Rai 3 Library

Italy: Concern after authorities search Rai 3 editorial office…

Italy: Concern after authorities search Rai 3 editorial office and home of journalist

The partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today express serious concern over the searches carried out by police at the offices of Rai 3’s investigative programme ‘Report’ and the home of investigative journalist Paolo Mondani. We urge the Italian Anti-Mafia Investigative Directorate (DIA) to provide assurances that the confidentiality of journalists’ sources will not be jeopardised and to reaffirm its respect for the principles of press freedom.

The MFRR joins the Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana, the Unione Sindacale Giornalisti Rai and the Ordine Dei Giornalisti in raising alarm about the heavy-handed actions of the DIA and the Guardia di Finanza on May 24, which led to searches of Report’s journalist’s computers and mobile phones. These searches at Rai’s offices and the home of a journalist raise serious questions about the protection of journalistic freedoms.

 

While the decision by the Caltanissetta District Anti-Mafia Directorate to revoke the search order is welcomed, we are concerned this incident is another example of the lack of respect for journalistic source confidentiality by state authorities in Italy, a right which is protected under both domestic law and reiterated by the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

 

The raids came one day after Report broadcasted a show prepared by Mondani entitled “The Black Beast”, which was shown to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the 1992 Capaci bombing which killed renowned anti-mafia judge and prosecuting magistrate Giovanni Falcone, together with his wife and three policemen of his security detail. It examined the murder and revealed “forgotten documents” about possible links between the extreme right and the mafia in carrying out the assassination.

 

The new information related to the presence of a neo-fascist leader along with mafia bosses near the scene of the attack a few months before the crime was committed. The report suggested several mafia members had revealed to investigators the relationship between the leader of the Avanguardia Nazionale, an Italian neo-Nazi group, and the mafia, but their testimonies were never properly investigated.

 

The early morning searches by DIA agents were conducted as part of a wider investigation into the source of a leak of information to the media about prosecutors’ investigations into the Capaci massacre. Explaining its decision, the Caltanissetta Prosecutor’s Office rejected claims that testimonies were not properly investigated and said the searches were related to a “leak of judicial information” and verifying “the authenticity of the sources”.

 

While our organisations recognise the work of the DIA and all state authorities in bringing those responsible for historic mafia-related killings to justice, in this case the rush to identify the source of a leak of information was disproportionate and clearly infringed on the right to confidentiality of Mondani’s sources. The team at ‘Report have since confirmed they would have cooperated willingly with authorities.

 

The implications of these searches are serious. The protection of journalists’ sources and of whistleblowers is one of the basic conditions for press freedom and must be treated with the utmost caution. The potential violation of these principles in this case will have a detrimental effect on the willingness of sources to come forward and assist the press in fulfilling its watchdog role.

 

In this case, the actions taken against a well-known and professional investigative journalism programme such as Report also creates a chilling effect on the wider Italian journalistic community, especially among those investigating crime and corruption linked to the mafia. It is clear the initial permission to conduct the search by the Caltanissetta Prosecutor’s Office in Sicily was granted without consideration for these principles.

 

Moving forward, our organisations urge the DIA and the Guardia di Finanza to provide guarantees about the respect for journalistic source confidentiality and issue a formal apology to Rai 3, Report and Paolo Mondani. Recognition of the detrimental impact this type of searches can have on sources’ protection and public interest journalism is crucial for ensuring the trust of journalists in law enforcement authorities.

 

At the wider level, a robust and comprehensive framework for sources’ protection should be a priority of the Italian government and parliament in their mandate to improve the landscape for press freedom. We will continue to monitor the situation and look forward to seeing the response of the competent authorities.

Signed by:

ARTICLE 19 Europe

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

International Press Institute (IPI)

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

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

MFRR 3 consortium logos
Serbian flag Library

Serbia: Tendering process of national FTA TV licences must…

Serbia: Tendering process of national FTA TV licences must be open and transparent

Partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS) are concerned about the lack of a transparent process for the allocation of national free to air (FTA) TV licences in Serbia and of a Development Strategy for radio and audiovisual media services.

On 15 April 2022, Serbia’s Regulatory Electronic Media (REM) opened a tendering call for four national TV licences, which were reduced from the five frequencies previously available. We believe that the current allocation process lacks transparency. Broadcast frequencies are a limited resource that should be managed by an independent regulatory authority, through open, transparent and participatory processes that ensure that the use of spectrum contributes to media pluralism and diversity.  

 

According to Article 23 of Serbia’s Law on Electronic Media, REM should determine the number of national frequencies needed in the country following a seven years Development Strategy Proposal for radio and audiovisual media services. Although a draft strategy plan was put up for a public debate in 2015, the consultations lacked transparency and did not seem to include all the relevant stakeholders in the discussion. Currently, the deadline for submitting applications to the tendering process is 20th June and the REM is due to publish its decision no later than 4th August.

 

The allocation of frequency spectrum across all frequency users should follow an open and participatory decision making process, as reflected by the Principles on Freedom of Expression and Broadcasting Regulation, based on international freedom of expression standards. This process should lead to the adoption of a transparent plan for broadcasting frequencies, in order to promote their optimal use as a means of ensuring diversity and must be overseen by a body that is protected against political and commercial interference. 

 

The MFRR previously highlighted concerns over the highly politicised composition of REM. According to the 2021 MFRR mission report to Serbia, the latest changes to REM’s members only produced superficial results aimed at improving its image in the eyes of international partners, while REM’s decisions seem to be often disregarded and rarely implemented. In its 2021 Serbia progress report, the EU also urged Serbia to strengthen REM’s independence “to enable it to efficiently safeguard media pluralism”. According to the national media strategy action plan, amendments of the media laws, including REM’s role, are planned to be enacted in 2022.

 

The MFRR together with NUNS urge the REM to ensure a fair and transparent tendering process of FTA TV licences in Serbia, which must comply with national legal requirements and international freedom of expression standards, and whose outcomes must ensure a diverse and plural broadcasting media landscape in the country. Alongside the EU’s recommendation, we also call on a comprehensive plan to strengthen the independence of REM in the upcoming reform to national media laws. The undersigned organisations will continue monitoring this process and the forthcoming measures.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe 
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists
  • Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

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

MFRR 3 consortium logos
Library

Hungary: Fidesz Media Council moves to silence independent station…

Hungary: Fidesz Media Council moves to silence independent station Tilos Rádió

The partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today express serious concern over the decision by the Fidesz-controlled Media Council – the country’s powerful media regulator – to block the frequency license renewal of the symbolic independent station Tilos Rádió.

The partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today express serious concern over the decision by the Fidesz-controlled Media Council – the country’s powerful media regulator – to block the frequency license renewal of the symbolic independent station Tilos Rádió.

Our organisations are concerned that this decision appears to be yet another disproportionate move by the Media Council, whose members were all nominated and appointed solely by the ruling party, which will force another independent voice off the country’s airwaves and further weaken media pluralism.

We note the Media Council’s decision on April 14 came shortly after Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his ruling Fidesz party secured an unprecedented fourth term in office, which has already led to heightened concerns about the future of what remains of independent media in the country.

Tilos (Forbidden) Rádió began broadcasting as a pirate radio station in Budapest in the 1990s and became the first non-profit independent radio station in Hungary, making it a symbol of press freedom. Since 2015, the community station has broadcasted on the 90.3 MHz frequency in Budapest, where it provides cultural, social and political programming sometimes critical of the government.

The Media Council justified its licensing decision on the grounds that the station’s media service provider, Tilos Cultural Foundation, had violated legal requirements regarding inappropriate language four times during a seven-year period since 2015. This meant that in 20,000 hours of broadcasting, inappropriate language was used four times. The regulator also cited two failures to provide data to the authority and two minor irregularities regarding annual reports.

Tilos has not denied the violations but stressed the heavy-handed nature of the decision. The station’s 90.3 MHz licence is now set to expire on 3 September 2022, at which point it will fall silent on the airwaves. The National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH) has already said it will reopen the tender and seek to find a new provider for the frequency.

Our organisations believe the Media Council’s decision to block the renewal is disproportionate and based on oversized regulatory powers, which are often applied selectively and in a politically motivated manner. The violations identified do not, in our view, constitute reasonable grounds to strip a radio station of its license – and will only further weaken media pluralism in Hungary.

We also note that, while the radio stations differ, the ruling bears clear parallels by the discriminatory decision last year to force the country’s last remaining major independent radio broadcaster Klubrádió off the airwaves – a ruling which led the European Commission to launch infringement proceedings over what it said was a breach of EU law on proportionality, transparency and non-discrimination.

As detailed in a recent report by MFRR partner the International Press Institute (IPI), as a result of a lack of appropriate legal safeguards for upholding the Media Council’s independence, over the last decade the regulator has used the media law to arbitrarily deny broadcast licenses of stations critical of the government, instead then handing them to government-supportive owners, further entrenching a pro-government narrative in the country’s media ecosystem.

Moving forward, we urge the government to guarantee the independence of the NMHH and its executive body, the Media Council, which should immediately cease regulatory practices designed to marginalize independent media or force them from the market. The tendering process for radio and television licenses must also be depoliticized to ensure decisions are proportionate and measured, and the problematic dual-headed leadership structure of the regulator should be reformed.

As the European Commission launches the long overdue rule of law mechanism against Hungary to uphold EU values, it should closely scrutinise the work and rulings of the Media Council – which has been instrumental to the systematic erosion of media pluralism over the last decade. Our organisations will continue to monitor the situation and draw attention to all future problematic decisions, as well as the wider challenges for media freedom in Hungary.

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.

MFRR 3 consortium logos
The main building of the Czech Television (Ceska televize; CT), a public television broadcaster Library

Czech Republic: Independence of public broadcasters must be insulated…

Czech Republic: Independence of public broadcasters must be insulated against future attacks

Partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) have published a statement urging the Czech Government to come good on its promises to strengthen the independence of public broadcasters and to seize the opportunity to put press freedom at the centre of its EU presidency programme.

Press freedom in the Czech Republic has undergone a welcome boost since the government of Prime Minister Petr Fiala came to power. The undersigned media freedom and journalists organisations today urge the new administration to use this momentum to push forward with amendments which will strengthen the institutional independence of Česká televize (Czech Television) and Český rozhlas (Czech Radio).

Under the previous government, Czech Television came under sustained pressure and saw politically-motivated attempts to unseat its director general. Since coming to power, the new administration has been developing draft amendments to the Act on Czech Television and Czech Radio with the aim of creating additional institutional safeguards. These plans have been developed with the welcome input of journalists’ groups and media associations, above all NFNZ, CZ IPI and Rekonstrukce statu.

While initial progress in developing the bill was swift, the process has since stalled as the Ministry of Culture navigates the complicated legal challenges of passing such a reform. The latest round of appointments to the broadcasters’ oversight bodies have also slowed progress. As the Czech Republic prepares to take over the presidency of the Council of the European Union in July 2022, we urge the government to refocus its attention and double its efforts to pass these amendments in the coming months.

The draft amendments contain six important elements. This first involves changing the law so that both chambers of parliament, rather than just the Chamber of Deputies, are involved in appointments to the broadcasters’ governing bodies. Currently, a government can use its parliamentary majority to decide the composition of the boards, allowing it to place political allies within management structures. A more staggered system would reduce the ability of an election winner to overly politicise the bodies and will result in more pluralistic councils.

Secondly, the draft amendments include plans to establish, for the first time, clear criteria for those who can be appointed to the governing councils. This will help ensure professionalism and integrity are the principal factors in the selection process, rather than political affiliation. Under the previous government, appointments to the TV council were clearly aimed at politicising the oversight bodies and eroding the broadcaster’s independence. The changes would mean only those with relevant experience and knowledge would meet the threshold for appointment.

A third element would tighten the rules for who can nominate candidates. Currently, any social organisation or association can put forward nominees, even those linked with political parties or with little knowledge of the media ecosystem. This has led to the appointment of unsuitable and unprofessional candidates, some of whom have recently displayed an openly hostile approach towards the ČT management. Under the proposed amendment, only established institutions with 10 years of experience in the fields such as media, culture or human rights would be permitted to nominate candidates.

A fourth element involves greater judicial oversight over dismissals of councillors. Currently, there is no legal recourse to challenge the firing of councillors by parliament. Under the proposed changes, the Supreme Administrative Court would be given powers to review the decisions by parliament, reducing the avenues for pressure by government on councillors. Finally, the legislation includes provisions for sustainable funding for the public broadcaster, with automatic increases in the licence fee in line with inflation, creating a strong economic foundation for the future.

If passed, our organisations believe these reforms would represent a major step forward in insulating the broadcaster from political interference and future-proofing it against attempts to gain control over its oversight bodies. While the transition from the current council to a new body brings short-term challenges – and must be carried out in line with democratic principles and the Czech Constitution – in the long term this new design will create a far stronger buffer between political power and public service media, improve accountability, and further increase trust in public broadcasting. Failure to pass these reforms in full would leave gaps in the broadcaster’s defences which can be abused by future governments.

Constructing these safeguards is urgent considering the state of public service broadcasting in the wider region. Governments in Hungary and Poland have distorted public service media into state audio-visual propaganda organs, while in Slovenia there have been fresh concerns over political appointments to the management of Radiotelevizija Slovenija. Contrastingly, the Czech public broadcaster has long been a bastion of independent journalism in Eastern and Central Europe. Creating even stronger ramparts for the broadcaster’s independence would provide a much-needed model for neighbouring countries to follow in years to come.

Ahead of the EU presidency, the Czech Republic has an opportunity to put press freedom at the centre of its programme. Passing this flagship legislation would provide a timely example in Europe of the resilience of media freedom. It would also add to the welcome list of improvements our organisations have observed since the new government took office, including the normalisation of communication with media, the re-admittance of independent journalists to government press conferences, guarantees to end the abuse of government advertising and rapid improvements for journalists’ access to public information. We look forward to seeing the further preparation of this law in the coming months and our organisations stand ready to support the development of this bill.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • Endowment Fund for Independent Journalism (NFNZ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Public Media Alliance (PMA)

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.

MFRR 3 consortium logos
Library

Albania: Private data breaches and intimidation of journalists must…

Albania: Private data breaches and intimidation of journalists must be investigated

The partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), together with Safe Journalists Network and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), have written to Mr. Besnik Dervishi, Commissioner for the Right to Access to Information and Personal Data Protection of Albania, calling for a swift and thorough investigation into a recent private data breach and intimidation of at least two journalists in Albania.

09/05/2022

 

Sent electronically

 

Dear Mr. Besnik Dervishi, Commissioner for the Right to Access to Information and Personal Data Protection,

 

The undersigned media freedom and journalists’ organisations are writing to express our serious concern over the recent private data breaches and intimidation of at least two journalists in Albania linked to their reporting on the high-profile vetting process of the now dismissed Head of Tirana Prosecution Office, Elizabeta Imeraj.

 

Our organisations urge your office to conduct a swift and thorough investigation into the breach of personal data – which was then used to frighten and pressure one of the journalists – and for those involved to answer questions about their role in what appears to be coordinated intimidation of the press.

 

In late March and early April 2022, Albanian journalist Isa Myzyraj of Ora News faced intimidation from multiple individuals who demanded he stop commenting and reporting on the appeals process for the vetting of Imeraj, which was being carried out as part of a judicial reform project in Albania aimed at rooting out corrupt judges and prosecutors.

 

The pressure started after Myzyraj posted on social media that some of the online media with non-transparent ownership that had been publishing smear pieces attacking members of the International Monitoring Operation (IMO) – a constitutionally mandated body made up foreign judges and prosecutors which was supervising the vetting process – had links to Imeraj.

 

One of Myzyraj’s family members was approached by an individual with a deal for the journalist to stop covering the prosecutor. This was followed by a threatening phone call by another individual who said there would be consequences for him and his family if he continued. As the vetting continued, Myzyraj was then sent a message by another individual which contained a screenshot of the certificate of his family from the Civil Registry – a document only available to registered notaries in Albania. The messages contained threats against the journalist and were clearly aimed at intimidating him.

 

In late April, Edmond Hoxhaj, a journalist at the BIRN Network Albania and Reporter.al who had also been covering the vetting process, discovered a similar suspicious breach of his personal data on the e-Albania portal. Hoxhaj could see that a notary named Agron Bajri, who is the former husband of Elizabeta Imeraj, had generated their family certificate on April 14, 2022, without their authorisation. Unlike Myzyraj, Hoxhaj did not receive threats about his reporting linked to the certificate.

 

In the case of Mr. Hoxhaj, there appears to be clear evidence that the notary, Mr. Bajri, accessed their data without the family’s permission. As Commissioner for the Right to Access to Information and Personal Data Protection, we urge you to firmly establish the facts about this case. The MFRR partners will also write to Agron Bajri with a request to clarify his role in accessing the family certificates of both Mr. Myzyraj and Mr. Hoxhaj without their authorisation. We also welcome the investigation opened by the Tirana Prosecutor’s Office.

 

At the wider level, our organisations suspect these two cases are linked and are part of the same campaign of harassment against members of the IMO. Pressure and intimidation of journalists reporting on the vetting process of a prosecutor – a clear matter of public interest – are unacceptable and were clearly aimed at frustrating transparency and reporting the much-needed implementation of justice reform. These cases also point to a wider issue of threats to the safety of journalists who investigate the nexus between state authorities and corruption.

 

Effective investigations and definitive answers on these two cases are needed. Our organisations will continue to follow your investigation closely in the coming weeks and look forward to seeing thorough findings. We will also continue to closely monitor the wider challenges facing media freedom and threats to independent, watchdog journalism in Albania, which plummeted in 2022 to 103rd rank – the last in the Balkans – in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • Safe Journalists Network

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

MFRR 3 consortium logos
Greek crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz, who was killed outside his home in Athens on Friday 9 April, 2021 Library

Remembering Giorgos Karaivaz: One year later, targeted killing remains…

Greece: Remembering Giorgos Karaivaz, one year later, targeted killing remains unresolved 

April 9 marks the one-year anniversary of the killing of veteran Greek crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz in Athens. Ahead of the date, the partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) honour Karaivaz’s memory and call on the Greek authorities to urgently bring to justice all those responsible for this abhorrent murder and to provide more transparency about the investigation.

On April 9, 2021, Karaivaz, an experienced reporter who worked for the TV channel STAR and ran a news website focusing on crime and policing, was gunned down by two men on a scooter outside his home in broad daylight. After the killing, police said the “professional” style of the hit indicated the involvement of organized crime groups, which have carried out a number of targeted killings in recent years and which Karaivaz was known to have investigated.

Karaivaz’s assassination represents a low point for press freedom in Greece and has drawn international attention to the country’s significant problems with journalists’ safety, many of which were highlighted in our recent MFRR mission report.

No signs of progress

Troublingly, over the last year the Greek authorities have not announced any significant progress in the investigation. Despite the collection of substantial amounts of data, security camera footage, and forensic analysis, no suspects have been publicly identified and no arrests have been made. Despite multiple requests from the MFRR partners and other press and media freedom organisations, information about the status of the investigation has been kept secret, relying on an unwarrantedly restrictive interpretation of the Greek Code of Criminal Procedure. Contrary to the authorities’ promises, progress in the investigation appears to be slow.

Although we acknowledge that a murder investigaton requires a certain level of discretion, we emphasise that transparency and public scrutiny are essential to monitoring progress and preventing impunity. Given the fact that the killing took place a year ago without any visible progress, we urge authorities to provide an update on the status of this case, which is a matter of high public interest.

The European Commission Recommendation on ensuring the protection, safety and empowerment of journalists in the European Union states that “Member States should investigate and prosecute all criminal acts committed against journalists, whether online or offline, in an impartial, independent, effective, transparent, and timely manner, making full use of existing national and European legislation – to ensure that fundamental rights are protected and justice is swiftly delivered […] and prevent the emergence of a ‘culture’ of impunity regarding attacks against journalists.” The Council of Europe’s 2016 Recommendation on the protection of journalists in this regard says that “Investigations into killings, attacks and ill-treatment must be effective and therefore respect the essential requirements of adequacy, thoroughness, impartiality, and independence, promptness and public scrutiny”.

Although this lack of transparency means we cannot assess the extent to which the recommendations regarding an effective investigation have been met, it is clear that the lack of transparency entails that the European Commission and Council of Europe Recommendations are not adequately followed at the moment.

The uncertainty and the lack of communication by police and prosecution service have a chilling effect on the work of other journalists, which was confirmed by MFRR’s recently published report on the safety of journalists in Greece.

The longer that these kinds of attacks go unpunished, the higher the risk of long-term impunity. Moreover, others thinking about silencing journalists are more likely to act, as they see that attacks on the press carry no consequences.

On the one-year anniversary of the brutal murder of Giorgos Karaivaz, we renew our call for all those responsible to be identified and prosecuted. We will continue to honour Karaivaz’s memory and push for justice for both him and his family.

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.

Library

EU: Amidst war in Ukraine, EU must provide emergency…

EU: Amidst war in Ukraine, EU must provide emergency visas for Russian & Belarusian journalists fleeing repression

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today call on the Member States of the European Union to set a global example of support for media freedom in crisis by extending emergency shelter and visa waivers to Russian journalists fleeing the country, as well as Belarusian journalists seeking refuge from war and repression.

Independent journalists and media in Russia are currently experiencing the most severe and wide-ranging crackdown in the last thirty years. Leading broadcasters have been silenced or shuttered; dozens of news websites have been blocked; use of the word “invasion” or “war” have been banned; and a new law criminalizing what authorities deem to be “fake” news or information about the armed forces could see journalists jailed for up to 15 years.

More than 150 Russian journalists have since fled the country fearing for their safety and their liberty. With the crackdown showing no signs of abating, more are likely to follow. So far, most journalists have travelled to neighbouring countries with visa-free entry for Russian citizens: Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan. Some have been arbitrarily turned away, transferred on and, in the case of Dozhd TV’s Mikhail Fishman, detained. Those that do get in are faced with working in exile in states with repressive environments for independent media.

Action is urgently needed to ensure Russia’s independent media is not destroyed altogether. Our organisations call on all EU Member States to provide safe havens for dissident Russian journalists to re-establish their bases of operations and continue reporting. Exemptions must be made by EU states to provide emergency visas to journalists and their families. In addition to financial support to Ukrainian media, EU governments should provide funding to help Russian newsrooms relocate to safety.

Visa exemptions should also be extended to independent Belarusian journalists, who over the past year and a half have undergone a similarly repressive crackdown under President Alexander Lukashenko. Mass arrests and the threat of criminal prosecution led to an exodus of Belarusian journalists, including into neighbouring Ukraine. While Ukrainian journalists fleeing the war currently enjoy visa waivers, their Belarusian colleagues are trapped and are unable to seek safety within the EU’s borders.

The European Union has already shown remarkable unity in its response to the bloody invasion of Ukraine. Though much more needs to be done, the support from Member States to help relocate Ukrainian journalists fleeing the bloodshed has been commendable. A similar show of European unity in helping independent Russian and Belarusian journalists is now needed. If allowed to relocate inside the democratic legal framework of the European Union and rebuild their newsrooms in exile, these independent media may stand a chance of survival.

Signed by:

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

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.

Spanish freelance journalist Pablo González Library

Poland: IPI urges release of Spanish journalist detained near…

Poland: IPI urges release of Spanish journalist detained near Ukraine border

Security services urged to provide justification for arrest. The IPI global network today urged authorities in Poland to immediately secure the release of Spanish freelance journalist Pablo González and to provide more details on the reason for his arrest.

 

González, a Basque journalist specializing in post-Soviet countries who has been covering the war in Ukraine and the resulting humanitarian crisis from close to the border, was arrested by the Polish Security Services at some point overnight on February 27, according to media reports.

Since the war broke out, he had been reporting from the Polish city of Rzeszow as part of his work as a contributor to multiple Spanish news outlets including Público, LaSexta and the Basque publication Gara.

On February 28, his lawyer Gonzalo Boye confirmed on Twitter that his client had been detained. He later confirmed authorities had justified the arrest because González had “carried out actions against the Polish State”. Earlier in February, González was interrogated by Ukrainian security forces, accused of being “pro-Russian” because of his work with Gara and asked to leave the country.

“The arrest of Pablo González by Polish authorities is profoundly concerning”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “We call on authorities in Poland to immediately release González and to officially clarify the reason for his detention. Poland must allow all journalists to operate freely on the border with Ukraine.”

“My client, the Spanish journalist Pablo González, has been arrested in Poland for doing his job”, his lawyer said on Monday. “We demand that his physical integrity and his immediate release be guaranteed. Without freedom of the press, there is no democracy”.

According to Público, the journalist contacted them for the last time on Sunday night when he filed an article about people arriving from Ukraine to escape the war. During that conversation, González had said that he was retiring for the night to rest. He was last active on Twitter at 12.13am.

The journalist, who was born in Moscow, has long studied the post-Soviet space and is currently pursuing a doctorate at the University of the Basque Country. He participates in the GeopolitikaZ IT/GI podcast, in which he analyzes international politics in Eastern Europe. Before the war broke out, he travelled to Ukraine to report on rising regional tensions.

The journalist was previously arrested in Ukraine on February 6 while reporting from Donbas for various Spanish media. He was contacted by Ukrainian security services and requested to come to Kyiv to be questioned. After travelling to the capital, González was interrogated for several hours and accused of being “pro-Russian”, according to Spanish reports.

According to those reports, his work with the left-wing Basque newspaper Gara, the successor to the leftist and Basque nationalist newspaper Egin, was cited as the reason for the suspicions. His command of the Russian language and a credit card from Caja Laboral, a Basque credit union, were also cited as reasons for his alleged “pro-Russian” views.

After questioning, González said he was “invited” to leave the country by the security services, though no formal expulsion order was issued by Ukrainian authorities. During this time, he raised his case with the Spanish embassy in Kyiv and contacted the consul general. Público carried out negotiations on his behalf with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

At the same time, several members of his family and friends in Spain were approached by officers from the National Intelligence Center (CNI), Spain’s main intelligence service, who questioned them about his alleged links with Russia. According to Público, some of the agents described Gara as “a pro-ETA media outlet subsidized by Russia”. They also accused the journalist of “passing information to Russia”.

As the invasion of Ukraine began on February 25, González left the country and travelled to Warsaw, from where he headed back to near the border with Ukraine to cover the escalating humanitarian crisis.

Since the arret, his lawyer said he had not been able to communicate directly with his client, who remains in detention. Boye told media he had been informed by Polish authorities that the arrest is linked to the previous interrogation in Ukraine. It is understood the arrest came after a follow-up request from the Ukrainian intelligence services.

The Basque Association of Journalists, Kazetariak, issued a statement demanding his immediate release. Multiple Spanish politicians also called on Polish authorities to release the journalist. Spanish authorities have confirmed they are seeking clarifications about the reasons for the arrest.

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.

IPI as part of MFRR
Güngör Arslan, murdered journalist in Turkey Library

Turkey: MFRR calls for swift and thorough investigation into…

Turkey: MFRR calls for swift and thorough investigation into murder of Güngör Arslan

The partners in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) strongly condemn the murder of Güngör Arslan, the owner and managing editor of the local Ses Kocaeli newspaper in Turkey.

On Saturday 19 February, Arslan was attacked in front of his office and shot in the chest and leg. He was taken to hospital, where he died of his injuries. In a written statement, the Governor’s office announced that a 21-year-old suspect had been taken into custody. According to news reports, the suspect claimed he killed Arslan because he did not like his writing.

The MFRR welcomes the speedy arrest by the police and calls for a swift and thorough investigation and prosecution of the gunman and those who may have assisted or ordered the murder. This must shed light on the reasons for the attack, including any possible links with his journalistic work, and ensure all those responsible are held to account in court. In a broadcast made before the attack, Arslan had stated that he had previously suffered attacks for “trying to do his job as a journalist”.

Endemic impunity for murder of journalists in Turkey

In this regard, we reiterate our longstanding concerns about the endemic impunity for murders of journalists in Turkey: there has been no or incomplete justice for Uğur Mumcu, assassinated outside his home in Ankara in 1993; Metin Göktepe, tortured and murdered in police custody in Istanbul in 1996; Hrant Dink, assassinated in Istanbul in 2007; Naji Jerf, gunned down in Gaziantep in 2015; Rohat Aktaş, found dead in Cizre in 2016; or Jamal Khashoggi, murdered in a Saudi consulate in 2018.

In his last article published before his death, Arslan criticised Mayor Tahir Büyükakın of the Kocaeli Metropolitan area in relation to the allocation of a housing construction tender to the company of a close friend of Büyükakın. In 2021, Arslan spent 188 days in pre-trial detention on allegations of blackmail. He was released at his first hearing at the Kocaeli 12th Criminal Court of First Instance. After the attempted coup of 2016, he was detained as a FETÖ suspect. He was acquitted at trial, but his newspaper and property were seized.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • 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.

Library

Slovakia: Remembering Ján Kuciak: On fourth anniversary of murder,…

Slovakia: Remembering Ján Kuciak: On fourth anniversary of murder, IPI renews call for justice

Retrial of suspected masterminds must exhaustively consider all evidence. Today marks four years since the brutal murder of Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová in their home. The IPI global network today remembers Ján and Martina, and stands with their families, friends, and colleagues in the ongoing fight for justice. The retrial of the suspected masterminds, which begins later this month, must exhaustively consider all evidence in the case.

On February 21, 2018, Slovak investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, archeologist Martina Kušnírová, were brutally murdered in their home. As a journalist working for the online news site Aktuality.sk, Kuciak had uncovered allegations of tax fraud and financial crime implicating prominent business and political leaders in Slovakia. The double murder sparked the largest protests in Slovakia since the Velvet Revolution, and led to the resignations of Prime Minister Róbert Fico, Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák, Culture Minister Marek Maďarič, and Chief of Police Tibor Gašpar.

Four years after Kuciak’s murder, the trial of the alleged masterminds is still ongoing. The fight for justice remains open. Prosecutors have alleged that controversial businessman Marian Kočner ordered Kuciak’s killing in response to Kuciak’s coverage of Kočner’s political and financial dealings, and asked a trusted associate, Alena Zsuzsová, to arrange it. Kočner and Zsusová were acquitted by a criminal court in 2020 after a months-long trial.

Last year, however, the Slovak Supreme Court overturned the acquittal decision, ordering a retrial. The retrial will begin on February 28, 2022, with judges expected to take into account evidence that was excluded from the first round of proceedings. IPI has closely monitored the trial, including attending several hearings in-person.

“The IPI global network today remembers Ján and Martina, whose lives were viciously cut short”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “We will not forget them, and, together with the courageous media community in Slovakia, we will not stop fighting for justice. This case remains open until every single person who played a role in these murders is behind bars. As the retrial begins, the Specialized Criminal Court now has a clear task: it must exhaustively consider all evidence and the full circumstances of this case. The deficiencies identified by the Supreme Court must be addressed and the logic of the original ruling scrutinized.”

High hopes

“Today we remember Ján Kuciak and  Martina Kušnírová and we await the retrial on February 28”, Aktuality.sk Editor-in-Chief Peter Bárdy told IPI. “We have good hopes that justice will be brought to them. The Slovak Supreme Court, which overturned the acquittal of Kočner, said a lot of mistakes were made by the first court. This new case will include a lot of new evidence. I am looking towards the future, with fair and justified results. That is what I am expecting.”

Despite nationwide protests after Kuciak’s killing, Slovakia is still struggling with fair and independent journalism, Bárdy told IPI. “After the murder in 2018, and after all the protests that followed, people believed that we would start a new period. A more democratic period, a fairer period. As journalists too, we hoped to have a better position. That the politicians would accept that we are a pillar of democracy, that we’re not enemies of the politicians, or enemies of the state. But after this time, we see that that journey is not easy.”

Dangerous hostility

After Kuciak’s death, several politicians have continued to verbally attack journalists, such as former Prime Minister Igo Matovič, who last year wrote on his Facebook page that “the journalists with Kuciak’s quality are to be counted on two hands in Slovakia – the rest is often superficial, often biased”. “During Matovic’ leadership, we wrote many articles about his government”, Bardy said. “He took those as personal attacks and started to fire back at the media by insulting us. This is very dangerous, as it creates a hostile climate against journalists.”

Some of the worst attacks, however, have come from former Prime Minister Fico, who made headlines for calling journalists “dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes” while still in office. Just last month, Fico referred to journalists at leading independent media outlets Denník N, Sme, and Aktuality as an “organized crime group, and said law enforcement should start investigating how these journalists damage the statehood and to what extent they attack the state bodies of the Slovak Republic”.

On February 28, Bardy himself will not attend Kočner’s retrial, due to limited space in the courtroom. “There is only space for one journalist per outlet, unfortunately. But one of our journalists will be there the whole time to cover the case. We will watch it closely and really hope justice will be brought to Ján, Martina and their families.”

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.

IPI as part of MFRR