were to start on the basis of the whistleblower’s report, the whistleblower would become a witness. Both the whistleblower and the journalist to whom he would pass on any information about the case would be in trouble. “It is difficult to predict what exactly would happen in that case, because the Act on the Protection of Whistleblowers provides for the protection of whistleblowers (…) but the atmosphere of fear would surely increase among potential whistleblowers and journalists,” believes Martinović. And while the new proposal states that the disclosure of information will be possible after the indictment becomes legally binding, that is a small comfort in a country where the judicial system is notoriously slow, and where corruption is still rampant (Croatia ranks 57th out of 180 countries on to the Transparency International 2022 corruption index).

 

New media bill on hold

At the same time, the media representatives are still waiting for updates on the new draft of the media law that the Croatian Journalist Association (HND) deemed “unacceptable”. The controversial draft suggested creating a registry (photo)journalists, with a special committee deciding on who would be approved as a (photo)journalist, and granting the right to publishers not to publish a journalistic piece without any explanation.

“This is a legalization of censorship,” said Zovko. “The draft also mentions that the journalists would be required to reveal their sources not only to their editor-in-chief but also to the publisher.” The current media law stipulates that journalists might need to reveal information on the source to the editor if the source is anonymous. Also, the courts might compel a journalist to reveal a source, if no alternative is available, to protect national security, territorial integrity, and public health.

The draft, penned by the Ministry of Culture and Media, seems to have been put on hold. “The HND sent their comments on the proposal at the end of July. We were told that the working groups would meet soon after, but nothing has moved forward since,” said Zovko.

When it comes to the “anti-leak” legislation it is yet to be debated in the Parliament. For both legislative changes, the stakes are especially high at the moment, Croatia is entering a ‘super election’ year in 2024. The country of just under four million people will vote at the European elections in June, at the parliamentary elections in August or early September, and at the presidential elections in December.

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.

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Bosnia media freedom

Analysis: Backsliding in Bosnia and Herzegovina as media freedom…

Analysis: Backsliding in Bosnia and Herzegovina as media freedom faces myriad challenges

Media freedom in Bosnia and Herzegovina is undergoing a worrying period of backsliding amidst a string of restrictive new legislative efforts, hostile rhetoric and denigration of journalists by public officials, and ongoing systemic challenges facing the independence of public service media.

 

By Jamie Wiseman, Europe Advocacy Officer at the International Press Institute (IPI)

These were the initial findings of a coalition of international journalists and media freedom organizations, including the International Press Institute (IPI), which visited BiH as part of a three-day mission coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid response (MFRR) consortium on October 22-25.

The country had long experienced a stagnation in its progress for freedom or media and freedom of expression, amidst the slow fraying of the country’s constitutional framework and increased efforts by the government of one of the state’s two autonomous entities, Republika Srpska, to undermine Bosnian institutions and central governance.

However, since the country was granted candidate status for accession to the European Union in 2022, along with Ukraine and Moldova, the climate for press freedom has seen an overall decline in the past year, denting EU accession aspirations.

As the first EU progress report on Bosnia and Herzegovina since it was granted candidate status looms, Brussels is facing a complicated assessment regarding media freedom and freedom of expression due to the mixed picture emanating from within the country and its two autonomous entities.

While the situation in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina is far from rosy, it is developments in the Serb-dominated entity and its capital Banka Luka which have caused the most significant backsliding and set warning bells ringing in Brussels and beyond. It is here the most serious verbal attacks and insults against journalists by public figures are occurring and where the legal framework for free media is becoming more treacherous.

The result is a national media landscape characterized by a widening divergence in press freedom at the entity-level and in which progressive legislation on media ownership transparency and state advertising all have little chance of being passed. After decades of transformation in the post-conflict era, progress has slowed to a halt and in some aspects has even gone into reverse, with worrying implications for democracy more widely.

 

Retrograde Republika

The most retrograde development is a trio of restrictive laws that have been passed or are currently under development in Republika Srpska, where entity president Milorad Dodik is steadily tightening the screws on independent media. This package of interlinked legislation is aimed at further shrinking the space for critical reporting and is contributing to a wider atmosphere of isolation amongst the small but vocal independent journalistic community.

The first law in Republika Srpska which has been passed recriminalized defamation, a second in the draft stage models Russia’s so-called foreign agent law, and a third currently under development behind the scenes would bar media from registering as NGOs, hitting the entity’s independent and investigative media. If all three are implemented, they could see journalists opened to punitive criminal lawsuits, labelled and stigmatized foreign agents, and forced to adapt their business models or re-register outside the Republika Srpska. Taken together, they could pose an existential threat to what remains of the small pool of independent media trying to hold power to account. Some non-profit media and civil society organizations have already begun to relocate outside the entity boundaries. If more follow suit, citizens could be left more in the dark than ever. While constitutional court challenges are likely, implementation of the decisions are by no means guaranteed.

It is no accident that the trio of laws are being brought forward in close proximity. The legal developments are set against a backdrop of wider democratic backsliding in the entity led by president Dodik, who is seeking to shore up his power after the recent election win met with widespread allegations of fraud. They also represent an extension of the already common verbal attacks and hostile rhetoric by public figures including Dodik, an Orbán-backed president who has labelled critical journalists as traitors and enemies of the state working against ethnic Serb interests.

When questioned about this rhetoric, government officials play down the matter. However, this harsh rhetoric used by Dodik and his allies to malign those who continue to publish critical reporting on unearth revelations is contributing, along with pending legal changes, in the creation of a more hostile climate. Self-censorship, already widespread amongst the wider journalistic community, would likely increase due to the chilling effect of the laws.

Recent pressures on journalists include the interrogation of Nikola Morača, who works for the newspaper EuroBlic and the portal SrpskaInfo. Several editors and journalists were also pressured by the police to reveal their sources. Cars belonging to Morača and the editor of the Buka news portal, Aleksandar Trifunović, were also vandalized. Before investigations were launched, Dodik publicly accused the journalists of orchestrating the attacks on their cars themselves.

Though direct acts of censorship are rare in the wider media landscape, reporting is highly politicized and coverage is skewed heavily in favour of the government. Although determined and high-quality independent journalism is being conducted in Republika Srpska, these private media are increasingly marginalized and face challenges threats to their work and funding. The psychological toll on individual journalists is clear to see.

Public media are also under pressure. For years, Dodik governing party the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats have wielded undue influence over the regional broadcaster, RTRS, through the appointment of politicized individuals to its oversight bodies. Under this management, RTRS has violated national law by refusing to hand over millions of euros in money from the licence fee collected in the entity to the national broadcaster BHRT.

Though the passing of the recent decriminalization of defamation sparked increased public interest in the work of journalists in RS, there is a sense that the public and civil society – which also works in a precarious legal situation – are intimidated into speaking up to defend what remains of free media.

 

Federation flaws

While developments in Republika Srpska are causing the most alarm, the situation in the other federal entity, the Bosniak and Croat-dominated Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina, is far from rosy.

In Sarajevo canton, one of the ten cantons which make up the Federation, the government introduced a new draft law ‘on Public Order and Peace’ that would empower the police to sanction anyone spreading “fake news” including online. This law expands the definition of a public place to the internet and would allow for fines of up to 7,500 euros for media found to have disseminated false news or “disparaged state authorities”. Though the draft appears to be on ice amidst outcry from journalists groups and international organizations, the public consultation and working group remain intact.

The BiH Journalists Association has also documented several worrying cases of verbal and online threats against journalists working in the entity in the last year. Political pressures on the public broadcaster remain an issue and the economic picture for independent journalism remains highly challenging, with over reliance on status subsidies often undermining editorial and institutional independence of media outlets. While serious challenges remain, the reality is that journalists working in the entity and the capital Sarajevo are subjected to fewer pressures than those working in Republika Srpska.

 

National level

Amidst a political climate riven with ethno-nationalist agendas, national-level policy making which would improve media freedom is proving increasingly difficult, while some recent legislative changes have been problematic.

The BiH Journalists Association has long called, for example, for a new law to bolster media ownership transparency, including of beneficial ownership, to help address the proliferation of obscurely owned blogs and websites which publish disinformation and defamatory content. They have also proposed a new law to regulate the transparency of public advertising campaigns in media, which have often been distorted into a form of clientelism. Both laws have been proposed for years and recommended by the EU, though no progress has been made due to a lack of national political consensus.

The safety of journalists also remains a key national issue, particularly the low rate of prosecutions of those who threaten the media. According to the BiH Journalists Association, only 25% of the cases involving journalists in the whole BH have been fully investigated. While the establishment of contact points within all police and prosecutors offices is a welcome step forward, thanks largely due to the efforts of the EU and OSCE, integrated institutional follow-up and prosecutions remain an issue across the country. The establishment of a national registry of attacks on journalists is another positive step, as are recent trainings of police officers about the rights of journalists. Their impact remains to be seen. While the number of violent incidents or threats against media remains relatively low compared to regional neighbours, the lack of justice undermines the sense of security for journalists.

Due again to a lack of cooperation between two entities, a proposed national working group for the safety of journalists – which would bring together national and entity-level police, prosecutors, journalists associations and others to review and track cases – has yet to see the light of day. While authorities in the Federation remain largely open to the idea, the potential cooperation runs contrary to the current political agenda in Republika Srpska.

Meanwhile, the national public broadcaster BHRT remains locked in a period of perennial crisis due to the blocked access to legally mandated licence fee funding, undermining its institutional stability and independence. Though the broadcaster narrowly avoided collapse in April 2022 thanks to a rescue package, its future is still uncertain. The withholding of licence fee money by Republika Srpska’s regional public broadcaster, RTRS, has deprived it of millions of euros in much needed funding. Though this clearly violates the 2005 public broadcasting law, the economic suffocation continues. The national broadcaster remains straddled by high levels of debt and the psychological pressure on its overworked staff is immense.

Elsewhere, the independence of the national Communication Regulatory Agency (CRA) also continues to be undermined by the politicized appointments of its director and the non-appointment of its management council. The selective approach of regulatory actions by the Agency have raised concerns, though these problematic decisions remain rare. Both institutions – the BHRT and CRA – are held back by competing nationalist agendas.

The legal framework for Freedom of Access to Information (FOI) at the national level was also weakened due to recent legislative changes in July 2023. Journalist groups complained the changes would significantly limit access to information of public interest due to the long list of exceptions public authorities could use to deny the release of data, adding onerous new hurdles for journalists and undermining transparency. Comments and recommendations from media and civil society were largely ignored, and the Ministry also did not follow recommendations by the European Commission to create a new independent body to oversee supervision of the implementation of the law.

Public interest journalism is being conducted by dogged journalists, and there is a healthy sense of solidarity between independent journalists in the country in the face of hardship. However, this unity is also too often divided down ethnic lines. Continued professional reporting in the television market by stations including N1 and Al Jazeera Balkans offers citizens high quality information. The online media market also includes a number of independent media houses. Investigative journalism, though underfunded, is being conducted by media like the Centre for Investigative Journalism and others. Yet overall, the media market remains fragmented, polarized and financially imperiled. The challenging economic outlook for journalism and weak labour protections for journalists pile further pressure on media workers.

 

Complex picture

The many political, economic and safety challenges facing independent journalism and media freedom in Bosnia and Herzegovina are set against a political landscape in which the forces of ethnonationalism are increasingly fraying the constitutional foundations of the state and acting as a maelstrom in which democratic values are being degraded. The gap between the health of press freedom in its two regional entities continues to widen. Worryingly, this overall backsliding on media freedom is occurring at the same time as the country strives for progress in its first report from the EU since it was granted official candidate status.

Continued international support for media freedom in BiH will be vital moving forward. Both the EU and the OSCE are actively engaged in media freedom in the country and appear to be working as best they can within their mandates to support independent journalism. Continued legislative consultation and financial support are crucial. However, given the growing severity of the issue in Republika Srpska, a stronger and more vocal opposition to these media laws is needed, particularly from the EU. Potential accession to the bloc is widely seen as the biggest tool for leveraging progress on media freedom and freedom of expression. The EU must use this leverage to more forcefully require changes, with more detailed recommendations. Real progress on media freedom and human rights in BiH cannot be sacrificed in the name of wider geopolitical considerations.

Achieving democratic improvement on media freedom in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be no easy task. The experience of previous years has already proven as much. In reality, progress moving forward will require concerted political will from leaders at both the entity and national level, as well as a willingness to put nationalist agendas aside to engage in cooperation on EU-guided reforms. While there are positive signs that this coordination on media freedom can be achieved in some formats, it so far remains far too limited in scope. As the EU progress report looms, the spotlight will likely put these many challenges into even sharper focus. All eyes will then be on how the government responds.

This analysis 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 and candidate countries. 

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