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.

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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.

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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
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Croatia: Journalist convicted of damaging judge’s reputation

Croatia: Journalist convicted of damaging judge’s reputation

On 2 February, the Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) has voiced dismay after the Rijeka Municipal Court sentenced Novi list journalist Dražen Ciglenečki to a fine of 30 days’ income for statements made on former Zagreb County Court President and now High Criminal Court Judge Ivan Turudić in one of his columns. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its Croatian affiliate in condemning the continuous pressure on journalists and media freedom in the country through the use of criminal and civil laws.

The case dates back to 2014 when the journalist Dražen Ciglenečki published in the daily Novi list a column entitled “Turudić Does More Damage Than Šešelj”, in reference to Vojislav Šešelj, the ultranationalist leader in Serbia who was charged with war crimes. Ciglenečki argued that instead of passing parliamentary declarations against Šešelj, Members of Parliament would be better off taking positions against Judge Turudić.

At that time, judge Turudić filed a civil case for breach of honour against the journalist and his publisher. The Rijeka Municipal Court sentenced in March 2016 and May 2018 Ciglenečki and his editor to pay 20.000 euros in damages.

Last week, Dražen Ciglenečki was found guilty in a criminal case of damaging the reputation and honour of Ivan Turudić. The court ruled that the column “exceeds the limit of permissible value judgments and criticisms”. Judge Vera Marincel emphasized the journalists’ responsibilities when presenting the information. “Freedom of expression is not absolute, there are certain limits, and in this case, according to the court, they have been exceeded,” she said.

In his defense, Ciglenečki stated his intention was not to damage Turudić’s reputation but to express his opinion about a high-profile public figure. According to CJA’s board, the journalist’s column did not, in any way, compared the character and work of Ivan Turudić with Vojislav Šešelj.

If the verdict became final, the Croatian journalist would no longer be able to appeal and would be obliged to pay the costs of the criminal proceedings for a lump sum of 1.000 kunas. In addition, he would have to cover the costs and expenses of Turudić and his lawyer.

In a press release, CJA warned that any other mention of Vojislav Šešelj could also be punished: “We call on the Ministry of Justice, the Judicial Academy and the Ministry of Culture and MEDIA to initiate not only the necessary changes in the law to alter this unsustainable practice, but also to educate judges on freedom of speech and media-specific issues,” said Hrvoje Zovko, CJA President, reminding of the nearly thousand abusive lawsuits filed by politicians, businessmen, and judges against journalists and media outlets currently pending in Croatia.

According to the data from the Croatian Ministry of Justice and data from the annual CJA surveys, lawsuits are in most cases filed to intimidate journalists and the media in order to give up serious investigative stories. This is evident from the amounts of claims, by which prosecutors exert financial and psychological pressure on the media or journalists personally.

“What is particularly worrying is the fact that the plaintiffs are often high-ranking state officials and even judges. It is particularly problematic that plaintiffs can sue for the same text in criminal and civil proceedings – that is, they can seek both – damages and criminal liability. That is why CJA advocates for the decriminalization of all crimes against honour and reputation. We believe that civil law provides enough space for all those who consider themselves to be injured to obtain adequate satisfaction,” added CJA.

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 EFJ part of MFRR Logos_1200px
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Finland: EFJ condemned violence against journalists during convoy protest

Finland: EFJ condemned violence against journalists during convoy protest

During the first weekend of February, journalists, police officers, and MPs faced unprecedented threats and intimidation from participants taking part in the Convoy Finland protest in the capital of Helsinki. The EFJ joined its affiliate in Finland, the Finnish Union of Journalists (UJF) in condemning any forms of violence towards journalists and media workers.

While covering the event, at least five reporters and cameramen working for MTV3, Iltalehti, and Yle were threatened by some individuals in the mob in the capitol’s street. Yle’s reporter and cameraman at the scene said they were continuously verbally and physically threatened. One microphone was removed from the hands of the Iltalehti operator. Journalists were physically prevented from moving around as well as accused of “lying for the last two years”. These numerous attacks against several journalists may have been coordinated on Telegram.

The so-called “convoy” protest is a movement inspired from Canada aimed to shut down the capital with a gridlock of trucks and cars. The convoy organizers were far-right supporters and anti-vaccine protesters. They demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s government, a 50% cut in fuel prices, and the ban of all Covid restrictions.

President of the UFJ, Hanne Aho, said that physical attacks on journalists are very uncommon in Finland: “This is probably the first time that several media representatives are harassed at the same time. Two-thirds of Finnish journalists are, however, subjects of online harassment. So this time, in a way, this harassment turned physical.”

This statement by EFJ 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.

MFRR EFJ part of MFRR Logos_1200px
Ignacio Sanchez Galan, CEO of energy company Iberdrola, announces the 17,6 million euro lawsuit against El Confidencial. Library

Spain: Energy company launches €17.6 million SLAPP lawsuit against…

Spain: Energy company launches €17.6 million SLAPP lawsuit against El Confidencial

International media freedom groups express concerns. The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today condemn the vexatious SLAPP lawsuit against the newspaper El Confidencial by the Spanish electricity company Iberdrola, which is claiming €17.6 million for alleged “reputational damage”. The MFRR partners see the lawsuit as another example of the urgent need for the introduction of anti-SLAPP legislation at the EU and national levels and reform of the current legal provisions on protection of honour and reputation in line with international freedom of expression standards.

On 4 February 2022, multinational energy company Iberdrola filed a lawsuit at the Court of First Instance number 4 of Bilbao against Titania, the publisher of El Confidencial, for its coverage of the relations between the company and a convicted former police commissioner. El Confidencial is accused of having carried out “an authentic smear campaign and media harassment” against the company and its president. The company said the reporting was an “illegitimate interference in the right to honour”, which had “very serious reputational damage to the company”. The company quantifies the alleged damage caused at €17,600,000 and said it reserves the right to adjust this figure upwards if new defamatory information is published. Our organisations strongly condemn these extortionate demands and see the lawsuit as a retaliatory attempt to silence the newspaper and its reporting on an important matter of public interest.

Since October 2019, El Confidencial, which has 200 staff members and around 22 million unique monthly visitors, has published a series of audio clips and documents revealing Iberdrola’s payments to the retired police commissioner José Manuel Villarejo, who became the centre of a national scandal after it was revealed he had spied on and blackmailed dozens of prominent Spanish businesspeople, politicians, judges, activists, and unions for over 20 years. The recordings and published documentation by El Confidencial referred to covert operations financed by the electricity company, including espionage of political leaders, maneuvers against environmentalists, and surveillance of union leaders by the company itself.

After the publication of the articles by El Confidencial, several current and former directors from Iberdrola were marked as ‘under investigation’ by the National High Court, including its executive president, Ignacio Sánchez Galán, and the group’s subsidiary, Iberdrola Renovables.

According to Iberdrola, El Confidencial has published “too much news” about the Villarejo case and disapproves of the fact that some news items were closed exclusively to subscribers, which would multiply the reputational damage of this information, since it would “prevent most readers from going past the headline and accessing the nuances included in the text of the news”. ARTICLE 19 has documented the phenomenon of SLAPPs against journalists in Spain in a recent SLAPPs report and identified a number of recommendations for reform of the legal framework that are currently misused to threaten journalists.

MFRR partners see this legal action by a large private company as a serious SLAPP lawsuit aimed at intimidating and silencing an independent media outlet in Spain. We join national journalist organisations such as the Federation of Associations of Journalists of Spain (FAPE), the Association of Journalists of Economic Information (APIE), the Association of Investigative Journalists (API) and the Plataforma por la libertad de información (PLI) in expressing solidarity and support to the newspaper and its journalists. The MFRR partners also condemn the extortionate demand for damages, which could bankrupt the newspaper should it lose the case and in the meanwhile generates exhorbitant financial and psychological pressure to the staff.

We therefore see this lawsuit as a clear example of the urgent need for SLAPP regulations on EU and national levels, and for a reform of the current legislation on protection of honour and reputation in Spain. We call upon Iberdrola to swiftly withdraw this absurd lawsuit. We encourage judges to follow the rules of good faith under Article 247 of the Spanish Civil Procedure Law 1/2000 to ensure that journalists and media outlets do not face unnecessary civil proceedings as a result of ill-founded or meritless claims, brought with the sole aim of silencing or intimidating the exercise of freedom of expression.

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.

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Hungary: Government bypasses court order on journalists’ hospital access

Hungary: Government bypasses court order on journalists’ hospital access

Hungary is the only EU member state not to give media access to hospitals during pandemic. The IPI global network today condemned a Hungarian government decree which – despite a court order – ensured journalists from independent media titles could continue be barred from reporting from inside hospitals. IPI called on the Fidesz government and its pandemic management body to approve future requests for journalists to access health facilities and stop hindering the media from doing their jobs and reporting on the realities of COVID-19.

Since the beginning of pandemic, representatives of the independent press have been barred from filming or reporting from within hospitals and their COVID-19 wards. In March 2021, this led to an unprecedented appeal from the the editors of 28 media outlets to the prime minister that the rules be changed to allow the media to record within health care facilities.

This appeal was rejected by the PM, who said that such a move could lead to the spread of  “fake news”. Since the start of the pandemic, the government-controlled public television and the state news agency have been the only media permitted to film inside hospitals. Independent newsrooms have requested access on dozens of occasions but all were rejected by the government’s Department of Human Resources (Emmi).

This led Telex and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) to launch legal action against the government on the basis that the order disproportionately affected media freedom. The Metropolitan Court initially sided with the government last year. Following an appeal, on January 27, 2022, the Supreme Court sided with Telex and ruled that Emmi could not bar media from reporting from within hospitals, as that power lay with individual hospital directors.

However, just two days later on January 29, the government passed a decree which bypassed the Supreme Court’s ruling. It instead determined that only the government centre in charge of managing the pandemic, the Operational Tribunal, could decide on press access and accreditation. The rule came into effect on February 5, 2022, leading to a fresh outcry about government interference from the country’s remaining independent media titles.

“This government decree is another shocking example of the Hungarian government’s efforts to block media’s access to public health information and hinder the ability of independent media to do their job” said IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen. “During the pandemic, media across Europe have been able to report from within hospitals and speak with front-line health workers. This has been vital for showing the human face of the health services and for building trust in state health measures, as well as allowing for frontline staff to raise concern when necessary and to foster healthy debate on health policy.

“In Hungary, however, despite numerous appeals, journalists have repeatedly been barred from visiting hospitals, limiting transparency and leaving reporting from within health facilities to state media, which sorely lack independence and impartiality. There is no other country in the European Union right now which still has such restrictive hospital reporting policies in place as Hungary.

“IPI continues to condemn the Hungarian government’s efforts to ban journalists from hospitals. That a government decree was used to bypass a ruling from the Curia is a stark example of the length which Fidesz will go to retain control over the COVID-19 messaging ahead of the upcoming elections. We stand with independent journalists in Hungary in their demand for access to information, which is a fundamental right. It’s shocking that this is still up for debate in an EU member state.”

The government decree means the Operational Tribunal will have full responsibilities for deciding on which journalists and TV crews can film or record interviews on the premises of health facilities. That body will have the power to overrule directors who feel it is acceptable to welcome media into their facilities they head.

During the pandemic, journalists working for what remains of the country’s independent media operate in an extremely challenging environment for accessing public information or questioning public officials. While media critical of the government are shunned for interview requests, the prime minister meanwhile gives expansive interviews to state-controlled media. After the media sent an open letter to the PM in March 2021, government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs accused “left-wing portals” of spreading “fake news” to embarrass the country’s health care system.

At different points during the pandemic, doctors and other healthcare professionals have been forced to speak with media off record to raises concern about their institutions’ capacity to handle rising cases and an influx of patients. The government decree came amidst a general election campaign for the April 3 election.

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
Grzegorz Rzeczkowski, Poland Library

Poland: Dismissal of SLAPP-targeted journalist Grzegorz Rzeczkowski sets concerning…

Poland: Dismissal of SLAPP-targeted journalist Grzegorz Rzeczkowski sets concerning precedent

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) extend their support to journalist Grzegorz Rzeczkowski who faces four SLAPPs and was recently dismissed by Polityka, one of the major independent weekly magazines in Poland, without a transparent reason.

The MFRR is concerned by the abusive legal actions targeting the journalist for his investigations and that his dismissal may be due to the financial costs to the outlet which these SLAPP lawsuits are accruing. If this is the case, it could send a signal that journalists in Poland who are targeted with SLAPPs for their investigations into sensitive issues will be left to face such lawsuits without the support of their employers and have a chilling effect on press freedom in the country.

Grzegorz Rzeczkowski is a seasoned reporter who investigated the wiretapping scandal that led to major political changes in  Polish politics in 2014. As a result of his coverage on abuse of power issues, the journalist is facing four SLAPPs.

On 19 January Rzeczkowski announced on Twitter that his contract at Polityka had been abruptly terminated and he would be leaving the outlet in April. Rzeczkowski was notified by email about the contract termination and was given a vague explanation of the employer’s decision. Rzeczkowski worked at Polityka for 12 years  and has not received any prior warning that would have indicated the employer’s intentions. In an interview with Wirtualnemedia.pl, Jerzy Baczyński, the editor-in-chief of Polityka was reluctant to disclose the reasons that led up to the dismissal but noted that the decision wasn’t motivated by staff cuts. He went on to say, “we are convinced that a journalist with such experience and achievements will easily position himself in the market”.

Given the four ongoing legal proceedings against Rzeczkowski and Polityka, the journalist is now put in an extremely difficult financial situation. Up until his contract’s termination, all legal fees and costs were covered by the employer. Since Polityka let go of its reporter, it is uncertain whether the outlet will continue to support Rzeczkowski’s legal fees.

Rzeczkowski faces four SLAPPs, both civil and criminal defamation lawsuits. Three of them were filed following the journalist’s coverage on the so-called wiretapping scandal that led to the demise of the government formed by Civil Platform (PO) and paved the way for the Law and Justice (PiS) party’s victory in the presidential and then parliamentary elections in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Two cases against Rzeczkowski were initiated due to his articles discussing links between Marek Falenta, key figure in the “wiretapping scandal”, and the Russian mafia and secret service. In addition, Rzeczkowski, together with the editor-in-chief and the outlet itself are also sued by Anna Hofer, the State Prosecutor, who was promoted to this position when PiS came to power. In one of his articles, Rzeczkowski claimed that the state prosecutor didn’t investigate the involvement of the people with close ties to PiS in the wiretapping scandal and that she omitted to investigate the Russian influence on the election results. In 2019, the former head of the Military Counterintelligence Service brought a private criminal defamation case against the journalist, following his coverage on career advancement of people close to the former Minister of Defence, Antoni Macierewicz.

In a conversation with ARTICLE 19, Rzeczkowski underscored that the legal costs have already exceeded ten thousand Euros – an amount impossible to cover by himself. Rzeczkowski also mentioned that the SLAPPs against him have caused him great emotional distress and emphasised the importance of having his employer’s financial support and solidarity.

The MFRR expresses concern over the ongoing legal harassment against Rzeczkowski as well as his abrupt dismissal. Despite the lack of clarity to what extent the dismissal might have been motivated by the drawn-out and costly lawsuits, this sets a concerning precedent for the protection of journalists in Poland. SLAPPs are vexatious lawsuits that became an all-too-common tool aimed at silencing independent voices, dissuading them from hard-hitting reporting on critical issues and exhausting their financial resources. If journalists covering controversial yet crucial topics start feeling a legitimate threat and lack of proper support, they may eventually turn to self-censorship or even abandon their investigations. The undersigned organisations stand in solidarity with Grzegorz Rzeczkowski and call upon the media outlet and journalists’ associations in Poland to provide necessary support to the journalist throughout the legal proceedings.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • 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.