International press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling for the next European Commission to appoint a Commissioner with a clear mandate to defend press freedom in Europe.
The Commissioner would maintain a robust and continuous dialogue with member states, carrying concerns about the right to reliable news and information beyond European borders and initiating necessary EU legislative reforms.
Almost one person in two in the world does not have access to freely reported news and information. “As Europeans, we can count ourselves lucky that we enjoy this freedom that allows us to verify respect for all the other freedoms,” according to the director general of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Christophe Deloire in opinion piece published on Deutsche Welle.
Deloire says that while Europe remains the continent where freedom of the press is the most widely observed, in recent years this “this cornerstone of our democracy has been seriously damaged”.
The Head of RSF refers to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, Jan Kuciak in Slovakia and Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta as “among the most serious attacks on press freedom”.
Malta is one of the “top 10 biggest losers” in this year’s World Press Freedom Index, falling 12 places after it lost another 18 places last year.
Deloir says the murders are a symptom of a deep rooted problem. “Journalism in Europe has been weakened by relentless, and often hyped-up, anti-media rhetoric by some political leaders, either in power or hoping to get there”.
The organisation is calling for Europe to take strong action. Deloire refers to legal harassment as an example of methods used to silence journalists, pointing out that the problem can be addressed if European elections drive the political will to strengthen freedom of the press.
He explains the organisation’s call for a Commissioner to defend freedom of the press. “We will be able to judge the extent of the Commissioner’s ambition by the way in which he or she uses — or does not use — the political weapons available for the battle”.
RSF is calling on all candidates running for the European Parliament to ensure the Commission leadership acquires such political will. “We need MEPs to bring the legal framework up to date”.
As an example, it refers to the liability regime of online platforms for their content management policies, which is established in a 20-year-old directive. RSF says it is time to update and uphold this framework laid out by the e-commerce directive to keep up with new technological challenges to roll out a Europe-wide regulation which would enact rules that favour the freedom and reliability of news and information.
“By defending (freedom of the press), Europe is protecting its political model, both internally and against external threats. It must equip itself with the real means of defending its values,” Deloire says.
The organisation stresses that the time has come to breathe new life into a strong political union and make freedom of the press a core value of the EU, putting it at the heart of the bloc’s treaties and institutions and at the forefront of today’s campaigns.