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Poland: open letter to the Sejm in ‘lex TVN’…

Poland: open letter to the Sejm in ‘lex TVN’ matter

To: All Members of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland

Dear honourable members of the Sejm:

The undersigned international press freedom and journalism organisations, members of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), are writing to ask you to urgently oppose the draft law that would restrict media ownership in Poland by investors based in countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA).

As you know, this bill has been termed the ‘lex TVN’ because it would directly affect TVN, Poland’s largest private television broadcaster, which is owned by the U.S. company Discovery through a subsidiary. We are extremely concerned that this bill is a targeted effort to force Discovery to sell TVN and thereby achieve a shift in TVN’s editorial line.

The stakes here are high. Our organizations have previously expressed serious concern over the deteriorating condition of media pluralism in Poland, which has already been deeply compromised at the regional level through the sale of Polska Press to PKN Orlen. Still, at the national level, Poland has thus far managed to retain a degree of media pluralism and independence, both of which are essential conditions for democracy and rule of law.

However, the approval of the ‘lex TVN’ would change that. The effort to bring TVN’s nationwide channels under control is a dramatic attack on media pluralism. If successful, it would accelerate media capture conditions similar to those in Hungary or Russia, where the vast majority of mainstream media is controlled by the state, directly or indirectly, and where cronyism is rife. It would also seriously damage foreign investors’ trust in fair market competition and the rule of law in Poland.

Indeed, this proposed law has already generated international alarm. In particular, top U.S. officials, including the heads of the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate, have expressed grave concern over the effort to rein in TVN.

The decision to vote against this bill should not be about whether one agrees or disagrees with TVN’s coverage. It is about the core principles that are the foundation of Polish democracy. It is about the right of Polish citizens to receive information from different and diverse sources. It is about the fundamental right of the media to analyse and scrutinize the actions of those in power. And it is about ensuring fair market conditions in the media sector, in particular to protect Poland’s reputation as a trustworthy country for investment.

Laws restricting foreign ownership of the media are not necessarily problematic, and do exist in other EU member states. This measure, however, does not appear to be a principled effort to protect the Polish information landscape. Rather, it is clearly aimed at one particular media outlet, owned by a company based in the U.S., a long-time Polish ally, and is being rushed through the legislative process.

Your voice is critical in this urgent matter. If Poland is to remain a society where news and policies can be freely debated within the marketplace of ideas, it is essential that the ‘lex TVN’ be stopped. We therefore urge you to oppose this bill in its current form.

Signed by:

  • Article 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
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Do not extradite Whistleblower Jonathan Taylor

Urgent letter to Croatian Minister of Justice: Do not extradite Whistleblower Jonathan Taylor

URGENT 

Open Letter sent by email to ministar@mpu.hr

 

Mr. Ivan Malenica

Minister of Justice

Ulica grada Vukovara 49

Maksimirska 63

10 000 Zagreb

Republic of Croatia

 

Tuesday 18 May 2021

 

Dear Minister,

 

Jonathan Taylor is a whistleblower; he is a witness to a crime who has cooperated with law enforcement bodies in seven different jurisdictions and should be protected as such.  He has been in Croatia for nearly 10 months appealing against a request for extradition from Monaco.  Now that the Supreme Court of Croatia has issued its judgment, the final decision on whether or not to extradite Mr. Taylor is up to you, the Minister of Justice.

The Supreme Court of Croatia fully recognises Mr. Taylor’s status as a whistleblower and for the reasons we set out below, we urge you, the Minister of Justice, to refuse Monaco’s abusive request to extradite Mr. Taylor to Monaco and to allow him to return home to the United Kingdom immediately.  

Mr. Taylor is a British national who, during the course of his employment as a lawyer for the Dutch listed oil industry firm SBM Offshore N.V., with its main office in the Principality of Monaco, uncovered one of the largest corruption and bribery scandals in the world that resulted in criminal investigations in the United Kingdom, United States of America, Netherlands, Switzerland and Brazil. His evidence contributed to the company paying fines amounting to over $US800 million and, to date, the imprisonment of three individuals directly involved in the scandal, including the former CEO of SBM Offshore N.V.

Monaco to date has failed to initiate a single criminal investigation into highly credible and well documented allegations of bribery and corruption on the part of SBM Offshore.  Instead, it has targeted the one person who blew the whistle and brought public scrutiny to such widespread financial crimes.

On 30 July 2020, over eight years after blowing the whistle on corruption, Jonathan travelled to Dubrovnik, Republic of Croatia for a family holiday.  He was arrested at the airport on the basis of a communication issued by Monaco on what was originally stated to be allegations of bribery and corruption. Not only do these allegations have no proper basis in law or fact and constitute an abuse of process but crucially, Mr. Taylor, his lawyers and the Croatian Courts have since been informed in writing that Mr. Taylor is wanted for questioning to determine whether or not to charge him.

At no stage did the law enforcement or judicial authorities in Monaco seek his extradition from the United Kingdom, where Mr. Taylor has lived since 2013, until he was apprehended in Dubrovnik, for the very reason that they knew it would not succeed.

Mr. Taylor has made it clear since 2017, when he first became aware that his former employer, the Dutch listed SBM Offshore N.V. had lodged a criminal complaint in Monaco three years earlier, that he would answer any questions the authorities had of him from the United Kingdom, either remotely or in person.  And since his unlawful detention in Croatia, the offer to answer questions there has been repeated on the agreement that he is able to return home to the United Kingdom.

For Jonathan to be returned to Monaco to face questioning in order to determine whether charges should be laid amounts to a clear act of retaliation for his having disclosed the corrupt practices of a major offshore oil firm and one of the largest private sector employers in the small principality.

In March 2021, after the Supreme Court of Croatia partially upheld a second appeal against extradition, the Dubrovnik court was ordered to seek further clarification from the Monegasque authorities regarding the status of the criminal proceedings for which Mr. Taylor was allegedly charged.  A letter from the Director of Judicial Services in Monaco sent on 1 March 2021 confirmed there Mr. Taylor is not charged with anything as there are no criminal proceedings, nor is there any execution of a judgement for which he is wanted – which are the only two valid legal bases for seeking extradition.  In fact, Interpol confirmed yet again on the 23rd March 2021 that Mr. Taylor is no longer subject to Interpol Red Notice. This after Monaco withdrew the arrest warrant in December 2020.

 

Further, now that Mr. Taylor’s status as a whistleblower has been confirmed by the Supreme Court of Croatia, even if the Minister accepts that conditions for extradition have been met, in light of Croatia’s duties and obligations under the EU Directive on the protection of whistleblowers and the clearly retaliatory nature of the Monegasque request to extradite Mr. Taylor for questioning, we humbly submit that the decision by the Minister should be to reject it.

Croatia is part of the European Union and one of the 27 Member States which must transpose the EU Directive on the protection of whistleblowers into its national legal system by December 2021. The Directive seeks to harmonise protections for those who report wrongdoing and corruption across Europe. It is crucial that Croatia upholds both the spirit and obligations of the Directive to ensure that whistleblowers are protected by law and this includes ensuring they are immune from civil and criminal liability for having blown the whistle. In a case of such serious corruption like this one, it is essential that vital anti-corruption whistleblower protections do not fall down between borders. To do otherwise, allows those involved in corruption to send a chilling warning to whistleblowers and investigative journalists across the globe that undermines all the efforts of the European Union and the Croatian Government to prevent and root out the corruption that undermines the fabric of its societies and the well-being of its people.

For these very important reasons, and because of his protected status as a whistleblower, we, the undersigned, urge you, the Minister of Justice, to uphold the Rule of Law, reject the extradition order and allow Jonathan Taylor to return home immediately.

Yours sincerely,

Anna Myers, Executive Director, Whistleblowing International Network

on behalf of the Jonathan Taylor Support Committee

With support from:

  • Access Info Europe (Spain/Europe)
  • African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (Nigeria)
  • ARTICLE 19 (United Kingdom)
  • Blueprint for Free Speech (Australia)
  • Campax, Switzerland
  • Center for Whistleblowers Protection (Slovenia)
  • Centre for Free Expression (Canada)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • FIND – Financial Investigations (UK)
  • Free Press Unlimited (Netherlands)
  • General Workers Union Portugal (UGT-P)
  • GlobaLeaks (Italy)
  • Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers (United Kingdom)
  • Human Rights House Zagreb (Croatia)
  • Le Réseau Panafricain de Lutte contre la Corruption (UNIS)
  • Maison des Lanceurs d’Alerte (France)
  • OBC Transeuropa
  • Parrhesia Inc (UK)
  • Pištaljka (Serbia)
  • Protect (United Kingdom)
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), (Austria)
  • SpeakOut SpeakUp Ltd (United Kingdom)
  • Terra Cypria-the Cyprus Conservation Foundation (Cyprus)
  • The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation (Malta)
  • The Signals Network (USA/France)
  • Transparency International (Secretariat, Germany)
  • Transparency International Bulgaria
  • Transparency International EU
  • Transparency International Ireland
  • Transparency International Italia
  • Transparency International Slovenia
  • Vanja Jurić, Attorney at law (Croatia)
  • WBN – Whistleblower Netzwerk (Germany)
  • Whistleblowers UK

 

 

  • Baroness Kramer, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Whistleblowing
  • Dr John O’Connor Physician and Whistleblower (Canada)
  • Martin Bright, Editor, Index on Censorship (United Kingdom)
  • Peter Matjašič, Senior Program Officer, Open Society Initiative for Europe (OSIFE)
  • Professor David Lewis, Middlesex University. (United Kingdom)
  • Professor Wim Vandekerckhove, University of Greenwich (United Kingdom)
  • Susan Hawley, Executive Director, Spotlight on Corruption (UK)
  • Thomas Devine, Legal Director, Government Accountability Project (USA)
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Greek authorities must thoroughly investigate the shooting of Giorgos…

Greek authorities must thoroughly investigate the shooting of Giorgos Karaivaz

Following the murder of Giorgos Karaivaz in Greece, MFRR partners sent a letter to Greek authorities, European institutions and the United Nations reiterating the importance of a robust, timely and meaningful investigation into the murder

The Media Freedom Rapid Response is gravely concerned about reports that veteran crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz was fatally shot outside his home in Athens today in what appears to be a planned attack. We urge you to ensure a swift and thorough investigation that results in all those responsible for the murder being brought to justice.

On 9 April, Karaivaz reportedly returned home from work on a show on Star TV when unidentified assailants ambushed him. He was found dead outside his car, parked beside a small park near his home. At the time of writing, police had launched a search for the suspected perpetrators, who remain at large. Neighbours did not report hearing gunfire, which would suggest the use of a silenced weapon. This and the nature of the attack suggests a coordinated and planned assassination.

The Media Freedom Rapid Response call for a swift and thorough investigation, which examines any links between the assassination and Karaivaz’s journalistic work as a veteran crime reporter and results in all perpetrators, go-betweens and masterminds being brought to justice. Swift and robust action is needed to protect against a culture of impunity taking root and encouraging others to target and attack journalists and media workers.

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Italy: Wiretapping of journalists reporting on migration must be…

Italy: Wiretapping of journalists reporting on migration must be investigated

The Media Freedom Rapid Response and partner organisations welcome the launch of an investigation into the wiretapping of journalists and their sources in Sicily. However, a robust, swift and systematic investigation will be essential for rebuilding trust and ensuring that all journalists, sources and legal professionals in Italy are protected.

The undersigned Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and partner organisations are deeply alarmed by the reports that prosecutors in Trapani wiretapped hundreds of phone conversations involving at least 15 journalists who report on migration in the central Mediterranean. This included conversations with confidential sources and legal representatives. Few conversations are more sensitive and important than those between journalists, their sources or their lawyers. This is a direct and significant threat to media freedom; you cannot protect journalism without protecting journalistic sources.

The use of surveillance technology to intercept and record journalists’ telephone calls is a serious attack on press freedom with worrying implications. It could discourage sources or whistleblowers from coming forward and open up journalists to judicial persecution and intimidation. Further to this, within a framework of inadequate oversight of these tools, the transcripts of the tapped conversations held by state authorities could be used to target the sources and journalists, modify the state’s engagement with legitimate journalistic requests, or be leaked to intimidate journalists or open them up to threats of violence or harassment.

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MFRR calls for Monaco and Croatia to allow Jonathan…

MFRR calls for Monaco and Croatia to allow Jonathan Taylor to return home

MFRR partners and whistleblowing organisations sent letters to the the Monegasque and Croatian authorities to reiterate our calls for whistleblower, Jonathan Taylor to be able to return home after the Interpol Red Notice has been withdrawn. Any delay would be disproportionate and further discourage public interest whistleblowing

On 30 July 2020, Jonathan Taylor, a whistleblower who disclosed bribery and corrupt practices in the oil and gas industry, was arrested upon his arrival in Croatia for a holiday pursuant to an Interpol Red Notice issued on request of Monaco. On 1 September, a court in Dubrovnik ordered his extradition. However, on 12 October the Supreme Court partially sustained an appeal by Taylor, ruling that it should be returned to a lower court, and the UK should be afforded the right to request his surrender under the European Arrest Warrant Scheme. It further ordered that in the event that the United Kingdom does not seek his surrender then the lower Court should rule on the request for extradition by Monaco.
On 31 December the Dubrovnik County Court again ruled to extradite Jonathan to Monaco. On 18 February 2021, the Croatian Supreme Court accepted Taylor’s appeal. However, instead of barring his extradition it ordered the Court in Dubrovnik to request a notification from Monaco to state the reason for the extradition and whether criminal proceedings are being conducted.

 

At the request of the Monegasque authorities Interpol has subsequently withdrawn the arrest warrant for “corruption and blackmail” but the country is still demanding Taylor’s extradition to facilitate further interrogation over alleged offences arising from a complaint lodged against him in September 2014 by SBM Offshore’s Monaco affiliate. Even when the Interpol Red Notice was in effect, Taylor did not satisfy the criteria for the warrant as he was neither awaiting trial, nor had he been convicted. As Jonathan Taylor has not been charged with any crimes in Monaco the extradition request is disproportionate and unwarranted.

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MFRR partners call on Members of Parliament for de-politicisation…

MFRR partners call on Members of Parliament for de-politicisation of the Council of the Czech TV

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) sent a letter to Members of Parliament of the Czech Republic to raise our concerns regarding the politicisation of the Council of the Czech TV (Česká Televize, CT)

Following up on earlier letters of 11 March and 2 June 2020, the MFRR wrote to MPs in the Czech Republic regarding the politicisation of the Council of the Czech TV (Česká Televize, CT).

On 18 March 2021, the Electoral Committee shortlisted twelve candidates to the Council, among whom Parliament will now elect four new members. From the outcome of the shortlisting process, political loyalties appear yet again to have outweighed expertise and independence in terms of selection criteria.

This questionable pre-selection follows previous problematic elections for the CT Council held on 27 May 2020. These changed the body’s composition to the point where it can no longer be considered impartial or representative of significant regional, political, social and cultural currents of opinion, as legally mandated.

Since then, the partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) have become concerned that this politicisation of the CT Council is increasingly leading to politically-motivated activities: first through the firing in November of every single member of its own supervisory board and secondly with its apparent efforts to pressure and dismiss the CEO, Petr Dvořák. That this is happening ahead of tightly-contested parliamentary elections later this year poses major questions as to its motive.

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MFRR condemns inaction in Serbia following the smear campaign…

MFRR condemns inaction in Serbia following the smear campaign against KRIK

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and partners wrote to the Serbian Government to condemn the lack of resolute government response to the smear campaign against independent news outlet KRIK and the impact this has had on the Government’s commitment to media freedom

The MFRR and other partners reiterate our call on the Serbian authorities to take the necessary steps to put a stop to this ongoing threat against these and other independent outlets in Serbia, as well as to sanction such discrediting tactics and threats by all institutional means possible. This is more necessary now than ever, following reports that five of the nine non-state members of the Working Group for the Security and Protection of Journalists have stepped down from the group just three months after its establishment due to the state’s apparent unwillingness to engage with this important threat.

Instead of unequivocally defending journalists, the representatives of the ruling party SNS have continued to attack them. This has had significant implications for the Serbian Government’s commitment to media freedom and the protection of at-risk journalists and media workers. The Working Group, which was established to facilitate coordinated action between relevant state bodies and media outlets, journalist associations and unions to respond to emergent threats to journalists and media workers, can only function as intended when all parties contribute fully and state bodies commit to meaningful action. A breakdown represents not just a failure of the Working Group, but can also actively undermine the media’s trust in the state’s commitment to journalists’ safety and media freedom more broadly.

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European Commission must urgently address media market distortion in…

The European Commission must urgently address media market distortion in Hungary

MFRR partners, alongside other media freedom groups and associations have again urged the EU’s Competition Commissioner to swiftly address concerns over media market distortions in Hungary.

The group of 16 organisations note the continuing deterioration of media pluralism in Central Europe and renew their call to the European Commission’s Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager to open a prompt investigation into pending state aid complaints.

The Commission’s lack of enforcement of market rules in Hungary, the groups said, is not only allowing the situation there to worsen but now also empowering the deliberate distortion of the media market in Poland, with worrying implications for both media freedom and democracy.

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Letter to Charles Michel: time for EU Member States…

MFRR letter to Charles Michel: time for EU Member States to act to protect journalists

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) sent a letter to the President of the European Council, Charles Michel in expressing serious concern about the sharp decline in freedom of the press in the European Union.

2020 was an unfortunate record year: MFRR recorded 245 alerts (with 873 attacked persons or entities related to media) in 22 EU Member States, and the Council of Europe Platform for the Protection of Journalism recorded 115 media freedom violations in 27 EU Member States (the highest level since 2015).

According to MFRR data, nearly one in four incidents (23.7%) resulted in journalists and media workers being physically attacked. In more than every tenth incident (11.4%) media workers were injured.

The EU is not immune and has been profoundly shaken by a series of dramatic events, including the murders of journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia (2017) and Jan Kuciak (2018). European leaders should not wait for another murder before acting decisively. This is also crucial to set a much needed worldwide example.

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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.