MFRR fact finding mission to the Netherlands February 2022 Library

Netherlands: Towards a safer haven: Advancing safety of journalists…

Netherlands: Towards a safer haven: Advancing safety of journalists amidst rising threats in the Netherlands

Following interviews with more than twenty local stakeholders, the MFRR concludes that policy and practice around the safety of journalists in the Netherlands in many ways constitutes a best practice example, thanks to its pioneering PersVeilig mechanism. Nevertheless, there remains a need to strengthen several areas to better protect journalists and media workers against the increasingly hostile climate pursuant to intensified societal polarisation and threats emanating from organised crime.

The report details the findings and recommendations of the MFRR’s online fact-finding mission that took place in February 2022, led by Free Press Unlimited (FPU) together with the European Centre of Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and the International Press Institute (IPI), with the participation of the other MFRR partners plus the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, and in collaboration with the Nederlandse Vereniging voor Journalisten (NVJ).

The Netherlands generally remains a safe haven for journalists and media workers. The pioneering PersVeilig mechanism is a key actor in ensuring and advancing journalists’ safety and is a noteworthy example of constructive cooperation and dialogue between the journalistic community and state authorities. Both symbolically and practically, PersVeilig makes it clear that attacks and harassment of reporters are not tolerated and are addressed collectively.

While the assessment of PersVeilig is overwhelmingly positive, both among the MFRR’s partner organisations and its interlocutors during the fact-finding mission, room for improvement remains in a number of areas. These include implementing agreed-upon protocols more consistently and ensuring the project’s capacity and continuity.

Despite the relatively favourable conditions for press freedom and a pioneering mechanism, the MFRR mission confirmed that aggression against journalists is on the rise amidst a hardening of public debate and increasing polarisation in society. Subsequently, and despite the high willingness to cooperate between the journalistic community and law enforcement, the need remains to ensure a better understanding of the role of the press during protests, as well as changes to operational procedures to protect this role.

Certain categories of journalists suffer specific threats, particularly freelance reporters and women journalists. In this regard, it became clear throughout the mission that the Dutch approach to the safety of journalists lacks a gender lens. Moreover, while the Dutch policy approach scores well when it comes to putting in place mechanisms to protect journalists and prosecute offenders, there is room for improvement as concerns prevention.

Furthermore, with regard to threats from organised crime, there is a need to study the creation of tailored protection packages and consider improvements to the protection of journalists who cover high-profile criminal trials.

In light of its findings and to ensure that the Netherlands maintains its leadership position when it comes to the safety of journalists, the MFRR issued more than twenty specific recommendations to the authorities of the Netherlands, law enforcement, the journalistic community, PersVeilig and social media platforms.

The fact-finding mission to the Netherlands 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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Controlling the Message: Challenges for independent reporting in Greece

Controlling the Message: Challenges for independent reporting in Greece

Today, the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) publishes the report “Controlling the Message: Challenges for independent reporting in Greece”, which details the findings and recommendations of its online fact-finding mission to Greece. The mission, involving interviews with more than thirty local stakeholders, was implemented by the MFRR together with Reporters Without Borders in December 2021. The partner organisations conclude that challenges to the independence of the media and the safety of journalists are systemic in the country. While the problems are not unique, their intensity is highly problematic and sets it apart from most other EU Member States.

The result of this crisis is that news that is inconvenient or unflattering for the government, which includes reporting on serious human rights violations, does not get reported in many outlets. This creates a significant obstacle for the public’s access to information and, subsequently, their informed participation in the democratic process.

Understanding the political polarisation and fragmentation of the media landscape requires taking the long view. The current situation has been shaped by more than a decade of severe financial and political crisis which has harmed the way journalism is understood. At the same time, there has been a deterioration of press freedom since Nea Dimokratia’s electoral victory in 2019, who are “obsessed with controlling the message” and minimising critical and dissenting voices, as we heard again and again during the fact-finding mission.

The murder of crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz represents a low point for media freedom in Greece and drew international attention to the significant problems with journalists’ safety. The investigation progress appears slow and lacks basic transparency, which has had a chilling effect and leads to mistrust about the authorities’ ability or willingness to protect the journalistic community.

Migration policy, human rights violations committed in its implementation including pushbacks, and the humanitarian crisis that the refugee stream has created are highly sensitive topics for the government. Reporting on the issue is increasingly difficult, as journalists face obstructions including arbitrary arrest and detention, restriction of access to migration hotspots, surveillance, and harassment.

Reporting on protest is another particularly problematic area of journalistic practice in Greece. Journalists face aggression and harassment from law enforcement and from protesters. Overall, there is a lack of political will to ensure that journalists can safely report from demonstrations, which translates to a lack of adequate protection at the operational level.

Legal threats are also a significant problem for media freedom in Greece, including criminal prosecutions as well as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). Such threats can lead to self-censorship.

In light of these findings, the MFRR has issued a series of recommendations to the Greek authorities and to the European community, including the institutions of the European Union and the other EU Member States.

The fact-finding mission to Greece 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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Report launch: “Controlling the Message: Challenges for independent reporting…

Report launch: “Controlling the Message: Challenges for independent reporting in Greece”

The MFRR has conducted a media freedom mission in Greece and the report consisting of findings and recommendations will be launched on 28 March, 2022 with an online event.

On 28 March 2022, the Media Freedom Rapid Response will publish the report of its online fact-finding mission to Greece that took place in December.

Under the title ‘Controlling the Message: Challenges for independent reporting in Greece’, the report reflects the mission’s findings and recommendations on:

  • The assassination of Giorgos Karaivaz;
  • Polarisation of a fragmented media landscape;
  • Reporting on migration;
  • Reporting on protests; and,
  • Legal threats.

The report will be launched with an online panel on 28 March at 2pm CEST (=3pm EEST) with:

  • Laurens Hueting, Senior Advocacy Officer of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Iliana Papangeli, Managing Director of Solomon
  • Renate Schroeder, Director of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Nikos Smyrnaios, Associate Professor at the University of Toulouse
  • Anne ter Rele, Advocacy Officer at the International Press Institute

Please register for the event.

The report will be made available on mfrr.eu and the websites of the MFRR partner organisations at the time of the launch event.

For interview requests and media inquiries, please contact laurens.hueting@ecpmf.eu.

The fact-finding mission to Greece 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.

IPI Bulgaria Report Library

IPI report shines light on hidden alliances and vested…

IPI report shines light on hidden alliances and vested interests behind media capture in Bulgaria

Third report as part of IPI’s campaign on media capture. The International Press Institute (IPI) today published a new report on media freedom and independence in Bulgaria. The report explores the capture of media by vested business and political interests and the corrupting relationship between media owners and politicians as they compete for power and profit.

The report finds that the story of media capture in Bulgaria differs from the classic Hungarian model, whose mechanism of operation is only thinly veiled. The Bulgarian picture is murkier, driven by a lack of information over the ownership and business interests of the key individuals involved in a country with  the EU’s highest level of corruption and organized crime, which creates an extra layer of complexity and competing power centres that the media and politicians have found themselves ensnared in.

Veiled networks

Bulgaria is ranked as the most corrupt country in the European Union. Here, competing power struggles among politicians, oligarchs, media moguls, and organized crime, and their efforts to win over control of state institutions such as the courts, prosecutors, and media regulators are hidden behind a web of rumours and political scandals, of banking collapses, public protests and politicized prosecutions.

Within this struggle for power, the media has been debased and weaponized as a tool through which private and political interests are projected while often smearing their rivals. Serious independent media that are able to stand outside this corrupted sector to pursue investigative journalism are targeted by those they expose and hauled before the courts either through vexatious private lawsuits, or by trumped-up charges drawn up by politicized prosecutors.

The corruption of politics and media seem to run hand in hand. Just as media owners use their influence to gain political and business favours, so politicians use their power to bring media outlets to heel. Crucially, it’s all hidden behind a veiled network of oligarchs and their competing alliances and rivalries.

The system is enabled by corrupted political and judicial institutions, the misuse of state resources, compromised public service media and media regulators, weaponized judiciary and a lack of transparency over media ownership, thanks to weak rules and the use of multiple shell companies to conceal the powers behind the media.

Chance for reform

Amid this murky landscape, what is evident is how the powers of the state have been abused to weaken public service media, to pressure private media, to prosecute independent investigative media, and to smear political or critical rivals.

Bulgaria’s new prime minister, Kiril Petkov, has vowed to clean up corruption in the country and already committed to making fully transparent all public funds directed to Bulgarian media. This is an important first step, but the report finds that the government must go much further. It must ensure full transparency of ownership of media, it must end the culture of political interference in the media and in particular ensuring a fully independent public service media.  And it must end the persecution of the independent media sector dedicated to investigating and exposing corruption. The report includes key recommendations to this end.

The report was authored by media expert Boryana Dzhambazova and is published as part of IPI’s campaign on media capture. It is organized 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.

IPI Czechia Report Library

IPI publishes report on media capture in the Czech…

IPI publishes report on media capture in the Czech Republic

New government must help strengthen media independence and pluralism. The International Press Institute (IPI) today published a new report on media freedom and independence in the Czech Republic. The report focuses on the spread of media capture under the former government of Andrej Babiš and sets forth recommendations for the new government of Petr Fiala to reform and strengthen independence and pluralism in the media sector.

Babiš, one of the Czech Republic’s richest men and owner of the Agrofert conglomerate, served as finance minister from 2014 to 2017 and as prime minister from 2017 to 2021 after purchasing the publishing house Mafra and using it to launch his political career. Babiš left government in November 2021 with a record of undermining the public broadcaster, steering government advertising to his media, and generally using his media power to promote and defend his government’s record.

Media capture

As the report shows, media capture in the Czech Republic differs fundamentally from countries like Hungary. Rather than a state-led media takeover, the Czech Republic witnessed the acquisition of many of the country’s largest private media outlets by a handful of oligarchs for whom media could be used to promote their wider business interests. This development had serious consequences for media pluralism and the standards of journalism. Meanwhile, once in power, Babiš arguably sought to mirror certain media-capture strategies adopted in Hungary and Poland, while other oligarch-owned media limited their criticism of Babiš and his ANO party.

The report also examines how high-quality investigative journalism retreated from mainstream media to a community of small digital outfits that, despite their reduced resources, have been able to maintain a crucial check on power.

The report examines growing pressure on the public-service broadcaster Czech Television (CT) under the Babiš government. While the struggle for control of CT weakened its independence, the broadcaster ultimately held out against full capitulation, remaining a beacon of public-service journalism in the region. In this light, the report looks at key reform proposals to strengthen Czech public media’s defenses against future attempts to compromise its independence.

The report also details how government advertising funds were directed to benefit Mafra media owned by Babiš and recommends policy reform to end the abuse of government funds to reward positive media coverage.

Opportunity for reform

The new Czech government now has the opportunity to strengthen the media sector through a robust reform of the rules on public media and the use of public funds as well as through policies ensuring the support of the quality journalism sector. The report provides key recommendations toward this end.

In July 2022 the Czech government will take over the Presidency of the European Union where it has already announced that media freedom will be central to its agenda.

The report is authored by Michal Klíma, who was the chair of the IPI Czech National Committee until February 2022 when he accepted a position as the advisor to the Czech prime minister on media issues and on countering disinformation.

The report was also presented during the panel “Competing Models of Media Capture in Europe” at the Media Freedom Rapid Response Summit on March 24.

This report is published as part of IPI’s actions in 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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Serbia: SLAPPs used to intimidate journalists and evade public…

Serbia: SLAPPs used to intimidate journalists and evade public scrutiny

Powerful individuals in Serbia are abusing the law by filing lawsuits without merit against journalists, media outlets and activists. They are doing this to prevent journalists from investigating them or exposing corruption and abuses of power.

Known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation or SLAPPs, politicians and business people are using these malicious lawsuits to harass and force their critics into time-consuming and costly legal proceedings. As a result, they are silencing journalists and evading public scrutiny.

In the latest report by ARTICLE 19, the American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Human Rights, and the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS), we analyse the provisions that are most commonly misused to file SLAPPs in Serbia. We highlight patterns from multiple cases brought against journalists and activists by public officials and other powerful individuals in the past 10 years. We also assesses whether and to what extent Serbian laws and judicial practices on the ‘protection of reputation’ comply with international standards on freedom of expression. Finally, we provide recommendations to the Government of Serbia and the Judiciary to align key legislation with international freedom of expression standards.

The recent wave of lawsuits against the investigative portal Network for Investigation of Crime and Corruption (KRIK) in Serbia, shows that SLAPPs are becoming an all too common tool for the rich and powerful to stifle critical voices in the country. In light of the upcoming parliamentary elections in April it is crucial that politicians acknowledge the dire consequences of legal harassment against journalists and denounce any form of pressure on independent media.

Key findings

Serbian legislation provides limited means to protect freedom of expression

Our report finds that Serbian legislation provides some specific safeguards that protect the right to freedom of expression in reputation cases against the media. In particular, the Media Law requires that a plaintiff provides evidence to support their claim and sets a shorter statute of limitation (as compared to civil law cases) to initiate a case.

Narrow definition of journalism

Serbian courts follow a very narrow definition of journalism. As a result, only journalists and media outlets who are listed in the Media Registry receive broader protection guaranteed in the Media Law.

Vague terminology in defamation provisions 

Certain provisions of the Serbian legislation protect notions of ‘honour’, ‘authenticity’, or ‘piousness’. These terms are ambiguous, lack any clear context, and are open to interpretation (and therefore to abuse).

There are challenges to implementing legislation in courts  

Although Serbian legislation includes a number of defences that can be used in defamation cases, courts often fail to consider these in practice. In their decision-making, courts often prioritise plaintiffs’ claims about mental anguish even if the actual harm to their reputation is unsubstantiated. In addition, judges often fail to apply broad protection for the right to freedom of expression approved in international standards.

Imbalance of power 

Journalists and activists in Serbia are ill-equipped to defend themselves in SLAPP cases. They do not have access to free legal aid. In addition, the Serbian legal framework lacks safeguards to prevent or discourage SLAPP lawsuits, such as early dismissals or procedural expediency. On the other hand, politicians and business people who bring these baseless cases typically have significant amounts of time and money to bring these false lawsuits, and abuse the justice system.

What can be done?

Collectively, we urge the Government of Serbia to undertake all necessary measures to eliminate SLAPPs, which should include:

– A thorough review of the provisions on defamation in the Media Law and the Law on Contracts and Torts to align them with international freedom of expression standards

– Eliminating a vague legal terminology that could be abused to start SLAPP suits

– Imposing a fixed ceiling on the amount of money that may be awarded for cases that claim ‘harm to reputation’

– Recognition of the functional1 rather than theoretical definition of journalism

– Improving the judiciary’s application of international and regional standards on freedom of expression

– Following the rule that public ​​individuals (eg. political leaders) must show wider tolerance to criticism as they are accountable to the public.

This report was written by ARTICLE 19, the American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Human Rights, and the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS). It is part of a series of reports on SLAPPs against journalists in Europe that ARTICLE 19 is publishing as a member of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR).  These reports outline the implications of SLAPPs for media and democracy.

In December 2021, ARTICLE 19 published a report on SLAPPs in Spain. Key findings and recommendations from each of the country reports will inform a comprehensive regional report on SLAPPs in Europe, forthcoming in March 2022. 

You can read more about ARTICLE 19’s work on SLAPPs here

Article19 as part of MFRR
Hungarian capital in foreign media Library

IPI publishes report on the role of Hungarian capital…

IPI publishes report on the role of Hungarian capital in foreign media

New report produced by IPI in cooperation with regional media experts and investigative journalists. The International Press Institute (IPI) today published a new report written by regional media experts and investigative journalists on the investment of Hungarian capital in foreign media and the implications for the spread of Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal” model of media control.

On April 3, Hungary will hold parliamentary elections pitching the incumbent prime minister, Viktor Orbán, against a united opposition candidate, Péter Márki-Zay, in what represents the first serious challenge to Orbán and his dominant Fidesz party since winning power in 2010. During this time, Orbán and Fidesz have become synonymous with the construction of an “illiberal democracy” in Europe. Central to their strategy has been the process of media capture by Fidesz using the instruments of the state to create a bubble of pro-government media. Independent media have been closed or transferred to party-friendly hands. And the government seeks to force the remaining critical outlets to the fringe of public debate, denying them access to information and hobbling their economic position.

The model has been extensively documented by media freedom organizations including through IPI’s 2019 press freedom mission report and  IPI’s 2021 analysis of the Hungary’s media capture model and its application in Poland. What is less well known is how Fidesz’s ambitions for media influence and control do not stop at its borders.

In recent years there has been an influx of Hungarian investments in media either in the Hungarian minority communities abroad, or in media aligned with Fidesz’s ideological political allies, particularly in Slovenia and North Macedonia. These investments and the apparent instrumentalization of these media to promote Fidesz’s wider political agenda raise serious questions about efforts to further export the Fidesz model of “illiberal democracy” and media control to its neighbours and beyond. In some cases, as in Slovenia, there are signs that the replication of this model is already underway.

Today, the International Press Institute (IPI) is publishing Hungarian Capital in Foreign Media. Three Strategic Models of Influencing the Neighbourhood, a series of articles examining how, where and for what purpose Hungarian money is being invested into foreign media. The articles explore the following topics:

  • Since 2017, Hungarian businesses close to Fidesz have purchased numerous media in Slovenia and North Macedonia. While Fidesz politicians insist such investments are purely commercial, heavy investments in these media have been used to support Janes Janša’s SDS in Slovenia and the fugitive former North Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s VMRO DPMNE.
  • Media in Hungarian minority communities in Serbia, Romania, and Slovakia have all received a boost in Hungarian financial support, which is seen as bringing these media into close alignment with Fidesz.
  • Lastly, in 2019, a new international news agency, V4NA, was launched in London from where it attempts to project Fidesz’s populist narrative onto a pan-European media landscape.

The articles were produced by IPI in cooperation with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN); the Hungarian investigative reporting outlet Átlátszó and its Hungarian-language partner in Romania, Átlátszó Erdély; and the Center for Media, Data and Society at the Central European University’s Democracy Institute.

The report is published as part of IPI’s actions in the Media Freedom Rapid Response, a project which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. It is supported by the European Commission and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation.

This report 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.

IPI as part of MFRR
Delyan Peevski, a Bulgarian politician, oligarch, entrepreneur and media mogul. Sofia, Bulgaria. 2019.Credit: Shutterstock Library

Bulgaria: Magnitsky sanctions against mogul Delyan Peevski shift media…

Bulgaria: Magnitsky sanctions against mogul Delyan Peevski shift media landscape

Ray of hope for change after oligarch offloads media assets following U.S sanctions

By IPI contributor Rossen Bossev

In the past six months, Bulgaria, considered the poorest and most corrupt country in the European Union, has undergone a serious change. After nearly 12 years of almost uninterrupted rule, prime minister Boyko Borissov left power. Following six months of political deadlock a four-party coalition appointed Kiril Petkov as Prime Minister. Parallel to the change of political power, however, there was another, no less significant change – in the media sector.

Last autumn Bulgaria was shaken by a wave of anti-corruption protests demanding the resignation of the center-right government of then Prime Minister Borissov and prosecutor general Ivan Geshev. Back then, the editorial policy of Telegraph and Monitor, two of the most popular daily newspapers in Bulgaria, suddenly changed. For years, the front pages of both publications, owned by then lawmaker and media oligarch Delyan Peevski, had run headlines targeting every independent voice against Peevski, Borissov and Geshev.

Judges, journalists, publishers, protesters, NGO activists, human rights defenders, EU diplomats, and opposition leaders were portrayed as members of a conspiratorial network undermining the country’s national interests. To illustrate this conspiracy, the two media outlets frequently resorted to the rhetoric of Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán and the Kremlin, often packaging anyone who raised their voice against the status quo as “sorosoids”, enemies of the state or anti-Bulgarians.

But one year or so ago, those kinds of stories disappeared from both newspapers. Monitor and Telegraph continued to be supportive of Borissov’s government and the other powerful institution in Bulgaria – the state prosecution – but stopped attacking their opponents. In the following weeks, the archive of Monitor was suddenly purged of dozens of articles – either those praising Peevski or attacking his opponents.

This major shift in editorial policy was a clear indication that the Bulgarian media landscape was changing. In January 2021, United Group, the new owner of Nova TV, one of the three largest national TV channels, announced that it had agreed to buy Peevski’s newspapers – Telegraf, Monitor, Match Telegraf, Politika, Europost, Borba.

However, Peevski’s attempt to shrug off the image of a media mogul by simply selling the media he directly owned did not prove successful. On June 2, the US Department of  Treasury announced sanctions against Peevski under the Global Magnitsky Act, which imposes economic sanctions and entry bans for acts of significant corruption or gross violations of human rights. Those targeted by sanctions, and the companies they own, face extreme difficulties in using even the most ordinary banking services.

Suddenly, the country’s media baron, who owned the most popular daily newspapers and claimed to control a huge part of the remaining media landscape, had begun unloading media assets and withdrawing from the newspaper market.

The rise of a media oligarch

For years, Peevski has been the most prominent example of the constantly degrading media freedom in Bulgaria. At 41, Peevski is ironically called the “wunderkind” of Bulgarian politics. Since 2001, he has been an MP, an investigative-magistrate and deputy minister of emergency situations. In 2007, his mother, the former chief of the national lottery, bought the newspapers Telegraph, Monitor, and the weekly Politika. In 2013, his appointment as director of the State Security Service provoked mass protests and he was forced to resign the very next day.

Until 2016, while holding a public office for 15 years, Peevski’s asset disclosure declaration listed just a few real estate properties and an old car.  In 2016, though, the same year his mother donated him the media business, and he officially declared that he owned companies, some of them registered in Dubai. As of that moment, Peevski started declaring millions of euros as income from these companies. However, it remains unclear what exactly the business of his companies was and where their income came from during those years.

The Pandora Papers investigation revealed that Peevski controlled offshore companies that he did not disclose in his declarations, raising suspicions that his biggest investments remain secret. However, media investigations have linked Peevski to the ownership of Bulgartabac, a cigarette manufacturer sold in 2017 to British American Tobacco, as well as to construction companies that had won public tenders commissioned by the state. He is also linked to the ownership of “Sofia Print Investment” – a private printing house where approximately 90% of daily newspapers are printed.

Peevski’s name was also associated with the ownership of “Kanal 3”, a marginal private television channel, whose editorial policy often repeated verbatim the articles in Telegraph and Monitor. When another oligarch close to Borissov, Kiril Domuschiev, bought Nova TV in 2019, several key Kanal 3 journalists and managers were hired by Nova. In 2020, Kanal 3, as well as two other small music channels and three radio stations, were sold by Nova just before the deal with United Group.

Coverage and influence buying

It is believed that Peevski’s influence in the media sector goes far beyond direct ownership. Most likely the main reason for this is that for years Peevski has built the image of a power broker with strong connections within the judiciary, law enforcement, state regulators, and the executive.

For years, the editorial policy of his newspapers was replicated by national TV channels, websites, and other print outlets. Mainstream media abstained from even mentioning his name, as did official institutions. When Magnitsky Act sanctions were announced on June 2 this year, the news quickly made front-page headlines. However, in the evening news broadcast of Bulgarian National Television, no information was given on why Peevski had been sanctioned.

According to journalistic investigations, the businesses controlled by Peevski are much more than those he officially owns. This would enable him to channel financial resources to the media in an opaque way.  In 2016, for example, court records revealed that Bulgartabac’s advertising agency had paid hundreds of thousands of euros for advertising to a website close to Peevski, without it having published any ads at all.

The close relationship that Peevski developed with the government during Borissov’s rule also gave him a strong role in the executive branch. In July 2020, in an attempt to ease the tension around the looming protests, Borissov dismissed three ministers over accusations of being linked to Peevski.

Controlling the executive means more control of the media. EU funds and advertising contracts with the national government or local authorities are an important source of revenue for Bulgarian media which could also be used as leverage to control editorial policy. For the past four years, €5 million was distributed by the government to the media to promote programs, funded by the EU. Appointments to the media regulator, which selects the management of the public Bulgarian National Radio and Bulgarian National Television, is also a way to control these outlets’ editorial policies.

Similar to the influence in the media, the influence that Peevski has in the judiciary, the executive, and the security services is hidden and much greater than the role of an MP who almost never set foot in Parliament till this year. In 2019, a judge revealed publicly what the informal procedure was to be appointed as head of a court at the lowest level of the hierarchy: he had to personally meet in a restaurant in the capital and be approved by Peevski. The meeting was brokered by the president of the Supreme Administrative Court.

According to the press release of the Treasury Department, the sanctions were imposed because he “negotiated with politicians to provide them with political support and positive media coverage in return for receiving protection from criminal investigations.” Such quid pro quo, of course, would not have been possible if Peevski did not control certain publications (much broader than the newspapers he officially owned), the security services, and the prosecution.

After the announcement of the sanctions under the Magnitsky Act, the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office announced it was launching a probe, reminding that Peevski had been investigated by the authorities many times before without finding any wrongdoings. The caretaker government adopted a list that expanded the circle of individuals linked to Peevski and the others sanctioned and effectively banned the state from having relations with them.

Media freedom continuing to deteriorate

There are two persistent but sadly true clichés about Bulgaria, namely that it is the poorest and most corrupt country in the European Union. Bulgaria also has the worst media freedom in the European Union, according to the World Press Freedom Index.

It does not take a rocket scientist to see that these three rankings are directly related. The lack of media freedom allows abuse of power and corruption to thrive. A dysfunctional judiciary makes even the few independent publications an easy target for politicians with consistent disregard for press freedom.

Paradoxically, the sale of Peevski’s newspapers to the United group, the only direct effect of the sanctions on the media landscape in Bulgaria, came before they were even imposed: the newspapers ceased the smear campaigns against Peevski’s opponents. However, this will hardly be enough to eradicate the problems of the media environment in the country.

While the sanctions imposed on the media mogul by the US authorities exposed his use of media ownership to yield political influence, they have done little to fix the toxic media environment in Bulgaria. They will not make the government distribute EU funds in a fair and balanced way. They will not guarantee the security of regional and investigative journalists. Nor will they stop the police from beating up reporters.

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

ARTICLE 19 published Report on Spain: SLAPPs – legal…

Article 19 published Report on Spain: SLAPPs – legal harassment against journalists

Journalists and media outlets in Spain are facing multiple lawsuits for exposing corruption, reporting on matters of public concern or covering protests. Known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPPs, public officials, businessmen, politicians or police officers typically initiate these lawsuits. They do so to evade public scrutiny, and to harass or subdue journalists who expose their wrongdoings.

Those who file such suits aim to drain the target’s financial and psychological resources and to chill critical voices. These costly civil lawsuits target journalists, activists, or whistle-blowers, in other words, individuals, who are often ill-equipped to defend themselves. As a result, public debate within Spanish society is under threat.

In its latest report, ARTICLE 19 looks at the scope and interpretation of criminal and civil law provisions used to bring such legal actions against journalists and the media. We also examine current Spanish laws that are misused to file these suits, and look at patterns across key cases. Finally, we identify the defences and procedural safeguards that the Spanish Government needs to implement to prevent more SLAPPs.

Key findings from the report reveal:

Over broad legal provisions in the Spanish Penal Code are open to abuse which limits free expression for all

The Spanish Penal Code contains a number of problematic speech-related offences. These include criminal insult and defamation, offences against public officials and public institutions, and revelation of secret information. Despite the fact that the Courts are dismissing prosecutions for defamation and overturning convictions, the very existence of over broad legal provisions leaves them open to abuse,  creating a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

People with power target journalists simply for doing their jobs

The Spanish courts have set out relevant defences the media can use when doing their work. These include defences for ‘reasonable publication’ or ‘public interest’. They have also stated that public officials should tolerate a higher level of criticism than private individuals. Despite this, public officials who mismanage funds still misuse laws on honour, privacy, and reputation to target journalists.

Criminal prosecutions and abusive civil lawsuits have implications for the financial sustainability of the media

Firstly, many journalists face permanent threats of criminal sanctions simply for doing their work. Secondly, they must bear the costs of legal proceedings.  In addition, they bear the negative consequences of investigations, sometimes for years, until a verdict is reached and regardless of the result of the judicial proceedings.

 

ARTICLE 19 considers that the Spanish Government should review the laws that limit people’s right to freedom of expression. This will prevent public officials, institutions, and influential individuals from bringing SLAPP cases against journalists and the media.

Athens, Greece - Murder of Greek journalist Giorgos Karaivaz in Alimos Library

Greece: Probe into killing of Giorgos Karaivaz remains in…

Greece: Probe into killing of Giorgos Karaivaz remains in “darkness”

Authorities remain tight lipped on status of investigation into murder six months on

By IPI contributor Stavros Malichudis

“The chain is tightening around his killers” ― that’s what Greek media reported back in early May. 

This is what was reported in July, too. But fast forward to early November and no light has yet been shed into the assassination of prominent 52-year-old journalist Giorgos Karaivaz on April 9, 2021. No suspects have been publicly identified and no arrests have been made, while public information about the status of the investigation remains scarce.

“For the moment, we remain in darkness. After all these months, we have received no update whatsoever on the case”, Apostolos Lytras, the family’s lawyer who was also a friend of Karaivaz, told the International Press Institute (IPI).

On the day of the murder, Lytras had met with Karaivaz. It was approximately half an hour after they said goodbye that the experienced crime reporter was gunned down outside his house in Alimos, a southern suburb of Athens.

His execution in broad daylight with ten bullets ― two of which struck Karaivaz in the head, to “finish the job” ― was quickly deemed a “mafia-like death contract” killing by police experts. Karaivaz, after all, had covered extensively the so-called “Greek mafia” and their operations in drug dealing, money laundering and selling ‘protection’ to businesses.

Karaivaz’s assassination is believed to be the 45th killing in Greece between 2009 and 2021 linked to the country’s different organized crime groups, which are currently locked in an ongoing battle for battle for supremacy. Over the last four years, approximately one assassination has occurred every two months.

Reporting on crime

Karaivaz was raised in the wider area of Drama, a city with a rough 45,000 inhabitants, not far from the northern land borders with Bulgaria. At age 21 he left his hometown to seek a career in journalism in the capital.

In a career spanning over three decades, he mainly worked for national TV channels ― the biggest part of his career for ANT1, the last four years for Alpha ― and newspapers, always on the crime beat. His most in-depth reporting, though, was published on bloko.gr, a website he ran, which specializes in the coverage of issues related to law enforcement. It is in these articles that the police have reportedly been looking into for leads that could explain the apparent contract killing.

Karaivaz’s website didn’t seek glory in its design. What mattered was the reporter’s unparalleled access to information. In a simplistic, WordPress-style setting, Karaivaz used a personal tone to write about police corruption. His articles aimed to shed into light onto connections between “four sides”, namely, “police and organized crime, businessmen and politicians”.

Karaivaz highlighted the involvement of top ―serving and ex― police officers in organized crime, and their decisive role in keeping the balance among different interests. He wrote about officers on duty who simultaneously worked as personal security for top mafia leaders. And he insisted on the role of National Intelligence Service agents, who, according to his reporting, carried out illegal phone tracking, spread false information to discredit honourable officers who were their targets, and went as far as to plot murders to protect the mafia’s interests.

For this access to information, Karaivaz had been criticized for getting too close with his sources in the world of organized crime. Writing at bloko.gr, where he allowed himself to refer by first name to a former criminal who had become his source, after the latter was assassinated, he didn’t try to hide these personal connections. After all, it was through them, he wrote, that he had been granted the opportunity to realize the real depth of corruption in the top police ranks.

Greek crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz

Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Case is “absolute priority”

Responding to IPI’s request for an update on the case, a representative of the Greek police said no update could be given as the case is still at the preliminary examination stage.

“My personal estimation is that the police might not want to leak information on the case, even if their investigation has in fact progressed”, lawyer Apostolos Lytras commented.

On October 7, 2021, the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an alert with regards to the case, according to which “the search for the perpetrators of the assassination of George Karaivaz has been and still remains an absolute priority for the Hellenic Police and its various Agencies.

“The competent investigative authority is conducting a systematic and in-depth investigation of this crime”, the alert said, adding that new information gathered can’t be disclosed, as “under Greek relevant legal framework (the Greek Code of Criminal Procedure), preliminary investigation is confidential”.

The alert also quotes the Greek Prime Minister, Kiriakos Mitsotakis, as having requested from the minister of citizen protection that relevant procedures for solving this case proceed quickly. However, back in April, Mitsotakis had been criticized for taking over 24 hours to make a public statement on Karaivaz’s murder.

Media freedom challenged in Greece

In the board of the Journalists’ Union of the Athens Daily Newspapers (ESIEA), the largest trade union for journalists employed in Greece, sit members who were friends with Karaivaz. They worked with him and, although they asked not to comment on the case for the moment, as the investigation is ongoing, they state that he had been beloved among his colleagues. “So, this is also personal”, a representative said.

Following Karaivaz’s assassination, ESIEA’s president, Maria Antoniadou, said that “those that think that they can close the journalist’s mouth with such actions are wrong. We are 6,099 more and we will reveal, altogether, who the perpetrators were and those who hid behind them”.

Karaivaz’s murder was the second journalist assassination since 2010, after the killing of Socrates Gkiolias.

But “apart from cases of brutal violence resulting in the murder of journalists, reporters in Greece face a wide range of pressures aimed at killing either their stories or themselves as journalistic entities”, Thodoris Chondrogiannos, a prominent investigative journalist, told IPI.

“There are lawsuits from large corporations, anonymous threats against them and their families, the warning of violence and damage to property in order to intimidate, the risk of dismissal by a publisher who wants to get rid of a ‘troublesome’ reporter, character assassination operations by armies of trolls and anonymous accounts operating on social networks”, he added.  “All of these”, he concluded, “are ways to silence journalists, often leading them to self-censor themselves, before they can even be possibly censored by their editor”.

Solving the Karaivaz murder, on its own, will not end these others threats to journalism. But not solving it – and sending the message that those who attack journalists can get away with it – will undoubtedly put Greek journalists at even greater risk.

This article is part of IPI’s reporting series “Media freedom in Europe in the shadow of Covid”, which comprises news and analysis from IPI’s network of correspondents throughout the EU. Articles do not necessarily reflect the views of IPI or MFRR. This reporting series is supported by funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and by the European Commission (DG Connect) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response, a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

IPI as part of MFRR