A European Commissioner responsible for media freedom, independence and pluralism is among the list of proposals announced by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in the lead up to the European Parliamentary elections in six weeks’ time.
The Commissioner was required to combat the unprecedented attacks against journalists, the increase in lawsuits against investigative reporters and online mass disinformation, RSF said in a statement.
It was one measure, in a 10-point plan, presented by the international press freedom organisations for candidates to defend press freedom and pluralism in a continent shaken by a series of grave attacks and violations against journalists.
RSF said press freedom has been undermined in EU member States, while the EU’s institutions remained relatively powerless to overcome challenges:
“RSF hopes that its proposals will be used by the European parliament to prioritise the defence of free and independent news and information during the next five years, to defend policies that encourage trustworthy journalism, and to help protect journalists”.
When fundamental rights are violated, and especially in cases of violence against journalists, RSF proposes that NGOs and press freedom defenders should be able to turn to the proposed role, empowered to quickly intervene with national authorities in urgent situations.
RSF said the Commission should also ensure that competition policy – a core competency of the EU – should take account of the fundamental elements of press freedom in order to prevent large corporations from undermining media diversity.
RSF also urged the EU to cater for the need to impose targeted, individual sanctions on those responsible for serious violations of press freedom and journalists’ safety, in line with the “Magnitsky” mechanism in effect in the US, as well as the ‘Information and Democracy Initiatitve’ launched by RSF in November last year.
In order to combat the fake news phenomenon, RSF said priority should be placed on the reliability of online content rather than on repressive policies that were hard to implement and posed a danger to freedom of expression.
“In this regard, RSF urges the EU to recognise and support the Journalism Trust Initiative, which makes it easier to identify reliable news and information by means of a series of indicators measuring media transparency, editorial independence, the use of journalistic methods and respect for journalistic ethics”.
RSF also called for the creation of new legislation that would hold online platforms accountable for any failure to fulfill their obligation on violations of freedom of opinion and expression online.
In response to the judicial harassment to which investigative reporters in particular are subjected in many EU countries, RSF calls on the future Members of the European Parliament to adopt a directive to combat abusive lawsuits known as SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) that are designed to have a chilling effect on journalists.
Pointing to the urgency of the situation facing independent journalists, RSF said it “believes that the time has come to treat press freedom as a fundamental EU value, one that is placed at the heart of its treaties, at the centre of its institutions and at the forefront of what it fights for”.
To this end, RSF proposed including press freedom in Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union and in the responsibilities of the Court of Justice of the European Union, and the European ombudsman.
Read the full proposals here.