Photo by Roshan Nebhrajani/Medill News Service Library

Albania: news outlets faced cyber attacks following reports about…

Albania: news outlets faced cyber attacks following reports about Mayor of Tirana

The partners in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) are worried about developments in Albania this week. Cyber-attacks on news outlets believed to be in relation to their reporting on Tirana’s Mayor Erion Veliaj and the appointment of government loyalist Endri Fuga to lead the Media and Information Agency add to existing challenges for media freedom in the country.

DDoS cyber-attacks

In previous days starting on 24 January, several online media were targeted by distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) cyber-attacks, making it difficult to access their websites. RTV Ora, Lapsi.al, Doja.al, Syri.net, Maska.al, Gijotina.al, Faktor.al and SportEkspress were among the affected outlets. Although no concrete evidence has been presented yet, the outlets believe the attacks to be coordinated and connected to their reporting on an ongoing dispute involving Veliaj. He is accused of threatening board members of the Albanian Football Federation (FSHF) ahead of a vote for the head of the governing body. The targeted websites all published an audio recording related to the FSHF elections. On the tape, Veliaj is heard using slurs, coarse language and threats in an apparent attempt to influence the upcoming vote in favour of his preferred candidate. Veliaj has confirmed the authenticity of the recording but stated it should be considered in context. His spokesperson said it was just “boys’ talk”. Chairing the Federation is nominally a non-political position; however, most football teams in Albania are owned by local municipalities, whose mayors vote in the elections.

We call for a swift and effective investigation into these cyber-attacks. DDoS attacks constitute a significant threat to media freedom, as they prevent information from being disseminated resulting in direct censorship, and add financial pressures on the affected outlets.

Doubts about Media and Information Agency impartiality

In addition, we condemn the appointment of Fuga to head the newly established Media and Information Agency (MIA), which centralises control over the government’s public relations within a single entity. Yesterday, following a request for information by BIRN Albania, the government confirmed that Fuga was appointed as General Director of the new Agency by Order of the Prime Minister No. 96, dated 29 September 2021. Fuga was previously the spokesperson for Prime Minister Edi Rama. His appointment in the new role, which holds a status equal to that of a government minister and comes with wide-ranging powers, exacerbates existing doubts about the MIA’s independence and impartiality and fears that it may be instrumentalised to restrict journalists’ access to public information.

The decision to put the MIA into operation is a grave step backwards for government transparency in Albania. We reiterate our call for the establishment of greater safeguards to ensure the Agency functions fairly and transparently, even more so following the public confirmation of Fuga’s appointment as its General Director.

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.

Sedef Kabaş, Photo: BirGün Library

Turkey: IPI calls for release of Turkey journalist Sedef…

Turkey: MFRR partner IPI calls for release of journalist Sedef Kabaş

Kabaş arrested and charged with insulting the president after comments on television programme. The IPI global network and IPI’s Turkey National Committee call for the immediate release of Turkish journalist and author Sedef Kabaş, who was arrested over the weekend on charges of “insulting the president”.

On January 22, Kabaş was detained during a midnight police raid following critical comments she made about Turkish President Erdoğan on a program aired last week on TV broadcaster TELE1. The police raided Kabaş’s home at 2 am and took the journalist into custody for questioning.

Prosecutors had opened an investigation shortly after Kabaş made the remarks. In the programme, Kabaş quoted a Circassian proverb on air as follows: “A cow does not become a king as it ascends to a palace, but the palace becomes a barn.” Kabaş added, “There is a very famous proverb that says that a crowned head becomes wiser. But we see it is not true.”

Following the programme, a number of governmental officials, including Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül, reacted on their social media accounts condemning Kabaş’s remarks. Following Minister Gül’s statement saying that these words go “beyond the limit”, “stem from hatred”, and “shall find a response in front of justice”, Kabaş was arrested on a charge of “insulting the president”.

With Kabaş’s arrest, the number of journalists in prison in Turkey rose to 38, according to IPI figures.

Prior to Kabaş’s arrest, Ebubekir Şahin, president of Turkey’s Radio and Television High Council (RTÜK), said that the RTÜK had also initiated a probe into TELE1 regarding Kabaş’s remarks. During the Council meeting held on January 24, RTÜK issued a 5 percent revenue fine against TELE1 due to the statements and issued a five-day broadcasting ban on the programme. After TELE1 journalist Uğur Dündar criticized RTÜK over the decision, the body issued another 3 percent revenue fine against the channel.

“Harmless news or undisturbing comments can be made in any country in the world. But in developed democracies, freedom of the press and expression includes the right to receive shocking and disturbing news and comments as well, as has been repeatedly recognized by the European Court of Human Rights. In such democracies, it is expected that public officials must demonstrate a higher tolerance for criticism”, IPI Turkey National Committee Chair Emre Kızılkaya said.

Kızılkaya said that there can be no democracy when the press is silenced. “In its 72 years of operation, IPI has recorded countless press freedom violations in Turkey where politicians tried to silence journalists. But journalists have not stayed silent, nor they have given up. All those politicians who endangered democracy for their own sake and position left, but the passion for journalism among new generations has remained infinite. The important thing is solidarity among journalists and readers’ appreciation of quality journalism without falling into the trap of cheap politics.”

IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen condemned the arrest of Kabaş.

“Journalists, and indeed all citizens, have the right to criticize their elected officials, even if that criticism is shocking or disturbing to some. That is how democracies work”, he said. “As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, Turkey is bound to respect these long-established principles. We call for the immediate release of Sedef Kabaş and the dropping of all charges against her, and we urge Turkey to abolish its law on insulting the president in line with international human rights standards.”

He added: “We are also disturbed by RTÜK’s decision to punish TELE1, which continues the council’s pattern of disproportionately targeting independent television broadcasters in Turkey. RTÜK, too, must respect the fundamental right of freedom of expression, and we call on RTÜK to rescind both the fine and the broadcast ban against TELE1.”

RTÜK also recently issued a 3 percent administrative revenue fine against Fox TV over news anchor Selçuk Tepeli’s comments critical of the government. According to RTÜK opposition member İlhan Taşçı, the total amount of administrative fines given in the January 24 meeting amounts to 6 million Turkish Liras (approx. 400,000 euros).

Last year in October, IPI led a joint press freedom mission to Turkey to meet officials and various institutions in Istanbul and Ankara. The mission delegation included representatives of a number of leading international press freedom and free expression organizations including IPI, Article 19, CPJ, ECPMF, HRW, OBCT, PEN International, RSF and SEEMO.

The mission delegation raised concerns about jailed journalists in Turkey; bans and fines by RTÜK and Press Advertising Agency (BİK) aimed at silencing critical media; and digital censorship.

This statement was coordinated by IPI as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Greece Flag Library

Greece: Concern over criminal charges against investigative reporters

Greece: Concern over criminal charges against investigative reporters

The undersigned international media freedom and freedom of expression organisations today register their concern over the serious criminal charges levelled against two investigative journalists in Greece linked to their reporting on a major corruption scandal. Our organisations are following these two legal cases with utmost scrutiny given the obvious concerns they raise with regard to press freedom. Authorities must issue guarantees that the process is demonstrably independent and free of any political interference.

On January 19, Kostas Vaxevanis, a veteran investigative journalist and publisher of the newspaper Documento, testified at the Special High Court on four criminal charges of conspiracy to abuse power through his newspaper’s reporting on the Novartis pharmaceutical scandal. Under the penal code, Vaxevanis faces five years of imprisonment if found guilty, with a maximum sentence of 20 years. His newspaper has condemned the criminal charges as a politically motivated attack aimed at silencing a media critic which unveiled the scandal.

Ioanna Papadakou, a former investigative journalist and television host, is set to appear before a court on January 25 on separate but similar charges of being part of a criminal organisation which conspired to fabricate news stories about the Novartis case and the so-called “Lagarde list”, including the alleged extortion of a businessman through critical coverage. Papadakou has rejected the case as “blatant violation of the rule of law”. A Greek MEP from the ruling party and the Board of Directors of the Panhellenic Federation of Journalists’ Union (POESY – PFJU) have both expressed concern about the prosecution of the journalists. Neither journalist has yet been formally indicted.

The summons of Vaxevanis and Papadakou to testify are part of a wider parliamentary investigation into allegations of political conspiracy and abuse of power involving Greek judge and politician Dimitris Papagelopoulos, a former deputy minister in the previous Syriza government. Papagelopoulos is accused of falsely incriminating political opponents through the Novartis pharmaceutical scandal. The probe, launched by the current New Democracy government, has in turn faced accusations of politicisation.

Our organisations are closely following this case. The criminal charges against Kostas Vaxevanis and Ioanna Papadakou are extremely serious and carry heavy prison sentences. The nature of the charges, their connection to investigative reporting on corruption, and the potential imprisonment of two journalists in an EU Member State, raise legitimate concerns regarding press freedom and demand utmost scrutiny. Until commenting further, we await more detailed information from the Special Investigator about the specificities of the charges against both journalists.

What is absolutely clear is that judicial authorities examining this matter must act with full regard for press freedom standards and the function of investigative journalism in democratic societies. Moreover, given the politicisation of the wider affair, it is essential that guarantees are in place to ensure that judicial authorities act with complete independence in this case. We will continue to closely monitor both cases and have submitted alerts to Mapping Media Freedom (MMF) and the Council of Europe’s platform for the safety and protection of journalists.

In the coming weeks, the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) is due to publish the findings of our recent online press freedom mission to Greece. Our organisations are already increasingly concerned about the challenging climate facing independent journalism in the country, including vexatious lawsuits against journalists. Greece is firmly in the spotlight in terms of threats to media freedom. We sincerely hope these cases will not become a matter of major international concern.

Signed by:

  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) 
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Index on Censorship
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Credits: vijesti.me Library

Montenegro: Impunity must end for shooting of journalist Olivera…

Montenegro: Impunity must end for shooting of journalist Olivera Lakić

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today renew our call for an end to impunity for the shooting of investigative journalist Olivera Lakić in 2018 and hope the recent arrest of suspects will lead to all those involved ultimately facing justice.

Our organisations also welcome the recent cross party approval of amendments to the criminal code which will strengthen protections for journalists but stress the need for further reforms to create a safe and open environment for independent journalism.

Lakić, an investigative journalist covering organised crime and corruption for the daily Vijesti, was shot in the leg outside her apartment in Podgorica on 8 May 2018. She was wounded but survived after being treated in hospital. The attack was first classified as attempted murder but later changed to grievous bodily harm.

Prosecutors said the motive for the attack was Lakić’s investigations into local crime gangs and their links with regional criminal organisations. Although numerous suspects were arrested in the wake of the attack, more than three and a half years later no one has been brought to trial for the broad daylight shooting and Lakić remains under police protection.

On 17 December 2021, Montenegro’s High Court ordered the 30-day detention of Branislav Karadzic and police officer Darko Lalovic, who are suspected by the Special State Prosecutor’s Office of following Lakić before the attack and passing on information about her movements to the “Kavac” drug gang. Concerningly, the officer worked in the same department of the police that is responsible for providing security for Lakić. If proven, involvement of the officer would be devastating for trust in the police force.

While the recent arrests are a welcome development, no formal indictments have been brought against them or any of those suspected of involvement in the shooting. Overall, progress in prosecuting those behind the attack remains painfully slow. Multiple members of the drug gang, including the alleged gunman, have been formally identified as suspects. However, the case remains in the investigation phase. Due to the sensitivity of the case, the High Prosecutors Office (HPO) and the Special Prosecutors Office (SPO) are declining to disclose secret information to the Commission for Monitoring the Competences of Threats and Violence Against Journalists, meaning little information is publicly available.

Our organisations see Olivera Lakić’s case as a litmus test for both the independence of the judicial system and the stated aims of the new government to improve the climate for media freedom by tackling cases of ingrained impunity for attacks on journalists. The 2004 killing of the director and editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Dan, Dusko Jovanovic, remains mired in impunity, casting a dark shadow over the country’s landscape for media freedom. As Deputy Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic rightly noted recently, no journalist in Montenegro can feel fully safe until that case is solved.

A legal system in which these kinds of serious physical attacks on media workers are punished with appropriate sanctions is crucial. It is uplifting therefore that on December 29 the Parliament of Montenegro unanimously voted to pass amendments to the criminal code which prescribe stronger criminal protection of journalists. We praise the dedicated efforts of Montenegrin journalists’ unions, NGOs and civil society organisations which developed the bill in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice. Under the new law, those convicted of causing grievous bodily harm to those engaged in the dissemination of public information – as in the case of Olivera Lakić – will face penalties of up to eight years in prison instead of the current five years, with stricter punishments for journalists’ killers.

The passing of this legislation marks a welcome step forward on media freedom for the government of Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić. To be fully effective, it must be accompanied by funding for capacity building for law enforcement authorities and strong implementation of the legislation by prosecutors. A complementary next step in the fight for justice for journalists would be hiring a foreign expert to investigate Dusko Jovanovic’s murder. Though such an appointment was approved by the former Commission for Investigation of Attacks on Journalists three years ago, no action has since been taken. We urge the current administration to reverse this situation and address other recommendations of the Commission.

While the recent legislative development is welcome, much remains to be done to improve the wider situation for media freedom and independent journalists in Montenegro. As well as the major cases of engrained impunity, the day-to-day safety of journalists and precarious working conditions remain an issue of concern. Verbal and physical attacks and threats against journalists and media workers remain common. The attacks on Vijesti Television journalist Sead Sadiković in March 2021, the death threats sent to Antena M editor-in-chief Darko Sukovic and columnist Dragan Bursać in May, and the intimidation of Milka Tadić Mijović in August all illustrate the type of threats journalists face for doing their jobs. Denunciation by officials of all attacks and intimidation of journalists remains vital.

Separately, but of equal importance, efforts to complete the reform of Radio Television of Montenegro (RTCG) from a state media to a public service media must be handled in a non-political manner and always with the goal of increasing its independence and professionalism. Management changes and the appointment in June 2021 of a new RTCG Council are recognised as having led to more pluralistic coverage. However, future proposals to adapt the public broadcaster’s funding model must be conducted in close consultation with journalists groups and relevant international media organizations. Legislation is required to ensure the independence of the media and the transparency of ownership. Meanwhile, the conviction and sentencing to one year in prison of investigative journalist Jovo Martinović remains a major issue of concern for our organisations.

Much remains to be done to dismantle the entrenched polarisation in Montenegro that poses continued challenges for the independence of public service broadcasters; the state’s response to crimes against journalists; and the fair allocation of state support to media via advertising. The new administration must oversee reforms which roll back the state capture of regulatory bodies and create an even playing field for the media to work free from interference and pressure. There are no quick fixes here and significant political will is required. Yet hope for progress remains amongst the country’s journalistic community. Our organisations stand ready to support the work of the Commission and the government of Montenegro in achieving these goals.

Signed by:

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

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.

Prominent Bulgarian investigative journalist Atanas Tchobanov Library

Bulgaria: Serious threat against investigative journalist Atanas Tchobanov

Bulgaria: Serious threat against investigative journalist Atanas Tchobanov

New government must prioritize journalist safety and media freedom. The IPI global network today expresses serious concern over the warning received by one of Bulgaria’s most prominent investigative journalists, Atanas Tchobanov, about an immediate threat to his life. IPI urges Bulgarian authorities to thoroughly investigate the threat, take all necessary measures to protect his safety and ensure those responsible are swiftly identified.

On 7 January 2021, Tchobanov, co-founder of the Bulgarian investigative website Bivol and director of the Bureau of Investigative Reporting and Data (BIRD), received a phone call from an official at a foreign embassy under a “duty to inform” procedure, who warned him about information the official had received concerning a credible and immediate threat to Tchobanov’s physical safety.

Tchobanov, a well-known journalist who is based in Paris, was told the threat came from within Bulgarian territory but did not receive specific information about the nature of the danger he was in or who was responsible. The tip off came one day after he made phone calls to figures named in a major investigative story he was working on at the time.

The journalist believes the threat was related to a story he published on January 9 – “Lobbyist Tony Podesta serves businesses related to Peevski” – which revealed lobbying deals struck between influential U.S. Democratic Party lobbyist Anthony Podesta and Bulgarian companies whose owners are linked to the interests of Bulgarian oligarch and political Delyan Peevski, who is sanctioned under the U.S. Magnitsky Act.

As part of his investigation with colleague Dimitar Stoyanov, Tchobanov contacted figures working with Podesta in Bulgaria seeking comment. The very next day, he received the information about the threat. Speaking to media, Tchobanov said he believed the threat was directed from certain figures within the National Assembly.

On January 10, the journalist filed a statement with French police. Over the weekend he also reported the threat to Bulgarian authorities. Tchobanov was contacted by the state prosecutor’s office to provide information about his allegations. However, he declined, citing concerns about links of those within the prosecutor’s office to those he suspects were behind the threat.

On Monday, the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior, the General Directorate for Combating Organized Crime, the General Directorate of the National Police, the Sofia Directorate of the Interior, the State Intelligence Agency (SANS), and the Military Intelligence Service were informed about the threat by the prosecutor’s office. However, Bulgarian authorities have not commented publicly on the issue.

“Atanas Tchobanov is one of the finest investigative journalists in Bulgaria and has worked on numerous global investigative projects”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “This warning about a threat to life is extremely concerning, as it would not have been made unless there were serious immediate risks to his safety. This underscores both the major risks journalists probing crime and corruption routinely face in Bulgaria and the importance of duty-to-inform directives: vital instruments which should be deployed by more countries to help protect journalists.

Griffen added: “Bulgarian state authorities should make an immediate public statement to confirm an investigation has been opened to verify the threat and identify its source. All necessary measures should also be taken to ensure that the safety of both Atanas Tchobanov and his colleague in Bulgaria is guaranteed and that those behind the threat are identified and brought to justice.

“As the new government assumes power in Bulgaria, IPI also urges the administration to prioritize improvement of media freedoms. A key element will be strengthening investigations into serious threats and attacks on journalists, which remain frequent, with unacceptable levels of impunity. Police accountability for violence against media workers has been virtually non-existent; legal harassment of outlets investigating the activities of powerful institutions is common; and journalists face restrictions on speaking with politicians and accessing information.

“Improvement of this situation will require significant political will from the government, public officials, prosecutors, and law enforcement authorities, as well as a broader recognition by Bulgarian authorities of the fundamental role that independent journalism plays in society. To address these challenges, IPI urges the government to commission an immediate independent review to examine the current state of media freedom in the country and to identify key challenges.”

This statement 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.

Library

Poland: Media freedom groups urge President Duda to veto…

Poland: Media freedom groups urge President Duda to veto ‘Lex-TVN’

The undersigned international media freedom and journalists groups are writing to urge you to apply a presidential veto to the so-called “Lex-TVN” amendment passed by the Sejm on December 17, which we believe poses a fundamental threat to media freedom and pluralism in Poland. This bill represents a direct attack on the independence of the country’s biggest private broadcaster, U.S-owned TVN, and its news channel TVN24.

Dear Andrzej Duda, President of the Republic of Poland,

 

The undersigned international media freedom and journalists groups are writing to urge you to apply a presidential veto to the so-called “Lex-TVN” amendment passed by the Sejm on December 17, which we believe poses a fundamental threat to media freedom and pluralism in Poland. This bill represents a direct attack on the independence of the country’s biggest private broadcaster, U.S-owned TVN, and its news channel TVN24.

Rather than a sincere effort to protect Poland against hostile foreign media takeovers, our organisations are convinced that this media ownership law has always been about one goal: slicing through TVN’s ownership structure and forcing Discovery to sell a controlling 51% stake, opening the door for government-allied entities to potentially acquire stakes and ultimately engineer a shift in editorial position to one more favourable to the ruling party. Far from a secret, the Law and Justice (PiS) MP responsible for drafting the amendment, Marek Suski, has publicly stated the true intention of the law: obtaining greater influence over TVN’s programming.

Such a clear effort to enact media legislation that pushes out foreign owners is reminiscent of well-documented tactics used by governments in Hungary and Russia to bring independent channels under control via government-friendly entities. While laws restricting foreign media ownership do exist in EU member states, this bill is not a principled and proportionate effort to protect the Polish information landscape. Rather, it is clearly aimed at undermining one particular outlet and is part of a wider effort to “repolonise” the media. As you have previously outlined, any changes to media ownership must be conducted under market principles rather than via heavy-handed government intervention. Lex-TVN represents a clear and politically-motivated effort to strong-arm such changes through legislation and must therefore be opposed.

In addition to undermining fundamental democratic values, the proposed amendment to article 35 of the Broadcasting Act also raises legitimate doubts about its compliance with EU law and will almost certainly lead to a legal challenge from the European Commission. As the Senate has already identified, it is also inconsistent with the Polish Constitution. It also breaches the U.S-Poland Bilateral Investment Treaty, simultaneously undermining Poland’s reputation as a welcome climate for foreign investment and uprooting relations between Poland and its closest ally. That the bill was unexpectedly approved by the Sejm just before the parliamentary break, without prior announcement, and in violation of rules on adequate debate, is also deeply problematic.

The stakes of this decision for media freedom, democracy and the rule of law in Poland are high. Ultimately, your decision about this bill should not be about whether one agrees or disagrees with TVN’s coverage. It should be about the principle of media pluralism and the ability of citizens to access information from a variety of news sources. It should also be about the fundamental right of the media to fulfil its watchdog role and scrutinise those in power. And it should be about ensuring fair market conditions in a media sector free from government interference.

After the Sejm passed the initial bill in August 2021, you outlined your concerns over the law’s detrimental effect on freedom of speech and diplomatic relations. Despite being firmly rejected by the Senate, the bill awaiting your decision remains unchanged in both its form and its ultimate purpose. We therefore urge you to remain true to your word and use your veto power to outright reject this law and safeguard the freedom of the press in Poland.

Signed by:

  • Archiwum Osiatyńskiego / The Wiktor Osiatyński Archive
  • ARTICLE 19
  • Association of European Journalists (AEJ)
  • Civic Network Watchdog Poland (Sieć Obywatelska Watchdog Polska)
  • Coalition for Women in Journalism (CFWIJ)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Warsaw, Poland)
  • IFEX
  • International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • Public Media Alliance (PMA)
  • Society of Journalists, Warsaw
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  • The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Organizacje na rzecz wolności mediów apelują do Prezydenta Andrzeja Dudy o zawetowanie ustawy Lex TVN

Szanowny Panie Prezydencie Andrzeju Dudo,

 

My, niżej podpisane międzynarodowe organizacje działające na rzecz wolności mediów i dziennikarzy piszą, zwracamy się do Pana Prezydenta z apelem o zastosowanie prezydenckiego weta wobec nowelizacji ustawy medialnej znanej powszechnie jako „lex TVN”, przyjętej przez Sejm 17 grudnia 2021. Naszym zdaniem tworzy ona fundamentalne zagrożenie dla wolności i pluralizmu mediów w Polsce. Ustawa w obecnym kształcie stanowi bezpośredni atak na niezależność TVN największego, należącego do USA prywatnego nadawcy w kraju, i jego kanału informacyjnego TVN24.

 

Nasze organizacje są przekonane, że zmianie ustawy medialnej przyświeca cel zgoła inny niż szczera ochrona polskiego rynku przed wrogimi przejęciami mediów zagranicznych. Mianowicie chodzi o wpłynięcie na strukturę własnościową TVN i wymuszenie na Discovery sprzedaży kontrolnego pakietu 51% udziałów. To stworzyłoby warunki do potencjalnego przejęcia udziałów przez podmioty sprzymierzone z rządem, co w efekcie mogłoby wpłynąć na linię redakcyjną, tak aby była bardziej przychylna władzy. Sam Marek Suski, poseł PiS odpowiedzialny za przygotowanie nowelizacji, w publicznych wypowiedziach nie ukrywał prawdziwej intencji stojącej za zmianą ustawy jaką jest właśnie uzyskanie większego wpływu na przekaz programowy TVN. 

 

Strategia wprowadzania w życie przepisów medialnych, które wypychają z rynku zagranicznych właścicieli, przypomina dobrze znaną taktykę stosowaną przez władze na Węgrzech i w Rosji. Chodzi o kontrolę niezależnych kanałów za pośrednictwem podmiotów przyjaznych rządowi. Chociaż w państwach członkowskich UE istnieją przepisy ograniczające własność mediów zagranicznych, proponowana przez PiS nowelizacja ustawy medialnej nie spełnia warunków do traktowania jej w kategorii proporcjonalnego środka służącego ochronie krajobrazu medialnego w Polsce. Wręcz przeciwnie – ma wyraźnie na celu osłabienie jednego konkretnego podmiotu i wpisuje się w szerszy plan dążenia do tzw. „repolonizacji” mediów w kraju. Wszelkie zmiany dotyczące własności mediów muszą być przeprowadzane na zasadach rynkowych, a nie poprzez arbitralną interwencję rządu. Lex-TVN jest wyraźnym i umotywowanym politycznie działaniem na rzecz usankcjonowania takich zmian w ustawodawstwie czemu należy się przeciwstawić.

 

Proponowana zmiana art. 35 ustawy o radiofonii i telewizji oprócz podważenia podstawowych wartości demokratycznych budzi również uzasadnione wątpliwości co do jej zgodności z prawem UE i istnieje wysokie prawdopodobieństwo, że zostanie zaskarżona przez Komisję Europejską. Jak już wskazał Senat, jest ona również niezgodna z Konstytucją RP. Ponadto narusza również polsko-amerykański dwustronny traktat inwestycyjny, jednocześnie podważając reputację Polski jako przyjaznego klimatu dla inwestycji zagranicznych i zrywając stosunki między Polską a jej najbliższym sojusznikiem. Głęboko problematyczne jest również to, że ustawa została niespodziewanie uchwalona przez Sejm tuż przed przerwą parlamentarną, bez uprzedniej zapowiedzi i z naruszeniem zasad jakimi powinna cechować się debata sejmowa. 

 

Pańska decyzja dotycząca nowelizacji ustawy medialnej ma ogromne znaczenie zarówno dla wolności mediów, jak i demokracji i rządów prawa w Polsce. Dlatego też niezwykle istotnym jest, aby nie była ona podyktowana osobistym stosunkiem do przekazu jaki reprezentuje TVN i tym, czy zgadza się Pan z treściami tam przedstawionymi. Decyzja powinna być podjęta w duchu zasady pluralizmu mediów i możliwości dostępu obywateli do informacji z różnych źródeł wiadomości. W podjęciu tak ważnej decyzji priorytetem powinno być zabezpieczenie fundamentalnego prawa mediów do pełnienia swojej roli strażnika i kontrolowania rządzących. I wreszcie – decyzja musi być w zgodzie z zasadą zapewnieniem uczciwych warunków rynkowych w sektorze medialnym, wolnym od ingerencji rządu.

 

Już po uchwaleniu przez Sejm wstępnej ustawy w sierpniu 2021 roku  wyraził Pan Panie Prezydencie swoje obawy dotyczące szkodliwego wpływu ustawy na wolność słowa i stosunki dyplomatyczne. Pomimo zdecydowanego odrzucenia projektu przez Senat, projekt, który obecnie oczekuje na Pańską decyzję pozostaje niezmieniony zarówno w swojej formie, jak i jeżeli chodzi o cel, któremu przyświeca. Biorąc pod uwagę wszystkie omówione przez nas zagrożenia i obawy, zwracamy się do Pana Panie prezydencie z apelem, by dotrzymał Pan słowa, wykorzystał swoje prawo weta by odrzucić proponowane zmiany i tym samym jasno opowiedział się po stronie wolności mediów w Polsce.

Signed by:

  • Archiwum Osiatyńskiego / The Wiktor Osiatyński Archive
  • ARTICLE 19
  • Association of European Journalists (AEJ)
  • Civic Network Watchdog Poland (Sieć Obywatelska Watchdog Polska)
  • Coalition for Women in Journalism (CFWIJ)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Warsaw, Poland)
  • IFEX
  • International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • Public Media Alliance (PMA)
  • Society of Journalists, Warsaw
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  • The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

The team of journalists at KRIK. Credit: Oliver Bunic (NIN) Library

Serbia: Wave of lawsuits against investigative portal KRIK chills…

Serbia: Wave of lawsuits against investigative portal KRIK chills media freedom

We, the undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), express our concerns over the recent wave of vexatious lawsuits against the investigative portal Network for Investigation of Crime and Corruption (KRIK) in Serbia. We believe that these lawsuits are a form of strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPPs) that aim to stifle scrutiny and critical issues of public importance and demand urgent action from the Government and judiciary to impartially and swiftly address the growing phenomenon of SLAPPs in the country.

In recent months, KRIK’s newsroom has been targeted by ten different procedures filed, in most cases, by people in power or businesspeople close to the government, requesting a total of 90 million dinars in damages – three times more than the media outlet’s annual budget. These include seven lawsuits under the Media Law for reputational or financial damages and one lawsuit before the Commercial Court of Serbia for unfair competition and reputation damage. Additionally, one criminal complaint was filed under the Criminal Code for illegal use of data (which would bring prison sentence for journalists), and one misdemeanour procedure was started for failure from KRIK to pay an environmental tax within a set deadline.    

We believe that these cases are a form of SLAPPs, which are initiated not necessarily to win cases, but to drag KRIK through lengthy legal processes and ultimately prevent them from exercising the fundamental right to freedom of expression and press and media freedom. These lawsuits’ ultimate goal is to silence critical reporting and distract them from their core journalistic work of exposing corruption and probing the nexus between politics and organised crime as well as to drain KRIK financially and psychologically.

We are also concerned about the pattern of attacks on KRIK. We are aware that KRIK and their journalists have previously been targeted by lawsuits that would be described as SLAPPs and are very often victims of threats and insults. Lately the houses of three KRIK staff were broken into; all three cases are currently still in pre-investigative procedure. Early in December, KRIK’s staff received death threats on social media. Bojana Jovanovic, deputy editor of the KRIK believes these threats were related to the story they published about the son of the Serbian President, Danilo Vucic. 

We urge the Serbian judiciary to deal with cases promptly and impartially and consider international freedom of expression standards in their deliberations. In order to prevent similar attacks in the future, we also call on the Serbian Government to adopt a comprehensive strategy to address SLAPPs against journalists, as part of its efforts to the protection, safety and security of journalists. This should include a full review of key defamation provisions and align them with international freedom of expression standards and procedural safeguards to allow for early dismissal of SLAPP cases. 

The full scale of required reforms is further outlined in the report by ARTICLE 19, the ABA Center for Human Rights and NUNS (forthcoming in January 2022). We stand ready to provide further support to the Government in this process, along with key recommendations to the Government of Serbia to address abusive litigation against journalists and the media.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • 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 and Candidate Countries.

Credits: STRINGER / AFP Library

Germany: MFRR expresses concern over rising attacks against journalists…

Germany: MFRR expresses concern over rising attacks against journalists covering protests

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today express their concern about the increasing number of attacks against journalists across Germany, particularly in the context of anti-vaccine demonstrations. We call for better safety measures and protection as well as thorough investigations of attacks against journalists covering such demonstrations. Moreover, preventative measures are needed to stop such attacks from happening. Finally, we encourage media workers to report press and media freedom violations.

Already in 2020, reported attacks against journalists had more than doubled compared to the previous year. This dramatic increase to 255 aggressions can be attributed to the regular demonstrations taking place across Germany against government Covid-19 measures, including planned mandatory vaccination. According to MFRR data, right-wing extremist rallies are also particularly hostile environments for media professionals. 

From January 1 until December 15, 2021, the MFRR recorded 108 violations to press and media freedom in Germany, with 85 of these violations taking place as attacks against journalists during demonstrations. Yet, the real figure is expected to be much higher: due to safety reasons, many journalists choose not to go public when they receive threats. A common misperception is also that attacks, particularly online harassment, are simply “part of the job”. The MFRR aims to reverse such attitudes and joins the German Journalists Association (DJV) in urging journalists and media professionals to press charges, should they receive threats or be subjected to other kinds of violence.

During demonstrations, journalists are frequently physically attacked, their equipment is targeted and insults and threats are also common. Freelance photojournalist Aaron Karasek, who has been subjected to repeated violence during protests, shared on Twitter: “At this point, there are almost no Querdenker demonstrations where I or colleagues do not get attacked.” Due to such experiences, TV crews from large broadcasters now usually go to Querdenker demonstrations with security guards. While this might create a feeling of safety, it does not always prevent journalists from being attacked, as for instance the aggression against an SWR TV team accompanied by three security staff shows. Further, a lack of resources does not allow all journalists to make use of such support.

Against this backdrop, we have repeatedly called for better police response and training in order to guarantee the safety of journalists. However, as recent protests – such as in Dresden – have shown, police officers even obstruct journalists in their work when they should be protecting them. The MFRR has recorded physical attacks, threats, confiscation of materials, reporting restrictions and detentions against journalists and media professionals. In 26 alerts on the Mapping Media Freedom (MMF) platform in 2021, police or state security were reported as the sources of attacks. This attitude targeting members of the media is unacceptable and the MFRR stresses the need to actively support press and media freedom. 

The German Journalists Union (dju in ver.di) and the German Journalists’ Association (DJV) have repeatedly demanded to increase the number of police officers at demonstrations to better focus on the needs of journalists. The Federal Ministry of Interior indicated that safety procedures will be improved. Right now, the police are often highly understaffed and overwhelmed. While they frequently set up separate areas for media workers to be shielded from aggressions, journalists criticise that such zones separate them from the demonstrations. Strategic de-escalation and unhindered press work, in contrast to reported tedious press card checks and journalists’ expulsions, are desirable.

Another major problem, that often goes hand in hand with anti-Covid-measures demonstrations, is the use of online messaging application Telegram, to plan attacks and exchange information about journalists. The police should do everything in their power to punish these unacceptable acts and application managers should take reports of plans of violence on their platforms seriously and manage the groups according to their community standards. While it is difficult to regulate Telegram, keyword Network Enforcement Act, investigative authorities still have options to counter the spread of calls for violence there. Threatening cases on online platforms involving journalists should be prioritised.

While the amount of attacks against journalists in Germany is particularly alarming, it should also be noted that aggressions during demonstrations and threats via Telegram channels are on the rise in various European countries, such as in France, Italy, the Netherlands or Luxembourg. The MFRR is closely monitoring these violations and calls on the governments and police to take preventive measures and to thoroughly investigate these attacks. 

Good practice examples to better promote a safer environment for journalists are listed below: 

  • In the Netherlands, the police and the public prosecutor’s office give priority to incidents concerning journalists. Following an agreement in 2018, concrete guidelines and training have been offered to law-enforcement services to better respond to threats against the media. A hotline enabling journalists to report acts of aggression has been set up.  
  • In the UK, the government has adopted a national action plan to protect journalists from abuse and harassment. Every police force is to deal with a designated journalist safety liaison officer, and at national level a senior police officer will take responsibility for crime against journalists at national level.
  • In Sweden, the government has commissioned the Swedish Crime Victim Compensation and Support Authority to produce a training and information resource on support for journalists exposed to threats. The government has also commissioned Linnæus University to build a knowledge centre and a OBCservice offering advice and support to journalists and editorial offices, including freelancers, small offices and smaller production companies.

Signed by:

  • 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 and Candidate Countries.

Credit: Faktograf (Facebook) Library

EFJ Statement on Croatia: fact-checking portal Faktograf.hr threatened with…

EFJ Statement on Croatia after fact-checking portal Faktograf.hr got threatened with death and lawsuits

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its affiliates in Croatia and the SafeJournalists Network in condemning the threats received by the fact-checking portal Faktograf.hr and its employees, targeted by intimidations attempts since 10 December 2021.

The threats and lynching were prompted by entrepreneur Nenad Bakic, a businessman known for his inclination to sue the media. Bakic used his Facebook profile, which has over 40.000 followers, to threaten to launch a criminal lawsuit against the portal for allegedly censoring his post and comments of Faktograf’s social media pages. He then wrote that he would be interested in  “whether it would be legal to form a fund to finance such lawsuits” adding that in his opinion, “shouldn’t be very complicated.”

The Faktograf’s editorial team starting receiving insulting messages and death threats against their staff in the days following the above mentioned post’s publication. The messages were sent via Facebook or emails. In one email, it is written that someone is following journalists from Faktograf, that no one is untouchable and that a scenario similar to the one from two years ago – referring to the killing of two persons – could happened at the Faktograf publisher’s address. The threats were reported to the police.

The Faktograf also reported that on 14 December the website was under attack from DDos, a cyber-attack in the form of denial-of-service (denying access to the platform). “Starting on the evening of December 13th and continuing to 11am on December 14th, there were more that 27 million log-in attempts to [Faktograf]’s page in less than 13 hours. In this organized DDoS attack most of the log-in attempts were from Russia and Indonesia,” they said.

“Since February 2020 Faktograf has reported around 40 violent or death threats to the police. While Faktograf’s journalists are constantly exposed to online harassment (often gender specific threats or insults) we have published over 550 articles that challenge and debunk misinformation related to the pandemic in the same period,” said Ana Brakus, Faktograf’s director.

“The threats we receive will not prevent us in our work, nor will they scare us,” she added.

The European Federation of Journalists joined the President of the Croatian Journalists Association (HND) Hrvoje Zovko in calling on the Croatian authorities to condemn these threats in the strongest possible terms and to launch a prompt investigation into the case.

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.

Credits: Jens Hartmann Schmidt Library

EFJ Statement on Denmark: Intelligence services warn media against…

EFJ Statement on Denmark: Intelligence services warn media against publishing classified information

Danish intelligence services warned the Danish media companies JP/Politikens Hus, Berlingske Media and DR Nyheder not to publish any classified information. This happened after the recent arrest of four intelligence officers accused of leaking information. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the Danish Union of Journalists (DJ) strongly condemned this disturbing “warning” to Denmark’s leading media outlets and called on the concerned services to stay away from the press.

On 13 December, the Danish Police Intelligence Service, PET, and the Defence Intelligence Service, FE, warned Stig Ørskov, JP/Politikens Hus’ CEO, Anders Krab-Johansen, Berlingske Media’s chief executive, and Sandy French, DR Nyheder’s Director, against the penalties under Section 109 of the Danish Criminal Code on the disclosure of state secrets, for which the risk of imprisonment is up to 12 years. In those meetings at the media houses, the two highest-ranking intelligence chiefs stressed that the media are not exempted under this section and that “it may be a criminal offence to pass on classified information.”

It is not clear what part of their journalistic work was referred to. Last week, the intelligence services revealed that four current and former employees had been arrested and charged under Section 109 for the “unauthorised disclosure of highly classified information.” At least three of them appeared before a closed-door hearing last week and two remained in custody. What information exactly they had leaked is not known.

Mads Brandstrup, Chief Executive Officer of Danske Medier, the Danish Media Association, reacted: “The intelligence services must subject themselves to public scrutiny just as any other part of the government. I find this kind of approach deeply concerning and it should have no place in a democratic society.” Brandstrup further emphasised that such generic warnings are naturally perceived by media organisations as a threat.

The EFJ urged Danish authorities to make it very clear that the unwanted move from the intelligence services is unacceptable in a democratic society.

EFJ President Mogens Blicher Bjerregård said: “For free media and democracies, it is crucial that authorities including intelligent services stay away from newsrooms and don’t attempt any kind of interventions. It is shocking and disturbing that Danish intelligence services have warned Danish top media in advance to publish any potentially classified information.”

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.