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Hungary moves to silence last major critical radio broadcaster

Hungary moves to silence last major critical radio broadcaster

One of the last remaining independent broadcasters in Hungary faces being wiped off the airwaves in a matter of weeks unless its last-ditch request for a temporary license is approved by a court, the International Press Institute (IPI) has warned.

On February 9, executives and lawyers of Klubrádió will be in court in Budapest to hear the verdict in its legal challenge against the decision by the Hungarian Media Council to reject the automatic renewal of its broadcast license for another seven years.

The court battle comes after the media regulator, which is formed of figures appointed by the ruling Fidesz party, rejected Klubrádió license renewal in September 2020 on the grounds it had violated the media law by twice failing to provide information on its programming content – justifications dismissed by Klubrádió as “absurd”.

If its appeal is unsuccessful, the commercial talk and news station’s license for Budapest FM 92.9 MHz will expire five days later on February 14, relegating Klubrádió to the internet and sealing a major victory for the Fidesz government in its decade-long campaign to destroy the flagship liberal broadcaster.

Even if it wins its legal appeal, however, Klubrádió’s presence on the airwaves is still far from ensured. When the regulator blocked its automatic extension, it also opened the frequency to tender and two other broadcasters submitted rival bids.

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MFRR condemns ‘absurd’ €10 million lawsuit against L’Espresso magazine…

MFRR condemns ‘absurd’ €10 million lawsuit against L’Espresso magazine by sacked Vatican Cardinal

The partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) express serious concern over the €10 million euro lawsuit launched against Italian news magazine L’Espresso by a former Vatican Cardinal over its reporting on his alleged involvement in a corruption scandal involving the use of Holy See funds.

The lawsuit hinges on a report L’Espresso published on 24 September 2020 which broke the news that investigations by the Italian Finance Police had implicated the cardinal in the embezzlement of €100,000 of Vatican money to a charity organisation controlled by his brother in the Cardinal Angelo Becciu’s home diocese of Ozieri in Sardinia. At the time of the transfer, Becciu was the second highest official in the Vatican secretariat of state.

Later that day, the allegations of financial misdeeds were presented to Becciu by the Pope in a private meeting, forcing him to step down as the prefect of the Vatican’s saint-making office. On 18 November, a 74-page lawsuit was filed against L’Espresso in Sardinia, describing the report as “slanderous and defamatory”.

The MFRR believes this case illustrates the serious flaws in Italy’s civil defamation laws, which do not provide safeguards against abuse and can be easily instrumentalised to retaliate against legitimate journalistic investigations.

Photo credit: Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons – cc-by-sa-4.0

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The MFRR welcomes the dropping of the defamation action…

MFRR welcomes the dropping of defamation action against Inès Léraud but vexatious legal threats continue to threaten media freedom across Europe

While we welcome the dropping of the legal action against Inès Léraud, the impact of vexatious legal threats across Europe continues to exert an undue influence on press freedom. This is reinforced by the unknown scale of the issue as many journalists, media workers and outlets cannot go public with threats they have received for fear of repercussions or even more abusive lawsuits in retaliation.

On 22 January 2021, Jean Chéritel, the CEO of the Chéritel group, a fruit and vegetable wholesaler in the Brittany region of France, dropped his defamation action against freelance investigative journalist, Inès Léraud. The legal threat related to Léraud’s investigation, published in Basta! on 26 March 2019, which shed light on alleged illegal practices of the company. The manner by which the lawsuit was dropped echoes a previous lawsuit brought against Léraud by Christian Buson, a Breton agri-food business owner, who also dropped his lawsuit a few days before the start of the trial in January 2020. While the MFRR welcomes the dropping of Mr Chéritel’s defamation action, we note the enduring chilling effect of vexatious legal threats and SLAPP actions (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) to encourage journalists to self-censor, regardless of the initiation of any actual court proceedings.

Across Europe, in countries such as France, Italy, Germany, Albania, Malta, Poland, Croatia and Hungary, prominent business leaders and politicians continue to threaten journalists, media workers and outlets with costly legal threats with the goal of silencing critical and independent journalism. Whether through defamation, privacy and abuse of data protection laws (based on the EU General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR), reporting in the public interest is too often vulnerable to SLAPPs and other legal threats designed to exhaust legal and financial resources, exert psychological pressure and isolate the journalist (especially pronounced if they are freelance), while also sending a signal to other media actors to avoid the topic.

The MFRR calls for all journalists and media workers to be protected against vexatious legal threats and to ensure laws cannot be abused to target and limit media freedom. This should also include national and Europe-wide legislative and non-legislative initiatives to introduce procedural safeguards and improve legal protection against SLAPP actions and to support journalists and others who are targeted, as also mentioned in the recent European Democracy Action Plan.

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Albania: Defence Minister’s Chief of Cabinet issues legal threat…

Albania: Defence Minister’s Chief of Cabinet issues legal threat against journalist

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), is concerned about legal proceedings initiated by Belioza Çoku, the Chief of Cabinet of the Minister of Defence, against journalist Juljana Ristani, who published a story on undue interference with lists of nominees for educational bursaries in the context of a public competition held by the Ministry of Defence.

Ristani had previously made public for the first time the ranking of the bursary applications. The leading candidate is expected to be awarded the scholarship. However, the leading applicant on this list was ultimately not successful, as the scholarship was awarded to another candidate. There have been no complaints from the Minister of Defence questioning the authenticity of the list published by Ristani. The article that forms the basis of the legal action includes allegations that Çoku called and threatened the family of the leading applicant on the list late at night after they complained to the authorities. Çoku demands damages from Ristani for publishing “inaccurate and misleading data”. In light of the fact that Ristani has clear evidence to prove her factual statements, we consider the public official’s legal threat against the journalists constitutes an attempt to intimidate her and hinder her work.

ECPMF calls on the pursuers to drop their abusive legal actions. The courts must not be abused to stifle critical journalism that strengthens the public’s right to know and enhances democratic accountability.

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UK: Italian journalist continues to litigate for access to…

UK: Italian journalist continues to litigate for access to Assange information

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) raise concerns about the Metropolitan Police (MPS)’ reliance on vague national security arguments to refuse disclosure to FOI request from Italian investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi.

On 26 January 2021, Italian investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi appeared before the First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) in London. The hearing is the latest development in her long-running, multi-jurisdictional litigation effort to defend the right of the press to gain access to the full set of documents held by various authorities related to the Assange and WikiLeaks cases.

The case at hand relates to Maurizi’s investigation of the 2015 handover of all emails and digital data belonging to Kristinn Hrafnsson, then WikiLeaks’ spokesperson; Sarah Harrison, then WikiLeaks’ investigative editor; and Joseph Farrell, then WikiLeaks’ section editor by Google to the US Department of Justice (DOJ). All were based in the UK, and two are UK citizens.

In June 2017, Maurizi requested disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the Metropolitan Police (MPS) of any information about the three journalists in correspondence with the DOJ. Initially, the MPS refused to confirm whether it held any information but in 2018 Maurizi successfully challenged this position before the First-Tier Tribunal and in 2019, the MPS confirmed the journalistic status of the three journalists and that it holds such documents. However, the MPS continued to refuse disclosure, partly on unconvincing grounds of safeguarding national security and preventing terrorism. On 27 January 2020, the Information Commissioner upheld the MPS’ decision, after which Maurizi lodged the appeal.

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Increasing threats and violence against journalists in the Netherlands

Increasing threats and violence against journalists in the Netherlands

IPI and EFJ, as part of the MFRR, condemns the violence and threats directed at journalists and media workers covering unrest in cities and towns across The Netherlands in opposition to the state’s COVID-19 response

The International Press Institute (IPI) and European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) expressed serious concern over the recent increase in threats and violence against journalists in the Netherlands. Over a couple of days at the end of January 2021, several journalists and TV crews have been threatened, insulted or physically attacked by groups of rioters as they covered unrest sparked by the Dutch government’s newly imposed COVID-19 curfew restrictions.

These instances of violence and threats are the most visible examples yet of a rising anti-press sentiment within certain segments of Dutch society – a trend particularly jarring in a country which enjoys one the highest levels of press freedom in the world and is known for its defence of independent journalism on the global stage.

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Slovak police urged to probe surveillance of Denník N…

Slovak police urged to probe surveillance of Denník N journalist Monika Tódová

The International Press Institute (IPI) calls on Slovak authorities to thoroughly investigate the recent surveillance of Denník N journalist, Monika Tódová and swiftly identify those responsible

Denník N journalist Monika Tódová was monitored and photographed by a man in an SUV for at least two days at the beginning of January while she was living with her family in a cottage in the High Tatra Mountains in northern Slovakia. The car remained parked outside the property for eight hours.

The journalist was also watched by another unknown man around the same time who was stationed outside the cottage in a car with a Bratislava number plate. The same car was spotted following Tódová after she returned to Bratislava. The surveillance of a prominent Slovak journalist bore alarming echoes of the surveillance campaign that has been linked to the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak in 2018.

The suspicious behaviour was reported to the police at the time and one of the men was given a disciplinary fine for breaking curfew. The Regional Directorate of the Police Force (PZ) confirmed that the department of the High Tatras PZ had launched a criminal procedure for “dangerous surveillance” and was currently analyzing available information.

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Portugal: four journalists under illegal police surveillance

Portugal: four journalists under illegal police surveillance

As part of the MFRR, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and International Press Institute condemns the surveillance of four Portuguese journalists, at the request of Lisbon public prosecutor Andrea Marques, as part of the investigation into leaks related to the “e-Toupeira” corruption case, launched in March 2018.

On 13 January 2021, Portuguese media revealed that a number of journalists were secretly monitored between April and May 2018 by the surveillance department of the Polícia de Segurança Pública (PSP).

The surveillance programme was ordered by Lisbon public prosecutor Andrea Marques as part of a wider investigation into high-level leaks related to the “electronic mole” scandal involving Benfica football club.

Without prior authorisation from an investigating judge and in order to identify the sources of the journalists, Prosecutor Marques ordered, on 3 April 2018, the police to record the SMS exchanges of journalists Silvia Caneco (“Visao”), Isabel Horta (“SIC”), Carlos Rodrigues Lima (“Sabado”) and Henrique Machado (“Correio da Manha” and TVI).

The police even obtained access to the personal bank account of one of the journalists. Carlos Rodrigues Lima was heard as a suspect on 30 November 2020 and Henrique Machado was also heard as a suspect on 8 January 2021.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), its affiliate the Portuguese Union of Journalists (SJ) and International Press Institute (IPI) denounces this clear violation of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, considering its importance for press freedom in a democratic society and the potentially chilling effect that an order for disclosure of a source has on the exercise of that freedom.

Graphic illustration: © Jurgena Tahiri / BIRN Library

Albania: Private companies are not immune from press scrutiny…

Albania: Private companies are not immune from press scrutiny and ECPMF condemns attempts to target journalists

The continued use of legal threats in Albania against journalists and media workers threatens media and press freedom. As part of the MFRR, ECPMF condemns these attempts to silence critical reporting through the abuse of Albania’s legal system.

Graphic illustration: © Jurgena Tahiri / BIRN

Amongst these threats is the legal action brought by the influential business owner Mirel Mërtit against the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), which investigated Mërtit’s controversial business practices and published stories on three major Public-Private Partnership contracts for waste incinerators. In response to BIRN’s investigative work, Mërtiri filed a lawsuit and demanded damages, while claiming that “journalists do not have a right to write or raise suspicions over his past dealing because he has not been criminally convicted”.

The lawsuit against BIRN was not the only threat to journalists connected to Mërtiri. Artan Rama, a freelance journalist and filmmaker, published a story involving the company Albtek Energy, which is connected to Mirel Mërtit. As a result of his reporting, Artan Rama faces legal actions initiated by Albtek Energy for damaging its reputation, which further jeopardise Rama’s reporting, while also dissuading others from investigating Mirel Mërtit and other influential business leaders.

ECPMF condemns these legal threats and calls on all pursuers to drop their legal actions as they explicitly threaten media freedom for all journalists in Albania.

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Turkey: ECPMF highly concerned about arrests of Mezopotamya Agency…

Turkey: ECPMF highly concerned about arrests of Mezopotamya Agency reporters

ECPMF condemns the ongoing persecution of the Mezopotamya Agency after more journalists are arrested in Turkey

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) is highly concerned over the detention and arrest of four reporters in the southeast of Turkey, on 17 December 2020. We call for their immediate and unconditional release. We condemn the continued persecution against the outlet as this is the third incident to take place in as many months.

According to news reports, journalists for the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya Agency (MA) Zeynep Durgut and Azad Kaya and Jinnews reporters Rojda Aydın and Derya Ren were taken into custody while entering the Cizre district, after reporting from Şırnak city. Durgut was arrested. She is said to be facing an arrest warrant in relation to the investigation launched by the Van Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office into the case of Osman Şiban and Servet Turgut. Police released the other three journalists after insulting them.

This follows two previous occasions in October and November where MA journalists were arrested, the offices raided and equipment confiscated. ECPMF is highly concerned about the sustained attacks on Mezopotamya Agency and its reporters and collaborators. The arrest and detention of media workers for their reporting on public interest matters violates their rights to liberty and freedom of expression and the general public’s right to information. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Zeynep Durgut, Azad Kaya, Rojda Aydın and Derya Ren, and all their detained colleagues.