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France: Media freedom coalition condemns Vivendi’s disinformation campaign against…

France: Media freedom coalition condemns Vivendi’s disinformation campaign against Reporters Without Borders

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) partners strongly condemn the cyber disinformation campaign against the press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The attacks have been orchestrated by the Paris-based communications agency “Progressif Media”, whose minor stakeholder is the Vivendi Group, a French mass-media holding company controlled by media tycoon Vincent Bolloré. The MFRR stands in full solidarity with RSF and urges a swift and thorough investigation into the disinformation campaign.

On 4 July, RSF revealed a two-month investigation, which included information from an internal Progressif Media document entitled “Vivendi Report”. This document detailed attacks aimed at portraying the press freedom organisation as wanting to “change the French audiovisual landscape according to its vision of pluralism”, while positioning the Vivendi-controlled CNews channel as the only place in favour of freedom of expression, in a context where CNews is among the candidate media being examined for the renewal of its TNT frequency for 2025. According to RSF, the attacks were triggered by a decision of the Council of State on 13 February which ordered, at the request of RSF, that the French audiovisual and digital communications authority (ARCOM) improve its enforcement of the the independence and pluralism of Cnews, one of the most sanctioned French channels, along with C8.

 

In the scope of its attacks on RSF,  Progressif Media used a method called “cybersquatting“, a malicious strategy of buying domains with names similar to RSF’s, to denigrate the press freedom organisation. Of the five domains bought, one was active and called “Sectarians without Borders”: this was a fake RSF site that the attackers had paid to be ranked highly by Google’s algorithm to spread the same orchestrated messages against RSF, including the creation of pre-prepared hate tweets that Internet users could select and post from their own X accounts. The site was taken down on 8 July, a few days after RSF exposed Vivendi’s attacks.

 

RSF’s investigation into the name, web server and real IP address of “Sectarians Without Borders” led RSF to identify similar IT characteristics of a number of existing sites, including two inactive domain names linked to Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the far-right National Front party (now Rassemblement National), and two active sites: “the CNews fan collective” and “The Corsairs of France”, which first promoted “Sectarians Without Borders” on X on 20 February and called on its 16,000 followers to “fight” against RSF through a defamatory video shared on X on 6 March. Meanwhile, discrediting comments about RSF have also been broadcast on Vivendi’s channels, including on Radio Europe 1, a station previously criticised by RSF for its alleged lack of editorial independence, respect for pluralism, and honest reporting since its takeover by Vivendi in 2021.

 

“Counterfeiting, concealment, cybersquatting, trolling, disinformation…these practices are not so recent, but this is the first time a company operating under French law has used these gangster methods to serve the interests of a French media group (Vivendi) [and] promote Cnews.  You cannot defend information and orchestrate a disinformation campaign at the same time,” said Arnaud Froger, head of the RSF investigation office, in conversation with the MFRR. According to Froger, the Vivendi group would have told RSF that it was unaware of practices described in the press freedom group’s investigation and recalled its minority stake in Progressive  Media.Vivendi did, however, acknowledge links between Progressif Media and Canal+, a major French TV channel owned by Bolloré.

 

More widely, the disinformation campaign against RSF comes in the context of a growing threat to media pluralism in France noted by independent observers. In a new report, the Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM), an annual study conducted by the Robert Schuman Centre, referred for the first time this year directly to “predatory strategies of media tycoons such as Vincent Bolloré”, highlighting the businessman’s alleged role in the growing influence of commercial interests and owners in media, arguing that this influence created a threat to media pluralism due to “oligopolistic control” and “the ensuing ideological polarisation” allegedly created by media outlets owned by Bolloré-controlled structures.

 

In this context, the MFRR stands in solidarity with RSF and all the organisations defending press and media freedom who are under pressure from the Vivendi group to silence their critical voices and to put forward those of the Bolloré programs. It is essential to resist intimidation in order to continue the fight against disinformation and for the right to freedom of expression, the cornerstone of democratic discourse.

Signed by:

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

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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The EU must do more to prioritise protecting media…

The EU must do more to prioritise protecting media freedom and human rights in Turkey

The undersigned media freedom, human rights and journalists’ groups call on the new European Commission and the new European Parliament to strengthen their commitment to protecting journalists’ rights and freedom of expression in their relations with Türkiye.

 

Turkish translation available here

Relations between the European Union and Türkiye have been at an impasse for several years with Türkiye occupying the status of an applicant country in a process that has long since stalled. The EU institutions need to find a way to reinvigorate relations and ensure that the protection of human rights is front and centre of those relations.

Over the past two decades, Türkiye’s government has captured over 90% of the media landscape, including direct control over the country’s public media and indirect control over much of the mainstream media through party-aligned oligarchs. It has abused the power of state advertising to create compliant journalism and weaponized the broadcast regulator, RTÜK, to routinely target broadcasters with financial penalties for critical news reporting. 

The capture of mainstream media has been backed by a mass crackdown on independent media, including the arrests of hundreds and prosecutions of thousands of journalists in the years since the failed coup of 2016. While the number of journalists behind bars has fallen dramatically, hundreds continue to face prosecution leading to ever growing levels of self-censorship. During 2023, at least 207 journalists faced trial and at least 22 of them were sentenced to prison or fined with 22 convictions.

Journalists face assaults, trolling and smear campaigns from government-aligned media. The police routinely arrest journalists at demonstrations and prevent them from reporting. According to the Mapping Media Freedom database, which documents media freedom violations across EU Member States and candidate countries, since July 2023, 168 alerts have been located in Türkiye. 

The 2022 Disinformation Law has seen at least 30 legal actions taken against journalists in 2023 and pressured online platforms to readily self-censor content that the government deems to be disinformation or a threat to national security. Algorithmic bias already channels over 80% of news searchers on Google to pro-government media forcing independent media to exist in a restricted news bubble. 

This hostile economic and judicial environment muzzles journalism and denies the public access to a plurality of media sources. 

Meanwhile Turkish journalists face an increasingly restrictive process for obtaining visas to EU Member States with delays and some journalists being simply refused. This trend undermines the ability of Türkiye’s journalists to build and sustain links to their peers abroad. 

During a high-level delegation visit to Brussels in June 2024, invited by the outgoing EU Ambassador to Türkiye, an experienced journalist was refused a visa by the Belgian Embassy, despite having an invitation from the European Commission. This and other examples of arbitrary visa denials creates another barrier to Turkish journalists’ reporting. EU Member States should immediately act to ease the process for journalists from Türkiye to obtain visas for professional purposes.

We urge European governments and policy makers to ensure media freedoms and fundamental rights are placed at the heart of future relations with Türkiye, and call for them to:

  • Facilitate the procedure for Turkish journalists to obtain Schengen visas;
  • Provide support, including direct financial grants, to media organisations in Türkiye;
  • React strongly to incidents of attacks on journalists and take concrete measures to support journalists, including emergency support;
  • Develop a clear, comprehensive and consistent relationship with Türkiye’s authorities in order to facilitate the review of  policies and the repeal of legislation that is not compliant with international and European standards on the freedom of expression.

Signed by:

  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • ARTICLE 19
  • Articolo 21
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • Danish PEN
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • IFEX
  • Index on Censorship
  • Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA)
  • Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa [OBCT]
  • PEN International
  • PEN Norway
  • Platform for Independent Journalism (P24)
  • Progressive Journalists Association (ÇGD)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  • Swedish PEN
  • The Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project (TLSP)

Avrupa Birliği (AB), Türkiye’de medya özgürlüğü ve insan haklarının korunmasını önceliklendirme yönünde daha fazlasını yapmalıdır

Aşağıda imzası bulunan medya özgürlüğü, insan hakları ve gazetecilik meslek kuruluşları; AB seçimlerinin ardından Avrupa Komisyonu ve Avrupa Parlamentosu’nu, Türkiye ile ilişkilerinde gazetecilerin haklarını ve ifade özgürlüğünü koruma taahhüdünü güçlendirmeye çağırmaktadır.

AB-Türkiye ilişkileri, Türkiye’nin uzun süredir aday üye ülke statüsünde olması nedeniyle son yıllarda çıkmaza girmiştir. AB kurumlarının, Türkiye ile ilişkilerini canlandırması ve bu süreçte insan haklarının korunmasının merkezi bir rol oynaması gerekmektedir.

Son 20 yılda, Türkiye hükümeti ulusal medyanın %90’ından fazlasını ele geçirmiştir. Bu, ülkedeki kamu medyasını doğrudan kontrol etmenin yanı sıra hükümete yakın iş insanları aracılığıyla ana akım medyanın büyük bir bölümünü dolaylı olarak kontrol etmeyi de içermektedir. Bu durum, resmi ilan ve reklamların kötüye kullanılması yoluyla itaatkâr tipte bir habercilik ortaya çıkarmış, radyo ve televizyon faaliyetlerini düzenleme ve denetlemeyle yükümlü RTÜK’ü araçsallaştırarak eleştirel haberleri rutin olarak hedef almıştır.

Ana akım medyanın ele geçirilmesi, bağımsız medyaya yönelik geniş çaplı bir baskı ile de desteklenmiştir. 2016’daki başarısız darbe girişiminden bu yana yüzlerce gazetecinin tutuklanması ve binlercesinin yargılanması buna dahildir. Hapisteki gazeteci sayısı önemli ölçüde azalmıştır, ancak yüzlerce gazeteci hâlâ yargılanmakta ve bu da gazeteciler arasında otosansürün artmasına yol açmaktadır. 2023 yılı boyunca, en az 207 gazeteci yargılanmış, en az 22’si hapse atılmış veya para cezasına çarptırılmıştır.

Gazeteciler hükümet yanlısı medya kuruluşlarının saldırıları, çevrimiçi troller ve karalama kampanyaları ile karşı karşıya kalmaktadır. Polis, toplumsal gösteriler sırasında gazetecileri sıklıkla göz altına almakta ve haber yapmalarını engellemektedir. AB Üye Devletler ve aday ülkeler düzeyinde medya özgürlüğü ihlallerini belgeleyen Medya Özgürlüğü Acil Müdahale (MFRR) veri tabanına göre Temmuz 2023’ten bu yana Türkiye’de gazetecilere yönelik en az 168 hak ihlâli kaydedilmiştir.

2022’de yürürlüğe giren Dezenformasyon Yasası, 2023 yılında en az 30 gazeteci hakkında soruşturma başlatılmasına yol açmış ve çevrimiçi platformları, hükümetin dezenformasyon ya da ulusal güvenliğe yönelik tehdit olarak gördüğü içerikleri sansürlemeye itmiştir. Google algoritmik yanlılık nedeniyle haber arayanların %80’inden fazlasını hükümet yanlısı medyaya yönlendirerek bağımsız medyanın son derece sınırlı bir çerçevede sıkışıp kalmasına sebep olmaktadır.

Gazetecilere yönelik bu düşmanca ekonomik ve hukuki ortam, gazeteciliği susturmakta ve halkın çeşitlilik içeren medya kaynaklarına erişimini engellemektedir.

Bununla birlikte, Türkiye’den AB Üye Devletlerine vize başvurusunda bulunan gazeteciler giderek daha kısıtlayıcı bir süreçle karşı karşıya kalmaktadır. Vizelerdeki gecikmeler ve bazı gazetecilerin başvurularının doğrudan reddedilmesi, Türkiye’deki gazetecilerin yurt dışındaki meslektaşlarıyla bağlantı kurma ve geliştirme imkânlarını baltalamaktadır. 

Haziran 2024’te, görev süresi tamamlanan AB Türkiye Delegasyonu Başkanı Büyükelçi tarafından Brüksel’e davet edilen üst düzey bir heyet ziyareti sırasında deneyimli bir gazeteciye, Avrupa Komisyonu’ndan davet almış olmasına rağmen Belçika Büyükelçiliği tarafından vize verilmemiştir. Bu ve bunun gibi örnekler, Türkiye’den gazetecilerin haber yapmalarının önünde bir engel daha oluşturmaktadır. AB Üye Devletleri, Türkiye’deki gazetecilerin mesleki amaçlar için vize alma sürecini kolaylaştırmak için derhal harekete geçmelidir.

Avrupa hükümetlerini ve politika yapıcıları, yeni AB Dönem Başkanlığı süresince Türkiye ile yürütülecek ilişkilerin merkezine medya özgürlükleri ve temel hakların alınmasını sağlamaya çağırıyor ve;

  • Gazetecilerin Schengen vizesi alma süreçlerini kolaylaştırmaları; 
  • Türkiye’deki medya kuruluşlarına mali hibeler dahil olmak üzere destek sağlamaları; 
  • Gazetecileri hedef alan saldırılara güçlü bir şekilde tepki vermeleri ve acil destek de dahil olmak üzere gazetecileri desteklemek için somut önlemler almaları; 
  • Türkiye makamları ile açık, kapsamlı ve tutarlı bir ilişki geliştirerek, Türkiye’nin ifade özgürlüğü konusunda uluslararası ve Avrupa düzeyindeki standartlara uymayan yasa ve politikalarını gözden geçirmesini kolaylaştıracak adımlar atmaları taleplerinde bulunuyoruz.

İmzalayanlar

 

Uluslararası Basın Enstitüsü (IPI)

ARTICLE 19

Articolo 21

Avrupa Basın ve Medya Özgürlüğü Merkezi (ECPMF)

Avrupa Gazeteciler Federasyonu (EFJ)

Bağımsız Gazetecilik Platformu (P24)

Çağdaş Gazeteciler Derneği (ÇGD)

Danimarka PEN

Gazetecileri Koruma Komitesi (CPJ)

Güney Doğu Avrupa Medya Örgütü (SEEMO)

IFEX

İsveç PEN

Medya ve Hukuk Çalışmaları Derneği (MLSA)

Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa [OBCT]

PEN Norveç

Sansür Endeksi (Index on Censorship)

Sınır Tanımayan Gazeteciler (RSF)

Türkiye İnsan Hakları Davalarına Destek Projesi (TLSP)

Uluslararası PEN

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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Terrorism investigation into Catalan journalist raises concerns ahead of…

Terrorism investigation into Catalan journalist raises concerns ahead of elections

Journalists and media freedom organisations express concern over the investigation for terrorism of Catalan journalist Jesús Rodríguez Sellés, now residing in Switzerland. The investigation, lasting for four years after the alleged crime, coincides with negotiations over the amnesty law for pro-independence leaders. Fearing politicisation of the case, the Media Freedom Rapid Response partners call for a review of the investigations’ circumstances, allowing Rodríguez Sellés to continue his journalism freely.

The partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response today expressed concerns over the terrorism investigation by the Spanish authorities of journalist Jesús Rodríguez Sellés. The journalist left Spain for Switzerland citing a lack of guarantees for practicing his profession and the threat of arbitrary arrest in Spain.

 

Rodríguez Sellés is an award-winning Catalan journalist working for La Directa. In November 2023, after four years of judicial investigation he was named an official suspect of terrorism offenses for allegedly assisting in the organisation of the Tsunami Democrátic protests in October 2019. The movement was a reaction to a decision by the Spanish National High Court jailing Catalan separatist leaders over their roles in the failed bid to split from Spain in 2017.

 

The protests saw violence erupting in Barcelona, where protesters were accused of attacking police officers and vandalism, while the police used batons, teargas and rubber bullets against the protesters, including journalists, leading to several injuries.

 

On April 9, 2024, the High Court ordered Rodríguez Sellés to provide his formal address, so that he could be summoned to testify when the judge requested it. Two days later, Rodríguez Sellés announced that he had left Spain for Switzerland in order to ‘preserve his freedom’ and to be able to continue his work as a journalist. He added that he was being persecuted for ‘doing his job’.

 

Rodríguez Sellés is closely associated with the Catalan independence movement. He is also a prominent and respected journalist who has, among other things, exposed police crimes, abuse of power and persecution of dissent.

 

Rodríguez Sellés took the police to court following his assault in 2016 by riot police, leading to the conviction of one officer to a two-year prison term. The officer’s appeal is pending before the Spanish Supreme Court. Rodríguez Sellés is also pursuing a complaint against two other officers for committing perjury during the initial trial.

 

The investigation into the 2019 demonstrations had been ongoing for four years with no visible progress. Spanish authorities finally announced formal suspects two days after the announcement of a publicly divisive amnesty plan for separatist leaders.

 

The charges against Rodríguez Sellés are not formally related to his journalism. However, we are concerned that, given his record of exposing police crimes that have embarrassed the state, and in view of the political context in which the investigation was launched as well as the extreme and disproportionate nature of the charges in question criminalising dissent under the guise of anti-terrorist legislation, this investigation may be politically motivated and may also be an effort to restrict his journalism.

 

We therefore call on the Spanish authorities to immediately pause the investigation and to conduct a thorough and credible review to ensure compliance with fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, and proportionality. MFRR partners will continue to follow this investigation closely.

Signed by:

  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited
  • 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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Bulgaria Minister urged to drop defamation lawsuit

Bulgaria Minister urged to drop defamation lawsuit

The Media Freedom Rapid Response consortium partners criticise the criminal defamation lawsuit filed by Interior Minister Kalin Stoyanov against investigative journalists Atanas Chobanov and Dimitar Stoyanov of the Bureau for Investigative Reporting and Data (BIRD). The undersigned organisations believe that the lawsuit is designed to silence legitimate investigative reporting and should be immediately withdrawn.

The legal action stems from the journalists’ reporting on a property deal which allegedly connected the current Minister of Interior to Martin Bozhanov, an individual known as ‘the Notary’, who was murdered earlier this year following extensive allegations of corruption against him. Kalin Stoyanov has denied the connection.

 

The Minister is seeking 65.000 Bulgarian lev (33.300 euros) in damages, claiming that the reporting crossed the boundaries of freedom of speech and harmed his dignity and authority.

 

Why legal action against BIRD threatens investigative journalism

The Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria (AEJ) “is convinced that the lawsuit bears the characteristics of a SLAPP”. This comes amid a worrying trend of using vexatious lawsuits, often known as Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), to suppress investigative journalism in Bulgaria and elsewhere.

 

The undersigned organisations believe that Minister Stoyanov’s lawsuit is an attempt to restrict legitimate media scrutiny and the public’s right to information. It also threatens to obstruct efforts to combat corruption in Bulgaria and ensure transparency within government institutions.

 

The MFRR consortium emphasises that in a democracy, public officials must expect greater levels of scrutiny, a principle reinforced by judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

 

Moreover, Minister Stoyanov’s objection to the use of anonymous sources by BIRD in his claim disregards the essential need to safeguard informants’ anonymity, especially in cases involving risks to their safety. No pressure should be placed on the journalists to expose their sources, whose protection is also guaranteed by the case law of the ECtHR.

 

Calling for lawsuit’s withdrawal and legislative reform

The undersigned organisations demand the withdrawal of charges against BIRD journalists.

 

Additionally, we call on the government to accelerate legislative reform to protect journalists against all kinds of vexatious lawsuits. This should include providing for early dismissal of evidently vexatious lawsuits, the provision of costs and other compensation to the victims of SLAPPs. In particular, we urge the government to use the transposition of the European Union’s new Anti-SLAPP Directive as an opportunity to ensure the new protections apply to domestic cases as well as cross-border cases.

 

We express full solidarity with BIRD and reiterate our commitment to defending press freedom in Bulgaria. We will continue to raise awareness and uphold the integrity of journalism in the country.

Signed by:

  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited
  • 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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Georgia: MFRR partners strongly condemn new attempts to introduce…

Georgia: MFRR partners strongly condemn new attempts to introduce a “foreign agent” law

The undersigned media freedom organizations strongly condemn Georgia’s ruling party’s renewed effort to pass a Russian-style “foreign agent” law that would threaten media freedom and civic space in the country, which received EU candidate status last year. We call on the Georgian Dream (GD) party to immediately withdraw this restrictive piece of legislation.

On Wednesday, April 3, the ruling GD party announced it would reintroduce a “foreign agent” bill, which was passed in a first hearing in 2023 but subsequently withdrawn following widespread protests and international criticism. On April 8, the Georgian Parliament’s Bureau formally registered the bill under the title  “Transparency of foreign influence”. This move breaks the assurances given last year by Georgian Dream officials that there would be no reintroduction or reconsideration of the legislation. 

 

While the government claims that the bill is necessary to increase the transparency of funding of independent media and non-governmental organizations, we are gravely concerned that this law provides the authorities with a powerful tool to discredit and curtail independent voices, threatening press freedom and freedom of expression. “Foreign agent” laws not only affect the media or NGOs directly designated as such; they also produce a chilling effect on the right to seek and receive information and on participation in public affairs.

In comparison to the text proposed by GD in 2023, the new version of the law would only change the way that organizations receiving foreign funds, including media outlets, are labeled, from “agents of foreign influence” to “organizations pursuing the interests of a foreign power”. Aside from this wording, the law would otherwise maintain the same excessive powers to interfere in the work of such organizations. 

According to the draft law, upon its adoption, foreign-funded organizations would have two months to register themselves as “organizations pursuing the interests of a foreign power”, and submit annual financial declarations on funds received from foreign sources. Failure to register would be an administrative offence, punishable by fines of up to 25.000 GEL (approximately 8.700 EUR). The law also authorizes the Ministry of Justice to conduct “thorough investigations” of the organizations to ensure their respect of the law.

Overall, the proposal does not withstand scrutiny from the perspective of media freedom, and more broadly, the rights to freedom of association and expression. The vague pretext of financial transparency alone does not constitute a recognized legitimate aim to impose additional labeling, registration, or reporting requirements. Additional responsibilities and bureaucratic demands accompanying the “foreign agent” status disrupt the regular operations of NGOs and the media, counteracting their civic and journalistic functions. Such measures discriminate against certain organizations based on their funding sources and create unjustified restrictions.  

Draft law met with harsh criticism  

 

The bill has elicited extensive criticism in Georgia, including from President Salome Zourabichvili, who accused the government of ‘sabotaging’ the country’s EU membership bid. 

 

When Georgia was granted EU candidate status in 2023, it committed to implementing numerous democratic reforms, including creating and enabling an environment for free and independent media. Given the ample criticism of the bill from EU representatives, the current bill would likely jeopardize the country’s prospects to join the EU.  

 

Georgian online media outlets promptly issued a joint statement condemning the initiative and promising to fight against its adoption. “The main goal of the ‘Russian law’ is to destroy independent public and media organizations, suppress freedom of speech, and establish total control over public opinion,” read the joint statement. Later, on April 8, over 400 Georgia-based media and non-governmental organizations signed a statement condemning the bill. 

 

“Foreign agent” laws spreading throughout the region

 

The legislation proposed by Georgian Dream is presented by its critics as inspired by Russia’s “foreign agent” law, which since its adoption in 2012 has evolved into a primary tool for suppressing Russian civil society, and press freedom in particular.

 

When it was first adopted in 2012, Russia’s “foreign agent” law was also presented as a mere list of entities financed from abroad. However, legislation evolved over the following decade to become a tool excluding journalists, media, and a range of other civil society organizations from playing an active role in society. Today, any organization, media, or private individual can be designated as a “foreign agent” for receiving funding of any amount from abroad, or because they are considered to be “under foreign influence” by Russia’s Ministry of Justice.

 

Worryingly, Russian-style legislation is increasingly gaining traction in neighbouring countries. On April 2, Kyrgyzstan’s president signed a law on “foreign representatives” obliging non-profit organizations, including media outlets, to designate themselves as “foreign representatives”, and submit regular financial reports and audits. 

 

In February of this year, the “foreign agent” law was among 43 other bills proposed for voting in the parliament of Abkhazia, a separatist-occupied breakaway region in Georgia, as part of an ongoing effort to ‘harmonize’ Russian and Abkhazian legislation

 

MFRR partners fear that the proposed legislation by the Parliament of Georgia could severely undermine independent journalism, as well as the rights to freedom of expression and association, in the country. We stand in full solidarity with independent journalists and press freedom defenders in Georgia, and reiterate our call to the authorities to refrain from adopting the proposed legislation. 

Signed by:

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

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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The scene of Giorgos Karaivaz’s murder Library

Three years later: Still no justice for murdered Greek…

Three years later: Still no justice for murdered Greek journalist Giorgos Karaivaz

Three years have elapsed since the assassination of Giorgos Karaivaz, a veteran Greek crime reporter. Today, the undersigned members of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) commemorate his death and renew demands on the Greek authorities to redouble their efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Giorgos Karaivaz was one of Greece’s most prominent investigative journalists specializing in organized crime and police reporting when he was gunned down in broad daylight outside his Athens home on April 9, 2021. The execution was conducted by professional hitmen who escaped on a motorbike and therefore almost certainly worked for organized crime.

 

Despite the arrest of two suspects in April 2023, shortly before the national elections, there has been no discernible progress in the investigation. Given that Karaivaz also reported on corruption between the police and organized crime, the risk that some parties within the police may be interested in obstructing the investigation cannot be ruled out. For this reason, the lack of transparency over the investigation is particularly troubling.

 

Despite repeated calls for greater transparency in accordance with European standards, Greek authorities have failed to disclose the progress of investigations. As the sole EU member with two open cases of impunity for the killings of journalists, Greece’s lack of progress in prosecuting perpetrators underscores the urgency for expedited investigations and the implementation of measures recommended by the European Commission for the Safety of Journalists.

 

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) partners are concerned that the failure to identify and prosecute the responsible parties is having a profound chilling effect on the journalistic community, in addition to being a profound injustice and undermining the rule of law in Greece. We therefore urge the Greek authorities to increase efforts to identify and prosecute all those responsible for this heinous crime.

 

We reiterate our recommendations made following the MFRR 2023 mission to Greece outlined in the report ‘Stemming the tide of Greek Media Freedom Decline’. These included:

  • The public prosecutor should dedicate additional resources and seek assistance from international bodies such as Europol in Karaivaz’s investigation
  • The government should commit to promoting effective and independent investigations of crimes against journalists
  • The prosecutor of the Supreme Court should commission an independent evaluation of all unresolved cases of attacks against journalists

The report also noted the ongoing failure to prosecute those behind the 2010 murder of journalist Sokratis Giolias, further adding to the climate of impunity.

 

The government’s failure to secure justice should also be seen in the broader context of an ongoing erosion of press freedom and the rule of law in Greece, which, as highlighted by a recent European Parliament resolution, includes the misuse of spyware against journalists, challenges to media pluralism and intimidation of journalists.

 

While we note the establishment of the Task Force on Ensuring Protection of Journalists in July 2022, we are yet to see any tangible results for journalists. The Greek government must take decisive action to address these alarming concerns by safeguarding journalists from threats and attacks and ensuring accountability for past injustices.

Signed by:

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

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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EU flags outside the European Commission Library

MFRR highlights threats to media freedom in EU Commission’s…

MFRR highlights threats to media freedom in EU Commission’s Rule of Law report

Updates on some of the biggest developments and threats to media freedom and pluralism across European Union Member States throughout 2023 were submitted to the EU Commission’s annual Rule of Law Report by partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR).

On 15 January 2024, MFRR consortium partners Free Press Unlimited (FPU), International Press Institute (IPI) and the Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT) filed detailed submissions to the report on the topic of media freedom and pluralism in Hungary, Greece, Italy, Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

 

The joint and individual submissions provide information of major developments in the media freedom landscapes in each country and assess progress – or lack of progress – made on the EU Commission’s recommendations to each state in the 2023 report. They are based on advocacy and monitoring work carried out by MFRR partners throughout the year.

 

Key rule of law issues examined in the information submitted included the passing of the recent Sovereignty Protection Act by the government of Victor Orbán in Hungary, for which MFRR partners have called for infringement proceedings from the EU Commission. The submission on Hungary also detailed the major wave of cyber-attacks on critical and independent media outlets in 2023.

 

Submissions on Greece examined the ongoing state of total impunity for the 2021 murder of crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz, the widow of whom MFRR partners met in Athens during a press freedom mission to the country in September 2023. The submission also examines a previous case of impunity for the assassination of a journalist and addresses the wider landscape for the safety of journalists in Greece, and efforts by the government to address it. The submission reflects especially on the effectiveness of the government Task Force for the safety of journalists – the establishment of which was a key recommendation in previous reports.

 

The submission on Italy provides details on several attacks on independent journalism by the far-right coalition government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni throughout 2023. Among the indicators identified as deteriorating signals of the rule of law in Italy include a steep increase in vexatious lawsuits filed against the press by leading government ministers; an alarming defamation bill advanced by the ruling coalition which risks producing a chilling effect on press freedom; a bill forbidding transcripts’ publications of pre-trial detention orders, which risks severely restricting court reporting; and escalating political pressure on the public broadcaster RAI.

 

In the Czech Republic meanwhile, the submission instead detailed positive legal reforms undertaken by the centre-right government of Petr Fiala, including welcome changes which strengthened the system for appointments to the supervisory bodies of the public broadcaster and improved conflicts of interest law that stops politicians from owning media. This latter change forced the former Prime Minister, Andrej Babis, leader of the opposition ANO party, to sell Mafra media, one of the country’s largest media companies. It also sets out the lack of progress in other areas.

 

In the Netherlands, the submission voiced concern over media pluralism as the Dutch landscape is characterized by a high concentration of foreign media ownership. This became more prevalent with the recent announcement that DPG Media intends to take over RTL Group. Furthermore, the submission also highlighted several threats to press freedom and the safety of journalists, including the recent wiretapping scandal of journalists of de Correspondent by the Public Prosecution Office; transnational repression of both foreign and Dutch journalists; and the rise of SLAPPs and other forms of legal intimidation such as the abusive lawsuit against Het Financieele Dagblad, which MFRR partners deplored. The submission focused on several positive developments too, including increased funding and capacity for the journalist safety initiative Persveilig and the passing of a new law to criminalise doxing.

 

MFRR partners continue to support the Rule of Law Report as a valuable tool that increases scrutiny of threats to the rule of law and media freedom and empowers civil society and Member State governments to promote and enforce the rule of law in the EU. To strengthen the process further, MFRR partners call for the EU Commission to provide more detailed country-specific recommendations to Member States on all areas of work, including media freedom and pluralism. These should be more targeted and provide concrete reforms and improvements to be undertaken to media regulatory bodies, systems for state support to media, media transparency registers, and the establishment of bodies dedicated to strengthening the protection and security of journalists.

 

Our organisations remain committed to documenting, reporting and raising awareness about all threats and attacks on media freedom, media pluralism and independent journalism across the bloc on our Mapping Media Freedom platform and look forward to continuing the consortium’s monitoring, advocacy and support work in 2024.

Signed by:

  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU) 
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa 
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) 
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

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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Library

Greece: Ahead of court hearing, SLAPP lawsuit against media…

Greece: Ahead of court hearing, SLAPP lawsuit against media and journalists must be dropped

The undersigned international freedom of expression and media freedom organisations today renew our condemnation of a groundless defamation lawsuit filed against Greek journalists and media by Grigoris Dimitriadis, the nephew of the Prime Minister, and urge the plaintiff to urgently withdraw the lawsuit ahead of an upcoming hearing.

With the first hearing due at an Athens court of First Instance on 25 January, 2024 after a year-and-a-half delay, our organisations restate our shared characterisation of this lawsuit as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) – a vexatious effort to muzzle investigative reporting on Dimitriadis’ links to the Greek spyware scandal.

The claim by Dimitriadis – who belongs to the powerful Mitsotakis family – was filed on 5 August 2022 against newspaper EFSYN and online investigative portal Reporters United and their reporters Nikolas Leontopoulos and Thodoris Chondrogiannos, plus freelance journalist Thanasis Koukakis. It demands compensation of €250,000 from EFSYN, €150,000 from Reporters United and its journalists. Dimitriadis also demanded that Koukakis, a journalist targeted with spyware, take down his sharing of Reporters United’s investigation on social media which referred to Dimitriadis and the wiretapping scandal and pay damages of €150,000. The total amount claimed is €550,000.

The defamation lawsuit was filed on the day Dimitriadis resigned from his position as the general secretary of Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, his uncle. The previous day, EFSYN and Reporters United made revelations about Dimitriadis’ connection to the surveillance scandal at a time when he oversaw the National Intelligence Agency. On June 3, another joint report had provided evidence Dimitriadis was connected to a network of businesspeople and companies linked directly or indirectly with businessman Felix Bitzios, former deputy administrator and shareholder of the spyware firm Intellexa, which at the time marketed the Predator spyware, which was revealed to have been used by unconfirmed actors to surveil multiple high-profile political and media figures.

After the lawsuit was filed, many of our organisations branded the lawsuit as a startling example of a SLAPP and an attempt to muzzle investigative reporting on a matter of significant public interest. This assessment was supported by the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE). One-and-a-half years on, the frivolous nature of this lawsuit remains, and recent revelations have only further supported the reporting. Rather than being targeted by financially and psychologically draining lawsuits, both Reporters United and EFSYN instead deserve credit for their watchdog reporting.

Our organisations met with journalists from Reporters United during a recent international press freedom mission to Athens in September 2023 to discuss the lawsuit and its impact further. Through the Media Freedom Rapid Response, our organisations are proud to have helped provide support to cover the legal fees of the targeted media outlets and journalists in this court case.

Concerningly, we note that on 24 November 2023, Dimitriadis filed a second lawsuit against many of the same plaintiffs: EFSYN, three executives from the newspaper, as well as three journalists from Reporters United and Thanasis Koukakis. This second lawsuit – totalling €3.3 million for all the defendants – also stems from their reporting on Dimitriadis’ alleged links to the spyware scandal. Another lawsuit was filed against Alter Ego Media, as well as other threats of legal action.

Our organisations stress an alarming pattern of legal efforts to smother journalistic reporting on Dimitriadis’ connections to the spyware scandal. Ahead of the first-instance hearing, we urge Mr. Dimitriadis to withdraw the lawsuit and retract demands for the removal of the article and financial compensation. If the claim is not withdrawn, we urge the court to dismiss the complaint and to recognise the vexatious nature of this lawsuit, the accuracy and public interest of the report, and the pattern of legal intimidation by Mr Dimitriadis against independent journalistic reporting. We ask the judge to carefully assess international freedom of expression standards when making any decision.

Our organisations will continue to monitor the situation closely and report further attacks on the freedom of the press in Greece to international organisations and the European Union. We will also continue to raise SLAPP cases as a matter of concern with the Greek government and its Task Force for journalists’ safety. As the European institutions move to formally approve the EU anti-SLAPP Directive and the Council of Europe anti-SLAPP recommendation, the Greek authorities should take all national measures to ensure that journalists are not silenced by these vexatious lawsuits, in line with European standards. Our organisations remain committed to defending free and independent journalism in Greece and hope for a positive outcome in this case.

Signed by:

  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • ARTICLE 19 Europe (A19)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • 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 and candidate countries. 

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Library

Poland: MFRR reasserts recommendations for democratic reform for press…

Poland: MFRR reasserts recommendations for democratic reform for press freedom and public media

The undersigned partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today renew their call for democratic and comprehensive reform to Poland’s public broadcasters which creates systematic safeguards to limit the ability of all governments, future and present, to meddle in editorial or institutional independence of the country’s public media.

The MFRR coalition also reaffirms the set of recommendations for steps that can be taken by the new coalition government to improve the wider situation for media freedom and independent journalism in Poland. These recommendations were jointly developed following a recent mission of the MFRR to Warsaw ahead of the election.

 

Our organisations jointly urge the new Civic Platform-led government to heed the concerns and recommendations of media freedom organisations. We call on political leaders to ensure that all reforms to the media space in Poland – both underway and planned – adhere to democratic values and follow the rule of law.

 

The call comes amidst an ongoing battle over the future of public broadcaster TVP and Polish Radio. Since coming to power, the new government abruptly dismissed the supervisory bodies of TVP and national news agency PAP and put the public media into liquidation, an unprecedented move which uses a legal loophole to allow the government to continue financing the broadcaster while also making internal changes.

 

While the new administration has defended the moves as necessary to dismantle the propaganda output of TVP, the former ruling party has criticized the changes as undemocratic and aimed at cementing a new form of political control over the channels.

 

While the MFRR continues to support much needed reforms by the new coalition government to restore the impartiality, reliability and professionalism of public media in Poland, the means used to do so must be democratic, legal and truly aimed at increasing pluralistic and balanced coverage, prioritizing the public interest over any one political interest.

 

With a new law on public service media reportedly being developed by the coalition parties, our organizations also call on the new government to conduct a thorough consultative process on any proposed legislative changes, urge that that the concerns of the media community are heeded, and stress that reforms are fully in line with the principles outlined in the European Commission’s European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), particularly regarding guarantees for political independence.

 

Crucially, any reforms by the new government must not perpetuate the cycle of capture and control that was taken to extremes by the Law and Justice (PiS) party during its years in power and ensure that deep structural changes to the management and regulation of TVP and Polish Radio are undertaken which will put an end to repeated periods of politicization after elections.

 

Given the importance of regulation of public media in Poland, the new administration must address the National Media Council (NMC), which has been identified as a key instrument created by PiS to wield greater control over TVP. The NMC remains an unconstitutional body dominated by PiS appointees and should be addressed under relevant law.

 

Democratic changes to address the ongoing crisis at public media in Poland are possible, but must be made with restraint and the utmost respect for the rule of law and democracy. The MFRR therefore reasserts the recommendations regarding the future of the public media that were made jointly by our organisations in September 2023 ahead of the election and calls on the new government to carefully consider and implement them. The full MFRR mission report can be read here.

 

Recommendations

Public service media

  • Public broadcasting requires a root and branch reform of both the governance structures and financing mechanism to guarantee political independence and the fulfilling of the public service remit. In particular:
  • The appointment process for management and governing bodies must be depoliticised with candidates appointed through transparent, open, and non-discriminatory procedures on the basis of their professional skills and experience with guarantees of political neutrality.
  • PSM funding must be conducted through arms-length decision making ideally through a form of TV licensing to ensure that the funds are free of political interference. Any government supplementary allocation should be taken in transparent decision making, that guarantees stable long-term financing, adequate to fulfil the public service mission.

———

The MFRR mission made further recommendations on wider improvements to the press freedom landscape in Poland.

Media regulation

Media regulators must be able to operate fully independent of government in line with Article 30 of the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive that demands regulators are legally distinct from government and functionally independent of their respective government. Reform of KRRiT should include:

  • Depoliticising the appointments process to ensure candidates are appointed through transparent, open, and non-discriminatory procedures on the basis of their professional skills and experience with explicit guarantees of political neutrality.
  • Ensuring all processes with respect to licensing and investigations into breaches of the code are subject to clear and transparent procedures and collegiate decision making. Failure to meet those procedures, such as undue delays in licensing decisions, or manifestly politicized investigations, must have clear consequences for those responsible with commensurate compensation provided to the broadcaster affected.
  • All decisions must be duly justified in line with the regulatory powers of the office and broadcast code.
  • All investigations into alleged breaches of the broadcast code must be conducted by the full board and not placed in the hands of the Chair alone. Investigations should follow due process allowing the accused to present its arguments. Decisions should be accompanied by detailed justifications. There should be an appeals process for condemned media including the option to revisit rulings in the courts in line with European standards of free expression.
  • Information should be publicly available on the handling of all complaints received with detailed reports issued at least annually on all decisions with due justification.

 

Media pluralism

Media pluralism must be ensured through a diverse range of media and owners that operate independently of the state with strong guarantees of editorial independence. Recommended measures include:

  • PKN Orlen should be required to immediately divest its media investments and state-controlled companies, outside of the public media framework, should be barred from owning media.
  • A media plurality test should be developed to measure the impact of transfers of ownership in the media market on pluralism and to guarantee media pluralism.
  • The government must guarantee a level economic playing field for all media and end practices that discriminate against, and create a negative investment climate for, private media operating independent of government.
  • Media should guarantee minimum levels of editorial independence and ethical standards that protect the newsroom from external interference and ensure journalistic integrity.

 

State support to media

  • The discriminatory use of state resources to manipulate the media market must end.
  • Public funds and state advertising must be distributed according to transparent, objective, proportionate, and non-discriminatory criteria through open, proportionate, and non-discriminatory procedures.
  • Annual reports should be issued on the distribution of all state advertising to media. This should include details of revenue from contracts with state bodies received by companies that belong to the same business grouping as media companies.
  • The awarding of all public contracts to companies whose beneficial owners also own media must be subject to particularly careful scrutiny and safeguards to ensure that the awarding of such contracts are not used to influence editorial content of those media.

 

Vexatious lawsuits

  • The judicial appointment procedure must be transparent and independent in practice and in line with European norms and standards.
  • The judiciary must be properly trained on the use of strategic lawsuits and mechanisms should be put in place allowing for the early dismissal of evidently vexatious cases and a requirement for claimants to cover the cost of proceedings in such instances.
  • Defamation must be decriminalized and become a matter for civil law only.
  • The government must end the sponsoring of self evidently vexatious lawsuits taken against media or other actors, for legitimate criticism and free expression.

Signed by:

  • 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 and candidate countries. 

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Leader of Civic Platform (PO) and Poland Prime Minister Donald Tusk speaks during a rally on the 'Nowy Targ' square in Wroclaw, Poland, 24 June 2023. EPA-EFE/Tomasz Golla Library

Poland: Upheaval at Polish public broadcaster must lead to…

Upheaval at Polish public broadcaster must lead to comprehensive reform to restore and safeguard independence

Sudden dismissal of supervisory boards risks setting dangerous precedent. The new Polish government’s abrupt dismissal of the supervisory bodies of the country’s public television broadcaster TVP and national news agency PAP risks setting an alarming precedent that must be urgently rectified by new rules to permanently protect these institutions’ independence, the International Press Institute (IPI) said today.

The previous Law and Justice (PiS) government had shamelessly turned Poland’s public media into instruments of state propaganda. The new coalition’s goal of ending this situation is therefore unquestionably justified. However, these reform efforts must take care not to perpetuate a cycle of politicization or perceived politicization. The new government must now work to pass comprehensive reform that guarantees the right of Poland’s public media to work freely and shields them from future interference by political parties of all stripes.

On Tuesday, December 19, the new parliament passed a resolution calling for the restoration of “impartiality and reliability of the public media.”

On Wednesday, the minister of culture, Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz, announced the appointment  of new supervisory boards for public television, public radio and the news agency PAP, as well as the appointment of new management in the three government-owned companies.

Minutes after the dismissal of the supervisory boards, TVP’s 24-hour news channel TVP Info, was taken off air, while TVP’s Channel One aired no news bulletins throughout the day on Wednesday.

The changes provoked a furious reaction from the outgoing party of Law and Justice (PiS) whose members staged an overnight sit-in on Tuesday in the broadcaster’s headquarters, also  joined by PiS  leader, Jaroslaw Kaczyński.

The new government asserted its right to act on two main grounds: firstly that the establishment of the National Media Council, the supervisory body for public TV and Radio set up by PiS in early 2016, had been ruled unconstitutional in December 2016; and secondly that the ministry of culture, as the sole owner of the public radio and TV, must now take on the NMC responsibilities and exercise the authority to restore impartiality to public media.

During their eight years in government (2015 to 2023) PiS converted the public media into an unapologetically hardline propaganda outfit designed not only to promote government policy but also to aggressively delegitimize its critics and the political opposition.

IPI visited Poland in September as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response mission and concluded that the public media had been fully converted into a propaganda arm of the ruling party. Successive reports of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring of Poland’s elections concluded that PiS “enjoyed clear advantage through its undue influence over the use of state resources and public media” during the 2023 October elections; and that the broadcaster was ‘frequently portraying the [party’s] main challenger as a threat to Polish values and national interests’ in the 2020 Presidential elections.

“While there is no question that the TVP and Polish Radio are both in need of drastic reform, IPI is troubled by the approach adopted that appears to be stretching the rule of law,” said IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen. “While the ultimate aim is unquestionably legitimate, such an act may set a dangerous precedent for every incoming government to use legal loopholes to overturn the actions of the previous government.”

“The government must now ensure that what emerges from the changes is a fully independent public broadcaster that represents the voices and views of all of society without discrimination. The Tusk government must work with journalists groups and media experts from across Poland to establish the necessary legal safeguards that can protect public media in the future from all forms of political interference.”

The Media Freedom Rapid Responses mission report from September 2023 outlines the full range of challenges facing media freedom in Poland including media pluralism, vexatious lawsuits and safety of journalists. We urge the Civic Platform-led government to make media independence and journalists rights a central element of their programme.

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, Candidate Countries, and Ukraine. The project is co-funded by the European Commission.

IPI as part of MFRR