The statue outside the headquarters of Slovenian public broadcaster Radiotelevizija Slovenija (RTV) in the capital Ljubljana Library

Slovenia: Media freedom groups back legislative efforts to depoliticise…

Slovenia: Media freedom groups back legislative efforts to depoliticise public media

Reform aimed at limiting political interference over RTV SLO faces upcoming referendum challenge.

The undersigned international media freedom and journalists’ organisations today outline their tentative support for reform of the law on Radiotelevizija Slovenija (RTV SLO) and the urgent need to depoliticise the public service media and their oversight bodies amidst continued threats to their independence. Our organisations welcome the initiative of the new coalition government to reduce the influence of politics on the broadcaster’s operations and foster an enabling climate for its public service mission.

 

Events of the last few years at RTV SLO have provided a clear illustration of why such changes are urgently needed. Under the previous government, leading politicians created an atmosphere of hostility towards public service media, including smears against journalists and aggressive accusations of political bias, as reflected by the 2021 mission report of the undersigned organizations and Slovenia’s fall to 54th place in Reporters Without Borders’ 2022 World Press Freedom Index. This was accompanied by politicised appointments to RTV SLO’s programming council and supervisory board, on occasion through legal yet questionable practices. Politically-affiliated appointees to these two bodies then utilised voting majorities to approve controversial decisions on staffing and programming favourable to the ruling SDS party, particularly at the public television. These appointments of often unqualified candidates or individuals with links to the former government were pushed through despite the widespread criticism.

 

Since then, directors and management have been accused by staff of axing shows, removing editors, pressuring or reassigning journalists, and attempting to engineer a political shift in news and current affairs programming. Unions representing RTV SLO have repeatedly undertaken strike action to protest what they claim are unjustified infringements on editorial freedom, while repeated calls have been made by the largest journalist unions for the director general and director of television to step down. These near daily internal clashes, which have intensified in recent months, have led to more than 30 staff quitting and resulted in a damaging drop in viewership and a loss of public trust. Recently, 38 members of staff received warnings about the potential termination of their employment due to their public support for colleagues in the studio. Negotiations to resolve the situation remain unsuccessful. This situation jeopardises RTV SLO’s journalistic mission and undermines the public’s right to information.

 

It is clear to our organisations that efforts are urgently needed to address the root cause of these issues: the disproportionate influence of all forms of politics on RTV SLO’s governance structures. While previous governments have pledged to amend the 2006 law on RTV Slovenija to reduce political representation on the councils, proposals have always fallen away when reality of governing set in. This lack of political will to address the situation has left the RTV SLO at the mercy of political forces and open to successive periods of instability after election cycles. While concerns over independence in management are nothing new, the changes enacted under the previous government have left the broadcaster in the most challenging situation in decades. We therefore welcome the legislative initiative by the new coalition government led by Prime Minister Robert Golob to address this extraordinary situation.

 

The draft proposals would restructure the two current governing councils into a single, 17-member decision-making body. Appointments to this new Council of RTV would be made by representatives of civil society and RTV SLO employees. The National Assembly, which currently appoints the majority of members, would play no role. Under the reorganised system, the council would be led by a four-member management board, headed by a president, which would oversee financing and programming. Appointments would be made in a staggered manner. If the changes are approved, the mandate of the current members of the current program and supervisory councils, director general director, director of television, and director of the radio would end, though they would continue in their position until the new council is established. Current editors would remain in their posts, except in cases where it is determined that they do not enjoy the confidence of the majority of employees in their editorial team.

 

Our shared assessment is that overall these draft amendments represent a justified and principled attempt to revise an outdated legislative framework, depoliticise the broadcaster and foster a more enabling environment for the free exercise of RTV SLO’s journalistic mission. If approved, the new system of governance would significantly limit the ability of any government, current or future, to use its parliamentary majority to fill the councils with allies and interfere in the work of public media. The management model outlined is representative and would reflect a broad range of civil society groups.
However, we note that it is regrettable that the Parliamentary Committee for Culture did not first hold a public consultation on the bill or seek review of the draft from the Council of Europe or international media organisations and journalists’ organisations/unions. While we recognise the need to urgently address the situation at RTV SLO, such changes to the legal framework should have been developed in an open and transparent manner and with the full involvement of civil society and journalist organisations. To ensure full functional independence of this new council, it is vital that all candidates meet strict professional criteria, be selected under clear and transparent rules and be committed to ensuring pluralistic and professional programming. Candidates from civil society should not have any direct or indirect links to political parties. It is vital also that the new financial committee will fully operate in the public interest. Questions also remain about the management of the RTV SLO during the transition period. Nonetheless, in our assessment the draft amendments align with European standards on public service media governance and should have an overall positive impact.

 

The law was adopted by the National Assembly on 14 July 2022. Before any changes are made, the amendment will face a referendum initiated by the opposition on November 27. If passed, this should ensure the stability of RTV SLO in the short term. Even then, it must not be seen as an antidote to all the challenges currently facing public service media. The process of depoliticisation will be long and challenging. It is crucial also that this legislation be accompanied by a secondary bill which provides for long-term sustainable financing and establishes a solid economic foundation for RTV SLO to hire and train a new generation of professional journalists, re-establish public trust and meet the challenges of the future. This accompanying bill must follow quickly and should establish autonomy in editorial decision-making and modernise the organisation of the institution.

 

This reform is an important first step forward. If passed, this legislative amendment would move towards fulfilling a key recommendation of the European Commission’s Rule of Law report 2022 on Slovenia, which called for stronger mechanisms to enhance independent governance at public service media. Applying these standards would likewise represent a boost for the media freedom credentials of the new government, which made reform of public service media a priority during its election campaign. Our organisations will continue to closely monitor the situation and call for an end to all politically-motivated pressure on the editorial autonomy of the country’s public service media.

Signed by:

  • Balkan Free Media Initiative (BFMI)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Public Media Alliance (PMA)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • 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, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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Italy: a call of support for Roberto Saviano, defendant…

Italy: a call of support for Roberto Saviano, defendant in a defamation trial

Members of the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE), with the support of the coalition’s Italian group and Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), express solidarity with Roberto Saviano who attended the first hearing in the proceedings for aggravated defamation initiated against him by current Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

We are seriously concerned about the criminal proceedings initiated in 2021 by the current Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the leader of Fratelli d’Italia. Under the current provisions on defamation, Roberto Saviano risks imprisonment for his criticism of Meloni during a TV programme.

 

Such accusations act as a gag on freedom of expression, a fundamental right enshrined in the Italian Constitution and international law. No journalist or writer should be prosecuted for expressing their honest opinion on issues of public interest. A criminal defamation suit is not an acceptable response in a democracy, all the more so when it comes from a high ranking representative of the institution. This threat to Saviano reveals, once again, the degree of the abuse of defamation suits or SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) in Italy.

 

The lawsuit for aggravated defamation was initiated by current Prime Minister Meloni in November 2021, in response to comments made by Roberto Saviano during the episode of the TV programme Piazza Pulita which aired on 3rd December 2020. Saviano’s comment was formulated in response to the controversial rhetoric employed in recent years by the two political leaders to describe the migration emergency in the Mediterranean.

 

In November 2020, the NGO ship Open Arms rescued a number of displaced individuals from a shipwreck, caused by a collapsing dinghy in the Mediterranean Sea. The delayed rescue by the Italian authorities had prevented timely assistance to the survivors who were in dire need of specialist medical care, including a six-month-old infant who later died on the Open Arms. Following Piazza Pulita’s coverage of the investigation on the authorities’ delayed response, Roberto Saviano had referred to both Meloni, the then leader of Fratelli d’Italia and the Lega secretary, Matteo Salvini as ‘bastards’.

 

The possibility that Roberto Saviano, in his role as a writer and journalist, could incur a prison sentence for expressing his opinion on a politically sensitive issue, such as the treatment of migrants in Italy, once again draws attention to the serious inadequacies of Italian libel laws. The right to freedom of expression is enshrined in Article 21 of the Italian Constitution. Furthermore, international law and jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) guarantees that the right to freedom of expression extends to statements and ideas that may ‘offend, shock or disturb’ and that opinions are entitled to enhanced protection under the guarantee of the right to freedom of expression. Further, the ECtHR has clarified that public figures and, in particular, political actors must tolerate higher levels of criticism and scrutiny given their public position within society, and that in such cases criminal prosecution has a chilling effect and is violating the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 10 ECHR.

 

Those who express their opinion on matters of public interest should not fear nor be exposed to intimidation, conviction, or imprisonment. On this last point, the Italian Constitutional Court has made its position clear, urging lawmakers to initiate a general reform of the legislation on defamation that would bring Italian legislation in line with the standards of European and international law. With the ruling of 9 June 2020 and the decision of 22 June 2021, the Court, in line with previous judgments of the ECtHR, declared prison sentences in cases of defamation in the press unconstitutional. However, the provision of prison sentences remains in place for cases of ‘exceptional gravity’. In accordance with such provisions, Saviano still faces a custodial sentence because the formal charge is aggravated defamation.

 

At the conclusion of the first hearing at the Criminal Court of Rome on 15 November 2022, it was decided that the trial will be re-assigned to a new judge and adjourned to 12 December. The current Minister of Infrastructure, Matteo Salvini, has filed a petition to become a civil plaintiff. The Lega leader has also a pending defamation lawsuit initiated against Roberto Saviano in 2018: its first hearing is scheduled for 1 February 2023. Further, on 28 January 2023 another defamation trial instigated by Gennaro Sangiuliano, current Minister of Culture, awaits Roberto Saviano.

 

At the end of the first hearing in the Meloni case on 15th November, Saviano reiterated the central role that writers play in a democratic society: “My tools are words. I try, with the word, to persuade, to convince, to activate”. Exiting the courtroom, he argued that: “Democracy is based not only on a consensus that can lead to winning the electoral lottery, but exists if dissent and criticism are allowed. Without such premises there is no democratic oxygen”.

 

The perilous situation in which Roberto Saviano finds himself must also be taken into account. Life under escort, already a cause of marginalisation for journalists, was only necessary due to threats made against Saviano by organised crime and these threats should not be amplified through further threats made by high ranking politicians.

 

Joining the dissent expressed by Italian and European journalists’ associations, the undersigned organisations call on Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to immediately withdraw the charges against Roberto Saviano. We support the recommendation formulated by Italian and European civil society and international organisations to the new parliament to act against vexatious complaints and to quickly adopt a comprehensive reform of both civil and criminal defamation laws in Italy. Finally, we urge Italy to bring forward legislation to tackle the use of SLAPPs in line with the EU Anti-SLAPP Recommendation of 27 April 2022. The Italian Government is also urged to give its full support to the Anti-SLAPP Directive as proposed by the European Commission.

Signed by:

  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT) 
  • aditus foundation 
  • Access Info Europe 
  • ARTICLE 19  
  • Articolo21 
  • Blueprint for Free Speech 
  • Center for Spatial Justice 
  • Civic Initiatives 
  • Civil Liberties Union For Europe 
  • Ecojustice Ireland  
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) 
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) 
  • Global Witness 
  • Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights 
  • IFEX 
  • Index on Censorship 
  • International Press Institute 
  • Irish PEN/ PEN na hÉireann 
  • Justice for Journalists Foundation 
  • Justice & Environment 
  • Legal Human Academy 
  • Libera Informazione 
  • PEN International 
  • Presseclub Concordia 
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 
  • Solomon 
  • The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation 
  • Whistleblowing International Network

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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Italy: Concern about prosecutor’s demand for prison sentence for…

Italy: Concern about prosecutor’s demand for prison sentence for three journalists in response to their factual reporting

The undersigned media freedom and journalist associations today express shared concern over an Italian prosecutor’s request for a six-month prison sentence in a case of defamation through the press involving three journalists.

The lawsuit had been filed in response to their reporting on a labour lawsuit associated with a former minister. Prison sentences in cases of defamation through the press have been declared unconstitutional by the Italian Constitutional Court in 2021, except for cases of exceptional gravity. No journalist should face nor fear prison sentences for having published factual information in the public interest.

 

The lawsuit against the three journalists was initiated in 2014 by Teresa Bellanova, current president of political party Italia Viva who at the time was undersecretary of the Ministry of Labour. The three journalists – Mary Tota from Il Fatto Quotidiano, Danilo Lupo from La7 and Francesca Pizzolante from Il Tempo – were sued for criminal defamation through the press by Bellanova in 2014, for their respective reporting about a labour lawsuit that had been filed against her by a former press officer.

 

In response to the lawsuit she received, Bellanova initially accused the press officer and the three journalists of complicity in attempted extortion, a charge which was later downgraded to defamation through the press for the journalists. More than eight years later, the defamation trial against the members of the press is not over. 

 

In the latest hearing on 17 October, prosecutor Antonio Zito requested a six months’ prison sentence for each of the three journalists. Their reporting at the time was simply about the filing of the lawsuit and the allegations made, which have since been confirmed by the Lecce Court of Appeal. The next hearing is scheduled for 14 November 2022, when, following the rebuttal of the journalists’ lawyer Roberto Eustachio Sisto, judge Michele Guarini will issue his decision.

 

The prospect of having to face a prison sentence together with the protracted nature of this lawsuit has inevitably resulted in a chilling effect: this is what has been reported by journalist Danilo Lupo, who admitted that he has been refraining from reporting on any issues related to Bellanova over the past eight years.

 

The case of the three journalists facing prison sentences draws once more attention to the severe deficiencies in Italy’s defamation laws. According to the Italian criminal code, defamation through the press can be punished with prison sentences from six months to three years. However, in the past two years, the Constitutional Court had made public its position by urging lawmakers to initiate a comprehensive reform of defamation provisions and ruling that incarceration in such cases is unconstitutional and should be envisioned exclusively in criminal defamation cases of “exceptional severity”. 

 

Joining the dissent expressed by Italian journalists organisations, the undersigned media freedom and journalist associations urge the competent authorities to immediately drop  their demand for prison sentences for the journalists in the Bellanova case, in line with the pronouncements of the Constitutional Court. We also urge the new parliament to swiftly enact a comprehensive reform of both civil and criminal defamation laws in Italy and emphasise the need to meet European freedom of expression standards. We will continue to monitor the unfolding of the legal proceedings of the Lecce court and call on relevant authorities to react to the case. 

Signed by:

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

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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Netherlands: Press freedom groups concerned about video with hostile…

Netherlands: Press freedom groups concerned about video with hostile rhetoric by Dutch politician against reporter

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and its partners express today their concerns about hostile rhetoric used against independent journalists by Dutch political party Forum for Democracy (FvD). Such problematic language creates an intimidating climate for public interest journalism, normalises both online and physical targeting of the press, and can lead to self-censorship amongst the journalistic community. We urge the FvD to put an end to its dangerous smear campaign against independent media.

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and its partners express today their concerns about hostile rhetoric used against an independent journalist by Dutch political party Forum for Democracy (FvD). Such problematic language creates an intimidating climate for public interest journalism, normalises both online and physical targeting of the press, and can lead to self-censorship amongst the journalistic community. We urge the FvD to put an end to its dangerous smear campaign against independent media.

 

On October 23, a 10-minute video called ¨Sewage rats unmasked¨ was published on social media by FvD. The video features Dutch MP Gideon van Meijeren, who posted the video with the accompanying text: “Activists who conduct sewage journalism can no longer get away with their lies, disinformation and fake news. Time for a counterattack.” The video singles out national television channel SBS6´s political reporter Merel Ek, who had asked Van Meijeren a question about the meaning of the word ´liquidate´ a week before. In the video, Van Meijeren says this to be the first episode of a series in which ¨sewage rats¨ are unmasked. He expresses his hope that the unmasking of ¨sewage journalism¨ has a preventative function; ¨Because as long as those journos keep getting away with their disgusting practices, they will continue to do so unabashedly. A confrontation is therefore unavoidable¨. He portrays the political reporter as a ¨sewage journalist¨ and when walking across various press offices comments on the ¨incredible sewage smell¨. 

 

The video is highly intimidating and is detrimental for the safety of journalists in the Netherlands. This hostile political rhetoric against journalists was one of the concerns that gave rise to the MFRR fact-finding mission to the Netherlands in February 2022. It fits in a broader problematic trend in the Netherlands where public figures denounce the free press. In 2021, Partij voor de Vrijheid’s (PVV) party leader Geert Wilders tweeted that ¨all journalists are scum bags – with some exceptions”. FvD´s party leader Thierry Baudet retweeted this. Such rhetoric, combined with increasing polarisation, fraying trust in mainstream news sources and conspiracy theories about the role of the media, contributes to growing anti-press sentiment stewing on social media networks, leading to threats against journalists both online and on the streets. Moreover, the (online) harassment that typically follows can lead to self-censorship. The attacks on the media and journalists were reflected in RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index which ranked the Netherlands 26th as opposed to the 6th place in 2021.

 

The recent video led to many statements from public officials and the journalistic community. Prime Minister Mark Rutte described the video as an all-time low: “In a democracy, journalists should be able to do their job without being discredited.” Multiple ministers and leaders of political parties have denounced the intimidating rhetoric used in the FvD video. Thomas Bruning, the Secretary of the Dutch Journalists Union (NVJ), has shared serious concerns about the impact this may have on journalistic freedoms, and has expressed the need for a discussion within the journalistic community about how to deal with these forms of intimidation. The NVJ is exploring whether legal steps can be taken. 

 

We welcome swift denunciation of this rhetoric and the vocal support given to the journalist by democratic political officials and figures and the wider journalistic community in the Netherlands. To improve the safety of media staff in the Netherlands moving forward, the MFRR and its partners deem it imperative to identify concrete next steps to ensure that such hostile comments and inflammatory messages, which have proven to be detrimental to the general safety of media outlets and individual journalists, are the subject of thorough investigation by the Dutch authorities. It is crucial that such an investigation is not only limited to the video content itself, but also looks at criminal offenses that can follow in the aftermath of such a video such as online harassment, personal commentary and doxxing. The Dutch authorities must provide transparency about the outcomes of such an investigation, to contribute to the broader discussion. 

 

We also call for the issue to be high on the agenda during the upcoming plenary parliamentary debate on press freedom and the safety of journalists in the Netherlands. Engagement should not be limited to the political sphere, but rather fuel a public debate about the role of the press in the Dutch democracy. Finally, the Dutch Parliament must be a place where journalists can do their jobs freely, without fear of intimidation. We call on the Chairman and members of the Boards of Appeal to explore measures to ensure that the work environment of journalists within Parliament is one without fear of intimidation. Independent political reporters and journalists have a crucial watchdog role in democratic societies and must be able to do their jobs freely, in particular within Parliament. Our organisations stand ready to provide expertise and will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • PersVeilig
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

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: International delegation condemns passage of disinformation law and…

Turkey: International delegation condemns passage of disinformation law and issues call to protect safety and freedom of journalists ahead of 2023 elections

Turkey’s journalists are bracing themselves for a renewed attack on their safety and freedoms in the run up to the country’s 2023 general elections following passage of a new disinformation law that threatens to close down public criticism and debate, an international media freedom mission visiting Turkey from October 12 to 14, 2022, has found.

Article 29 of the law provides for three years’ imprisonment for those who publish “false information” with the “intention to instigate fear or panic, endanger the country’s security, public order and general health of society”. It was passed by parliament on Thursday, October 13.

 

The bill’s vague and problematic language and its future implementation by Turkey’s politicized judicial system will put journalists as well as millions of internet users at risk of criminal sanctions and could lead to much greater censorship and self-censorship in the country’s already compromised news landscape.

 

This week, seven media freedom, journalism, and human rights organisations met with a range of key stakeholders in Turkey, including journalists, civil society groups, political parties, and the Turkish Constitutional Court to discuss Turkey’s media freedom crisis. In addition to the chair of the Turkish Parliament’s Investigative Committee on Human Rights, MP Hakan Çavuşuğlu of the ruling AKP party, the delegation also met with representatives of the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP), Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Good Party (İYİP), Future Party (Gelecek P.), Demokrat Party, Felicity Party (Saadet Party), Turkey’s Workers Party (TİP), Labor Party (EMEP), and Societal Freedom Party (TÖP).

 

The mission’s requests for meetings with presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın; with the AKP vice-chair responsible for human rights, Leyla Şahin Usta; and with RTÜK (national broadcast regulator) Chair Ebubekir Şahin were declined. Meeting requests sent to MHP representatives; BTK (communications authority) administration; the chair of the parliamentary Digital Platforms Committee, MP Hüseyin Yayman of AKP; and the head of Directorate of Communications, Fahrettin Altun, were left unanswered.

 

Led by the International Press Institute (IPI) and IPI’s Turkey National Committee, the mission included representatives from Amnesty International Turkey, ARTICLE 19, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT), and Reporters without Borders (RSF). The mission was also supported by PEN International and the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO).

 

Presidential and parliamentary elections are due to take place in Turkey June 2023. The free flow of independent news and information is an essential condition to any democratic election.

 

The mission called on politicians across the political spectrum to pledge to end the crisis facing journalism and commit to extensive reforms in their manifestos guaranteeing media freedoms after many years of deteriorating conditions.

 

At the same time, stakeholders met by the mission expressed grave concern over the possibility of a greater crackdown on journalists and a heightened threat of physical violence ahead of the vote. We call on the government to guarantee that journalists are able to do their work free of intimidation and harassment in particular during the election period.

 

Priorities for action

Following its meetings, the international delegation has identified the following priorities for action:

 

Disinformation law and digital censorship: The government must repeal the disinformation law and put an end to the framework of digital censorship that has been built by the administration. In particular, the new penal code article criminalizing disinformation offers the authorities yet another tool after years of abusing Turkey’s anti-terror law to target critical journalism.

 

Stakeholders met by the mission also raised fears that the Center to Combat Disinformation, established this summer by the Directorate of Communications, will add another layer to the system of digital repression by increasing monitoring and harassment of journalists online.

 

Sustainable improvement for press freedom in Turkey cannot happen without ensuring the impartiality and independence of the judiciary. Turkey’s captured prosecution services and courts, combined with poorly drafted laws that are not in compliance with international standards, have led to the prosecution, conviction, and jailing of hundreds of journalists over the past decade for their journalism. Despite the reduced number of journalists in jail, the Judicial Reform Package, a 2019 initiative presented by the government as an effort to safeguard rights, has not succeeded in stopping the prosecution and legal harassment of journalists.

 

While the Turkish Constitutional Court (TCC) has issued some important pilot rulings pointing to structural problems with laws impacting free expression, there are still major challenges around implementation of the TCC’s rulings by both lower courts – a problem the TCC says it is working to address – and by lawmakers. Important freedom of expression related cases have faced years-long delays awaiting decisions from the TCC, underscoring serious concerns that justice delayed is tantamount to justice denied.

 

At the same time, meeting partners in Turkey have highlighted the problem that most TCC judges are nominated directly or indirectly by the president. Recent appointments to the court have given rise to serious concerns regarding political influence and underscore the need to free the nominations process from such influence.

 

Turkey’s media regulatory bodies must be depoliticised and reformed. They have all abused their powers to target and penalise independent media.

  • The Press Advertising Agency (BIK) has consistently imposed arbitrary penalties on independent newspapers by withdrawing state advertising, thereby denying them an important source of revenue. This August, the Constitutional Court ruled that BIK’s arbitrary sanctions constitute a rights violation stemming from a structural problem. Despite the ruling, BIK subsequently permanently revoked the right of one of these newspapers, Evrensel, to receive public ads.
  • The Television and Radio High Council (RTÜK), Turkey’s broadcast regulator, has regularly targeted independent media. RTÜK issued 42 fines in the past nine months, according to reports by MP Utku Çakırözer. These have almost exclusively been levelled against independent broadcasters.
  • This summer, the Information and Communications Technologies Authority (BTK) was embroiled in a scandal known as “BTK Gate” following the revelation that it had been harvesting data of millions of internet users without a court order. Since December 2020, internet service providers have been required to send BTK hourly reports on websites visited, data location, apps used, and the names of the users. Such mass surveillance has clear implications for the rights of journalists and sources.

The safety of journalists is under increasing pressure as online threats and the verbal targeting of journalists by politicians spill out into violence on the streets. The Mapping Media Freedom platform has recorded 26 cases of assaults against journalists in Turkey in the past year alone. This rise in violence does not take place in a vacuum but is a result of the demonization of critical journalism as illegitimate and a threat to national security. Moreover, the impunity that has emerged in some of these cases risks fuelling further violence.

 

During the mission, the delegation called on all political parties to condemn any attacks on journalists and guarantee the rights of journalists to freely and safely cover the 2023 election campaign.

 

Over the past year, the prosecution and detentions of critical, independent media have continued. This year’s mission has visited Diyarbakir to show solidarity with 15 journalists and a media worker who have been held there in pretrial detention since June despite a lack of official charges. The mission renews its call for the release of all jailed journalists in Turkey and its support for their colleagues and families.

 

Finally, the process of press accreditation must be reformed and depoliticized so as to enable all journalists to do their work. Accreditation must be taken out of the hands of the Directorate of Communications, which has abused its position to remove the press cards of hundreds of critical journalists, and be replaced by a system run by journalists and media organizations themselves.

 

Later this year, the delegation will publish a full report on the mission in which it will provide more detail about the views expressed by stakeholders and officials met during the visit.

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Czech Republic: Media freedom groups urge MPs to pass…

Czech Republic: Media freedom groups urge MPs to pass media act amendment

The undersigned media freedom and journalists organisations and unions today urge the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic to vote to pass a draft bill which would amend the law on public broadcasting to strengthen the institutional independence of Česká televize (Czech Television) and Český rozhlas (Czech Radio).

Our organisations have previously called for and supported the development of this bill, which we believe will play a crucial role in limiting the ability of political forces to influence Czech Television’s oversight council and help future-proof the broadcasters against any attempts by governments to erode editorial independence.

 

The passing of this reform package is long overdue and comes at a crucial time. Under the previous government, Czech Television came under sustained political pressure, including through well-documented attempts to unseat its director general via politically-motivated appointments to its oversight council.

 

Despite these challenges, Czech Television withstood the pressure and remains the model for independent public service broadcasting in Central and Eastern Europe. However, unless the current legislative framework is amended to stop weaknesses being exploited, the broadcaster will remain at the mercy of political interference from future administrations.

 

In our view, the draft amendments developed by the Ministry of Culture represent a legitimate, proportionate and democratic attempt to safeguard the functional independence of the Czech Television Council, in line with the Czech Constitution. While this bill does not take up all of the recommendations initially put forward by CSOs, we note it was created with the welcome input of journalists’ groups and media associations and in line with international standards.

 

Vital elements of this bill include amendments that; ensure both chambers of parliament are involved in appointments to the Czech Television Council; increase the number of sitting councilors; tighten rules on which organisations can nominate candidates, and scrap the ability of parliament to remove all the board members as a consequence of the rejection of annual reports.

 

Taken together, these changes would significantly limit the number of pressure points available to future governments seeking to disrupt the broadcaster’s work or influence its coverage through its proxies on the oversight councils. The passing of this bill would also provide an important signal that the current government is committed to strengthening democracy and would boost its record on media freedom during its Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

 

However, it is crucial that the passing of this legislation be followed by a secondary bill which provides for long-term and sustainable financing for Czech Television and Czech Radio, both of which face serious cuts to budgets and staff numbers. This should include the long overdue legislation for automatic increases in the licence fee in line with inflation.

 

Amidst the war in Ukraine, support for well-funded and independent Czech public broadcasters will both act as an antidote to the Kremlin’s propaganda and provide a much-needed model for neighbouring countries experiencing similar threats to the independence of public service media, both now and in the years to come.

 

The current administration has a vital opportunity to strengthen a pillar of Czech democracy and safeguard the independence of public service media for the future. We urge MPs in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Czech Republic to seize this moment and deliver a progressive reform of the Act on Czech Television. 

Signed by:

Balkan Free Media Initiative (BFMI)

Civil Liberties Union for Europe

European Broadcasting Union (EBU)

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

IFEX

International Press Institute (IPI)

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

Public Media Alliance (PMA)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) 

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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Greece: Full scale of surveillance on journalists must be…

Greece: Full scale of surveillance on journalists must be unearthed

The partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today back calls for the testing of mobile devices belonging to journalists in Greece who suspect they may have been targets of intrusive spyware or other advanced surveillance.

The recent scandals regarding spyware attacks and wiretapping of journalists require full transparency and accountability, and have underscored deepening concerns about the erosion  of media freedom under the New Democracy government.

 

So far it has been revealed that in summer 2021 financial journalist Thanasis Koukakis had his phone hacked using a spyware tool called Predator. He was also separately wiretapped by the Greek security services under obscure “national security” grounds. There is also evidence that Stavros Malichudis, an investigative journalist for Solomon covering refugees and migration, was also surveilled by intelligence bodies in 2021.

 

Both cases represent major violations of journalists’ privacy, journalistic source protection and press freedom. In neither case has accountability been reached or the full truth revealed. Our organisations share concerns that these cases could potentially represent the tip of the iceberg of deeper surveillance of Greek journalists by state and private actors.

 

In late September, Greek journalists and foreign correspondents issued an appeal to the European Parliament for funding and facilities to test their mobile devices for traces of surveillance. Currently, the EU’s internal cyber-security mechanisms only have a mandate for testing the devices of MEPs and other EU officials.

 

As spyware and other advanced surveillance technologies become more prevalent across Europe in the coming years, the threat to democracy and civil rights will likewise increase. Already, multiple EU Member States – including Hungary – have abused these technologies to target journalists, activists and other members of civil society. In addition to tougher regulation, mechanisms must urgently be put in place to ensure that flagrant abuses of these cyber weapons against the media and others are swiftly identified and addressed.

 

Our organisations therefore support calls for the provision of funding from the European Union to help facilitate the testing of devices of journalists and other members of civil society in EU states where private forensic testing facilities are not available domestically, or where national authorities are unable or unwilling to help. This would give citizens and journalists, including those in Greece, a powerful tool to seek redress, help identify abusers of the technology and understand how deep the iceberg goes.

 

In addition to increased testing, additional steps must also be taken at the EU level to ensure that others do not join Greek journalists as victims of illegal surveillance. The European Commission’s recently launched European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) correctly recognises the recent evolution of surveillance threats and includes specific rules about the use of spyware against media, journalists and their families.

 

However, under the EMFA, Member States would retain exemptions that permit the surveillance of journalists using spyware without the need for prior judicial review in cases which involve threats to national security or other serious crimes investigations. This complete lack of legal oversight for use of military-grade spyware is highly problematic and leaves the door wide open to further abuses.

 

The fact that Thanasis Koukakis, a financial and banking journalist, and Stavros Malichudis, who was writing about a Syrian boy’s art prize at the time, were both wiretapped under “national security” justifications, offers worrying examples of how these exemptions are open to abuse by governments and intelligence agencies to spy on legitimate journalistic work. Article 4 of the EMFA must therefore be significantly strengthened if it wants to achieve real protection for journalists and their sources.

 

Moving forward, we also urge the European Parliament’s PEGA Committee of Inquiry to propose strong recommendations for tougher regulation on the sale, trade and use of these kinds of intrusive surveillance weapons inside and outside the European Union, and for far greater transparency from state institutions.

 

If and when additional infections are identified, both the surveillance-for-hire companies that market these tools, and any actors, including state intelligence or law enforcement bodies, who unjustifiably deploy them against journalists must be held accountable for these grave violations of fundamental rights.

 

Our organisations will continue to closely monitor the situation regarding media freedom in Greece and document all future attacks on journalists.

Signed by:

  • 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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Slovakia: Deputy PM’s attacks undermined government’s broader efforts to…

Slovakia: Deputy PM’s attacks undermined government’s broader efforts to strengthen press freedom

The undersigned international media freedom and journalists organisations today express dismay over the recent attempts by deputy Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovič to denigrate the country’s media and warn they were undermining wider efforts by the government to improve the landscape for media freedom.

In recent weeks, Matovič, the former prime minister and current finance minister, launched numerous verbal attacks on the media, including insulting posts on Facebook which personally attacked the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Denník N, Matúš Kostolný, over a critical opinion piece.

 

Speaking in parliament, Matovič, who is also leader of the largest party in government, then accused unspecified media of being corrupt and during a speech on 29 September again accused the the country’s media of “spreading lies” and likened their journalism to Nazi propaganda.

 

These comments clearly overstepped the bounds of legitimate criticism and represented unacceptable attacks on independent journalism which were rightly condemned. Our organisations welcome Prime Minister Eduard Heger’s statement defending journalists and the criticism of the minister’s comments by nine MPs from his OĽANO party.

 

We also stand behind the powerful joint statement issued on September 30 by 22 of the country’s leading editors-in-chief, who condemned the minister’s rhetoric and refused to be pressured into silence for carrying out their role as public watchdogs.
While we note the statement of apology addressed by Matovič “to all honest journalists” on October 3, this will only have credibility if followed up by action. We therefore urge the minister to refrain from making any further unjustified accusations of the press and to recognise that public figures holding elected office have a duty to act responsibly and be prepared to accept a higher level of public scrutiny.

 

If repeated, Matovič’s attacks will undermine the coalition government’s broader efforts to improve the landscape for press freedom. The parliament has passed important bills strengthening the protection of the confidentiality of journalistic sources, as well as increasing transparency of media ownership and funding. The Justice Ministry has tabled amendments to widen the scope of the Freedom of Information Act and decrease prison sentences for defamation. While full justice for the 2018 assassination of the journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée has not yet been reached, Slovak law-enforcement authorities are prosecuting corruption reported by journalists. Internationally, Slovakia has worked towards an ambitious European Media Freedom Act.

 

Moving forward, we hope to see the government continue this reform agenda and for an end to all further verbal attacks against the media. Our organisations will continue to closely monitor the situation in Slovakia in the coming weeks and months.

Signed by:

  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • 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, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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International Press Freedom Groups Condemn Turkey Disinformation Bill Placed…

International Press Freedom Groups Condemn Turkey Disinformation Bill Placed before Parliament

Twenty five international media freedom, freedom of expression and journalists’ organisations call on Members of Parliament (MPs) to vote against the bill on “disinformation and fake news,” which was submitted to parliament’s General Assembly on October 4 by the governing alliance of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

 

Açıklamanın Türkçesi aşağıdadır. / Turkish translation available below.

The bill, which was first submitted to parliament in June before being postponed after the commission stages due to alleged differences between the two governing parties, has been resubmitted this week without any amendments despite  fierce criticism from across civil society and the journalistic community.

 

The bill provides a framework for extensive censorship of online information and the criminalisation of journalism, which will enable the government to further subdue and control public debate in the leadup to Turkey’s general elections in 2023. 

 

The proposed bill provides for:

  • Up to three years imprisonment for those found guilty of deliberately publishing  “disinformation and fake news” intended to instigate fear or panic, endanger the country’s internal or external security, public order and general health of Turkey’s society.
  • An increase of any sentence by 50 percent where the information has been published from anonymous accounts, by someone concealing their identity, or as part of an organisation’s activities.
  • The expansion of the press law to include online news sites. This will enable the government to use the expanded role of the Press Advertising Agency, Basin Ilan Kurumu (BIK), to fund online propaganda while excluding critical outlets as has been applied in the print media.

 

The bill, with its vaguely formulated definition of disinformation and ‘intent’, overseen by Turkey’s highly politicised judiciary, will put millions of internet users at risk of criminal sanction and could lead to blanket censorship and self-censorship in the run up to the 2023 elections.

 

A consortium of media freedom and human rights organisations will be visiting Turkey 12 to 14 October to discuss the consequences of the disinformation bill with politicians and media stakeholders, as well as the challenges facing independent journalists in reporting public affairs in accordance with the principles of free and fair elections.  

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • Articolo 21
  • Association of European Journalists
  • Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • Danish PEN
  • English PEN
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Foreign Media Association (of Turkey) FMA
  • Freedom House
  • IFEX
  • International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA)
  • Media Research Association (MEDAR)
  • Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • P24 Platform for Independent Journalism
  • PEN America
  • PEN International
  • PEN Norway
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  • Swedish PEN
  • The Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ)

Uluslararası Basın Özgürlüğü Grupları Türkiye’de Meclise Sunulan Dezenformasyon Yasa Tasarısını Kınadı

Serbest bilgi akışını suç haline getirmek için tasarlanmış bir yasa 

 

Yirmi beş uluslararası medya özgürlüğü, ifade özgürlüğü ve gazeteci örgütü, milletvekillerine Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP) ve Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP) iktidar ittifakı tarafından 4 Ekim’de TBMM Genel Kurulu’na sunulan “dezenformasyon ve yalan haber” yasa tasarısına karşı oy kullanmaları çağrısında bulundu.

 

İlk olarak Haziran ayında meclise sunulan ancak iki iktidar partisi arasındaki görüş ayrılıkları nedeniyle komisyon aşamasından sonra ertelenen tasarı, sivil toplum ve gazetecilik camiasından gelen sert eleştirilere rağmen bu hafta hiçbir değişiklik yapılmadan yeniden meclis genel kuruluna sunuldu.

 

Tasarı, Türkiye’de 2023 yılında yapılacak genel seçimler öncesinde hükümetin kamusal tartışmayı daha da bastırmasına ve kontrol etmesine olanak sağlayacak şekilde, çevrimiçi bilginin kapsamlı bir şekilde sansürlenmesi ve habercilik faaliyetlerinin kriminalize edilmesi için bir çerçeve sunuyor. 

 

Tasarı şunları öngörmektedir

  • Korku veya panik yaratmak, ülkenin iç veya dış güvenliğini, kamu düzenini ve toplumun genel sağlığını tehlikeye atmak amacıyla kasıtlı olarak “dezenformasyon ve yalan haber” yayınlamaktan suçlu bulunan kişiler için üç yıla kadar hapis cezası.
  • Bilginin anonim hesaplardan, kimliğini gizleyen bir kişi tarafından ya da bir örgütün faaliyetlerinin bir parçası olarak yayınlanması durumunda cezanın yüzde 50 oranında artırılması.
  • Basın kanununun internet haber sitelerini de kapsayacak şekilde genişletilmesi. Bu sayede hükümet, Basın İlan Kurumu’nun (BİK) genişletilmiş rolünü kullanarak, yazılı basında olduğu gibi eleştirel yayın organlarını dışlarken, internet üzerinden propagandayı finanse edebilecek.

 

Muğlak bir ifade ile oluşturulmuş olan dezenformasyon ve ‘kasıt’ tanımlarıyla, Türkiye’nin son derece siyasallaşmış yargısı tarafından denetlenen tasarı, milyonlarca internet kullanıcısını da cezai yaptırım riskiyle karşı karşıya bırakacak ve 2023 seçimleri öncesinde kapsamlı bir sansüre ve otosansüre yol açabilecektir. 

 

Medya özgürlüğü ve insan hakları örgütlerinden oluşan bir konsorsiyum, dezenformasyon yasa tasarısının sonuçlarını siyasetçiler ve medya paydaşlarıyla tartışmak ve bağımsız gazetecilerin özgür ve adil seçim ilkelerine uygun olarak kamu meselelerini haberleştirmede karşılaştıkları zorlukları ele almak üzere 12-14 Ekim tarihleri arasında Türkiye’yi ziyaret edecek.  

 

İmzalayanlar:

  • Amerika PEN
  • Article 19
  • Articolo 21
  • Avrupa Basın ve Medya Özgürlüğü Merkezi (ECPMF)
  • Avrupa Gazeteciler Derneği (AEJ)
  • Avrupa Gazeteciler Federasyonu (EFJ)
  • Bağımsız Gazetecilik Platformu P24
  • Danimarka PEN
  • Gazetecileri Koruma Komitesi (CPJ)
  • Gazetecilikte Kadınlar Koalisyonu (CFWIJ)
  • Güneydoğu Avrupa Medya Kurumu (SEEMO)
  • İngiltere PEN
  • İsveç PEN
  • Medya Araştırmaları Derneği (MEDAR)
  • Medya ve Hukuk Çalışmaları Derneği (MLSA)
  • Norveç PEN
  • Özgürlük Evi (FH)
  • Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Sınır Tanımayan Gazeteciler (RSF)
  • Uluslararası Gazeteciler Federasyonu (IFJ)
  • Uluslararası Karikatürist Hakları Ağı (CRNI)
  • Uluslararası PEN
  • Uluslararası İfade Hürriyeti (IFEX)
  • Yabancı Medya Derneği (FMA)

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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Albania: Media must not face criminal prosecution for public…

Albania: Media must not face criminal prosecution for public interest reporting

The undersigned media freedom and journalist associations today express our shared concern over the blanket publication ban issued by Albanian prosecutorial authorities regarding a trove of hacked data, and stress that no journalist or media outlet should face criminal sanctions for publishing information in the public interest.

While our organisations recognise the sensitive nature of these leaks and urge all media in Albania to handle the material in a strictly ethical and responsible manner, it is vital that Albanian authorities proceed with caution and full consideration for journalistic freedoms protected under both domestic and international law.

 

On 19 September 2022, the Prosecutor’s Office of Tirana issued an “order” which banned all media in Albania from publishing data or information from a cache of files which had been hacked from Albanian servers and computer systems and then leaked online. The high-profile leaks followed a wave of damaging cyber-attacks on Albanian servers and computer systems in recent months by state-backed hackers in Iran, which has caused a diplomatic crisis and the severing of ties between the two countries.

 

The bulk of the hacked material contains classified police information and sensitive email correspondence, documents and memos between Albanian politicians, authorities and foreign ambassadors, including documents about suspected plans to assassinate foreign and domestic political figures, according to reports.

 

In response to the latest leaks, the Prosecutor’s Office of Tirana issued the order and warned that media that violate the ban would face criminal investigation under articles 103, 208 and 304 of the penal code. This included publication in audio-visual, print and online media, as well as social media. News websites that published data would subsequently be blocked.The information was first shared via a post on the Facebook account of the Albanian Police.

 

Our organisations recognise the severity of these cyber-attacks and the sensitive nature of the leaked data. In such circumstances, the media have a professional responsibility to handle and present this kind of material in an ethical manner, with full consideration given to citizens’ right to privacy and serious national security concerns.

 

However, regardless of the source of the material or the intent of those behind the attacks, journalists have a responsibility to assess the veracity and public interest nature of the leaked information, as well as the right of citizens to be informed about newsworthy matters.

 

The response by the Tirana Prosecutor’s Office to try and unilaterally limit all reporting on the leaked information, without proper consideration given to the public interest, therefore raises serious concerns about unjustified infringements on the freedom of the press, which is already under the spotlight in Albania.

 

Threats of criminal investigations and website blocking for media or journalists that violate the banning order will meanwhile have a censorious effect on reporting and could open the door to the criminalisation of legitimate journalistic activity. No journalist, editor or publisher in Albania should face prosecution for publishing accurate information on a matter of public interest.

 

Moreover, the role of the Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA) and the Electronic and Postal Communications Authority (AKEP) – two independent bodies – in monitoring the media ecosystem for potential violations on behalf of the Prosecutor’s Office also raises clear concerns.

 

Moving forward, our organisations urge investigatory and government authorities in Albania to avoid taking any further steps which undermine the exercise of responsible journalism or endanger the liberty of journalists publishing public interest material. We will continue to closely monitor the situation in the coming days and respond to further developments.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • Balkan Free Media Initiative
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Safe Journalists Network
  • Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso 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, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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