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Slovenia: Government Communication Office must stop controlling COVID-19 news…

Slovenia: Government Communication Office must stop controlling COVID-19 news coverage

As part of the MFRR, IPI calls on the Government Communication Office (UKOM) to ensure full media participation during press conferences

IPI urged UKOM to ensure that journalists from all media outlets were given adequate opportunity to question ministers at online government press conferences.

On February 3, 2021, Slovenia’s public broadcaster, RTV Slovenija, reported that Bojana Beović, head of the advisory group at the Ministry of Health, was denied permission to appear on its late-night news show Odmevi to comment on false positive results in rapid antigen tests.

RTVSLO reported that in response to emailed interview requests, it received a message saying that UKOM Director Uroš Urbanija had “forbidden” officials from providing answers to media or giving interviews.

It was later reported that Education Minister Simona Kustec, Milan Krek, director of the National Institute of Public Health, and other health officials were also refused permission to appear on commercial television station Kanal A to give interviews on the testing system.

UKOM’s policy was condemned by both the Slovenian Union of Journalists (SNS) and the Slovene Association of Journalists (DNS) as an act of censorship, though the government body has rejected the criticism.

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Leading independent radio station muzzled in Hungary

Leading independent radio station muzzled in Hungary

Following the 4th February verdict, a few day later a court sided with the government-controlled Hungarian Media Council and approved its decision to block the automatic extension of the talk and news station’s broadcast license for Budapest FM 92.9 MHz.

As part of the MFRR, the International Press Institute (IPI) expressed dismay over the decision by a court in Budapest to reject the appeal of independent radio broadcaster Klubrádió over its right to continue broadcasting, warning it signaled a crisis point for what remains of media pluralism in Hungary.

Earlier in February, the same court rejected Klubrádió’s last-ditch request for an emergency license to remain on air until the appeal of a rival broadcaster over the frequency tender was resolved.

The two rulings resign Klubrádió to broadcasting solely from the internet after February 14 and cap the end of a decade-long campaign by the ruling Fidesz party led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to muzzle one of the country’s last remaining critical radio stations.

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Serbia: Arsonists who targeted journalist must face justice

Serbia: Arsonists who targeted journalist must face justice

The MFRR urges the Serbian judiciary to ensure access to justice in the case of journalist Milan Jovanovic

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) urges the Second Basic Court in Belgrade to ensure access to justice in the case of Serbian journalist Milan Jovanovic, who in 2018 was the victim of an arson attack on his house in Belgrade after investigating cases of corruption of local public officials.

Judicial proceedings against the suspected arsonists started in 2019 and have since then been delayed numerous times after frequent requests of postponement advanced by the defense lawyers. These procedural tactics, which also include attempts to disqualify judges appointed to this case, have seriously delayed justice for Jovanovic. We understand, however, that the court expects to render a verdict in this case during the next hearing on 11 February 2021.

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Hungary: MFRR condemns decision by a court in Budapest…

Hungary: MFRR condemns decision by Budapest court to reject temporary license extension to Klubrádió

MFRR partners share their concerns over the 4th February decision by a court in Budapest to reject the temporary license extension to Klubrádió in Hungary, warning it will have far-reaching implications for what remains of media pluralism and independent journalism in the country.

On 11 September 2020, the National Media and Infocommunication Authority (NMHH) announced it would not extend the license for Klubrádió, the last remaining independent radio station in Hungary.

The verdict on 4th February effectively consigns Klubrádió to broadcasting exclusively on the internet and represents a significant win for the ruling Fidesz party and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in their decade-long campaign to destroy one of the last remaining independent broadcasters which airs voices critical of the government.

Even if Klubrádió now wins its appeal against the Media Council’s decision to block its automatic license renewal, it will be prevented from returning to the airwaves due to the appeal process of a rival broadcaster over the tender, which could take years to conclude. During this time it will be ensnared in legal limbo and will have no choice but to fall silent on 15 February.

Hungary’s government is acting in direct contravention to Article 11 of the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights on freedom of expression and information. The European Commission must urgently address this issue with the government to find an immediate solution without which it is all but certain that Klubrádió will fall silent on 15 February, denying hundreds of thousands of listeners in greater Budapest access to a source of independent and high-quality news and information and sealing the fate of yet another independent media outlet in Hungary.

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The Media Freedom Rapid Response condemns the harassment directed…

The MFRR condemns the harassment directed at Nadine White and calls on MPs and Ministers to stop targeting journalists

Following a twitter thread by a minister discrediting journalistic inquiries, Nadine White faced online harassment and abuse for doing her job. MFRR partners call on politicians to live up to their responsibility to protect and value media freedom.

On Friday 29th January, Huffington Post UK journalist, Nadine White was subjected to online harassment severe enough to warrant making her Twitter account private after UK Treasury & Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch MP tweeted a thread discrediting the journalist and incorrectly accusing her of making false claims. This followed two emails sent by Ms White to the Minister’s official email address requesting a statement as to why she did not contribute to a video with black cross-party MPs calling for greater uptake of the vaccine by the black community.

The MFRR calls on the UK Government to respond to all journalistic requests in the good faith this process deserves to ensure the public is informed. We also call on all elected officials and representatives of the government to take meaningful action to ensure their actions do not ennoble or encourage online harassment targeting journalists and media workers. 

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Hungary moves to silence last major critical radio broadcaster

Hungary moves to silence last major critical radio broadcaster

One of the last remaining independent broadcasters in Hungary faces being wiped off the airwaves in a matter of weeks unless its last-ditch request for a temporary license is approved by a court, the International Press Institute (IPI) has warned.

On February 9, executives and lawyers of Klubrádió will be in court in Budapest to hear the verdict in its legal challenge against the decision by the Hungarian Media Council to reject the automatic renewal of its broadcast license for another seven years.

The court battle comes after the media regulator, which is formed of figures appointed by the ruling Fidesz party, rejected Klubrádió license renewal in September 2020 on the grounds it had violated the media law by twice failing to provide information on its programming content – justifications dismissed by Klubrádió as “absurd”.

If its appeal is unsuccessful, the commercial talk and news station’s license for Budapest FM 92.9 MHz will expire five days later on February 14, relegating Klubrádió to the internet and sealing a major victory for the Fidesz government in its decade-long campaign to destroy the flagship liberal broadcaster.

Even if it wins its legal appeal, however, Klubrádió’s presence on the airwaves is still far from ensured. When the regulator blocked its automatic extension, it also opened the frequency to tender and two other broadcasters submitted rival bids.

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MFRR condemns ‘absurd’ €10 million lawsuit against L’Espresso magazine…

MFRR condemns ‘absurd’ €10 million lawsuit against L’Espresso magazine by sacked Vatican Cardinal

The partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) express serious concern over the €10 million euro lawsuit launched against Italian news magazine L’Espresso by a former Vatican Cardinal over its reporting on his alleged involvement in a corruption scandal involving the use of Holy See funds.

The lawsuit hinges on a report L’Espresso published on 24 September 2020 which broke the news that investigations by the Italian Finance Police had implicated the cardinal in the embezzlement of €100,000 of Vatican money to a charity organisation controlled by his brother in the Cardinal Angelo Becciu’s home diocese of Ozieri in Sardinia. At the time of the transfer, Becciu was the second highest official in the Vatican secretariat of state.

Later that day, the allegations of financial misdeeds were presented to Becciu by the Pope in a private meeting, forcing him to step down as the prefect of the Vatican’s saint-making office. On 18 November, a 74-page lawsuit was filed against L’Espresso in Sardinia, describing the report as “slanderous and defamatory”.

The MFRR believes this case illustrates the serious flaws in Italy’s civil defamation laws, which do not provide safeguards against abuse and can be easily instrumentalised to retaliate against legitimate journalistic investigations.

Photo credit: Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons – cc-by-sa-4.0

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Montenegro: MFRR calls for urgent police protection for Olivera…

MFRR calls for urgent police protection for Olivera Lakić

The MFRR calls on Montenegrin authorities to follow up on verbal commitments and immediately provide Lakić and her family with adequate police protection. These new assassination plots must also be swiftly and thoroughly investigated to ensure that both the perpetrators and those ultimately responsible for ordering Lakić’s death are brought to justice.

Olivera Lakić is an investigative journalist who covers organised crime and corruption. On 25 December 2020, the special state prosecutor announced two suspects’ arrest for planning her assassination, with other suspects who are already in prison. They are part of the same criminal organisation suspected of a previous assassination attempt on Lakić in 2018 when she was wounded in the leg. In May 2020, it had also emerged that there had been an attempt to recruit an assassin in Spuz prison. According to the special prosecutor, the suspects aim to prevent Lakić from investigating criminal organisations in Montenegro and their ties with other such groups in the broader Balkan region.

We reiterate our urgent call for Olivera Lakić and her family to be protected as the investigation continues to ensure their lives are not in jeopardy due to Lakić’s vital work. This cannot and should not be delayed. Furthermore, we consider this latest threat to Olivera Lakić demonstrates once again the urgency of tackling impunity for attacks on and threats against journalists and media workers and creating a safe working environment, which will be a crucial element of your government’s commitment to the EU accession process. 

Inès Leraud, librairie Les Bien-aimés, décembre 2019, Nantes

The MFRR welcomes the dropping of the defamation action…

MFRR welcomes the dropping of defamation action against Inès Léraud but vexatious legal threats continue to threaten media freedom across Europe

While we welcome the dropping of the legal action against Inès Léraud, the impact of vexatious legal threats across Europe continues to exert an undue influence on press freedom. This is reinforced by the unknown scale of the issue as many journalists, media workers and outlets cannot go public with threats they have received for fear of repercussions or even more abusive lawsuits in retaliation.

On 22 January 2021, Jean Chéritel, the CEO of the Chéritel group, a fruit and vegetable wholesaler in the Brittany region of France, dropped his defamation action against freelance investigative journalist, Inès Léraud. The legal threat related to Léraud’s investigation, published in Basta! on 26 March 2019, which shed light on alleged illegal practices of the company. The manner by which the lawsuit was dropped echoes a previous lawsuit brought against Léraud by Christian Buson, a Breton agri-food business owner, who also dropped his lawsuit a few days before the start of the trial in January 2020. While the MFRR welcomes the dropping of Mr Chéritel’s defamation action, we note the enduring chilling effect of vexatious legal threats and SLAPP actions (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) to encourage journalists to self-censor, regardless of the initiation of any actual court proceedings.

Across Europe, in countries such as France, Italy, Germany, Albania, Malta, Poland, Croatia and Hungary, prominent business leaders and politicians continue to threaten journalists, media workers and outlets with costly legal threats with the goal of silencing critical and independent journalism. Whether through defamation, privacy and abuse of data protection laws (based on the EU General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR), reporting in the public interest is too often vulnerable to SLAPPs and other legal threats designed to exhaust legal and financial resources, exert psychological pressure and isolate the journalist (especially pronounced if they are freelance), while also sending a signal to other media actors to avoid the topic.

The MFRR calls for all journalists and media workers to be protected against vexatious legal threats and to ensure laws cannot be abused to target and limit media freedom. This should also include national and Europe-wide legislative and non-legislative initiatives to introduce procedural safeguards and improve legal protection against SLAPP actions and to support journalists and others who are targeted, as also mentioned in the recent European Democracy Action Plan.

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Albania: Defence Minister’s Chief of Cabinet issues legal threat…

Albania: Defence Minister’s Chief of Cabinet issues legal threat against journalist

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), is concerned about legal proceedings initiated by Belioza Çoku, the Chief of Cabinet of the Minister of Defence, against journalist Juljana Ristani, who published a story on undue interference with lists of nominees for educational bursaries in the context of a public competition held by the Ministry of Defence.

Ristani had previously made public for the first time the ranking of the bursary applications. The leading candidate is expected to be awarded the scholarship. However, the leading applicant on this list was ultimately not successful, as the scholarship was awarded to another candidate. There have been no complaints from the Minister of Defence questioning the authenticity of the list published by Ristani. The article that forms the basis of the legal action includes allegations that Çoku called and threatened the family of the leading applicant on the list late at night after they complained to the authorities. Çoku demands damages from Ristani for publishing “inaccurate and misleading data”. In light of the fact that Ristani has clear evidence to prove her factual statements, we consider the public official’s legal threat against the journalists constitutes an attempt to intimidate her and hinder her work.

ECPMF calls on the pursuers to drop their abusive legal actions. The courts must not be abused to stifle critical journalism that strengthens the public’s right to know and enhances democratic accountability.