Media freedom in Europe has declined
MEPs deplore harassment and attacks on journalists, particularly from politicians
EU Commission must regularly assess government interference and transparency of ownership structures
No EU funds for government-controlled media or political propaganda
The European Parliament is “deeply concerned” about the state of media freedom within the EU and denounces the violence, harassment and pressure faced by journalists as a resolution was adopted on Wednesday that aims to strengthen independent media.
In the adopted text (with 553 votes to 54 and 89 abstentions), parliament points to “attempts by governments of some member states to silence critical and independent media and undermine media freedom and pluralism”.
MEPs said they are particularly concerned about the state of public service media in some EU countries, where they have become an “example of pro-government propaganda”.
“Freedom of the media has been deteriorating in recent years”, warns the text, and the COVID-19 outbreak has exacerbated this deterioration.
The adoption of the resolution occurred as three media houses in Malta took exception to The Shift raising these concerns in an article about government funding during COVID. The Shift has defended its report.
Rapporteur Magdalena Adamowicz said: “There is no freedom without media independence, no democracy without media pluralism. Media should serve the truth, not lies. It should serve voters, not those in power, and should be a check on power. Media should protect democracy, but media can also kill it. That is why it must be independent”.
Excessive media concentration threatens pluralism
MEPs criticise governments for invasive interference in public advertising and make clear that EU funds must not be spent on government-controlled media or political propaganda.
Parliament also calls on the European Commission to assess in each member state how transparent the ownership of media outlets is, as well as private and government interference in the sector, in its annual rule of law assessment.
MEPs insist that attempts to damage media freedom and pluralism should be considered a serious and systematic abuse of power that goes against fundamental EU values.
Protect journalists better, particularly women
MEPs see a “growing pattern of intimidation aimed at silencing journalists”, citing the murders of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Ján Kuciak and his fiancée as examples of the risks faced by investigative journalists.
They call on public figures to refrain from denigrating journalists and insist on the legal obligation to investigate all attacks, highlighting that female journalists are especially vulnerable and should be given additional protection.
Online hate speech and disinformation
MEPs want a more robust legal framework to prevent and combat increasing online hate speech and call for more collaboration between online platforms and law enforcement authorities.
They stress that platforms’ voluntary actions are “necessary yet still insufficient” in tackling disinformation, illegal content and foreign interference. Nonetheless, they “must not become private censors” and the removal of illegal content must be subject to safeguards.
The adopted text also highlights concerns about foreign democratic interference seeking to polarise and nullify pluralism and warns of the potentially harmful consequences of manipulating information relating to the COVID-19 pandemic