World Press Freedom Day 2013
Statement of the European Journalists Association-
The Communication Network (EJ)
Press Freedom Day 2013
Last year we observed with great concern that the number of European countries which were not adequately meeting the requirements of the freedom of the press was on the increase. Unfortunately this tendency continues to spread even in some of the leading countries of the European Union such as the UK, France, Italy and Spain. The situation has become dramatic in smaller member countries like Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Lithuania and Latvia.
The deteriorating problem with press freedom is closely connected with the often general antidemocratic tendencies in the governance of countries but also with the deep economic crisis in the media sector which is undergoing profound social and technological change. The character of the journalistic profession is changing and it is quickly loosing its public prestige and status. The journalists are economically squeezed by lowering their living and social standards and this is done quite intentionally. In this way journalists become vulnerable to all kinds of political and business pressures. It is becoming more and more difficult for them to uphold their views and conscience, to write and speak freely.
We are going back to the dark ages of authoritarianism and total public control. In Hungary the government is now trying to establish full control over access to all public information. In Bulgaria the government is secretly taking over the ownership of more and more media outlets through banking channels. In the UK we have a proposal for a new “independent” media watchdog which excludes the journalists themselves.
The situation is even worse in countries outside the EU. In Russia president Putin is trying to silence the opposition through dominant control of news channels. In most non-member countries we are witnessing blatant violations of civil liberties and human rights. To name just a few: Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and most of them are applicants to join the EU. But this only happens because the example of the old members is not much more different nor inspiring. The “free” British press for example is vilifying the whole peoples of Romania and Bulgaria presenting them as a menace to the UK just because they are about to receive their long delayed right to travel and work in the EU as all member states have.
Unfortunately Brussels is not responding adequately to these tendencies. It is tolerating the softening of the criteria for press freedom and democratic values. It is too often ignoring the blatant attacks on journalists and media standards in many member countries. In combination with the financial chaos and the profound social crisis this attitude poses a threat to the very existence of the union and its democratic legitimacy.
In its last years 50th Jubilee congress the EJ proposed urgent steps for the defense of journalists and for guaranteeing independence and freedom of the press. We are again calling to all European institutions to pay attention to these problems and start looking for urgent answers.