Welcome to Liberties' monthly round-up, where we catch you up on the most pressing human rights topics we've been working on. This month, we released our second annual Media Freedom Report with the help of our members (spoiler alert: there's little improvement), and pushed back against proposed EU restrictions against NGOs that would strengthen the hand of authoritarian politicians trying to silence critical voices.
In a nutshell
⚖️ Swedish Presidency | Civic space & rule of law talking points. Our Executive Director, Balázs Dénes, spoke at the Conference on Institutional Protection of Fundamental Rights in times of Crises, organised by the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU & the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. He advised how EU institutions can protect civic space and the rule of law during the Swedish Presidency. Watch the livestream here.
🤖 AI & Surveillance. Our Senior Advocacy officer Orsolya Reich asked the IMCO Committee and LIBE Committee MEPs in a letter to vote to protect - and not surveil - on the AI Act. Read more here.
⏩ Campaign Accelerator. Last chance to apply for Liberties’ advocacy campaign summer school. Deadline: May 2nd. More details here.
Liberties’ Media Freedom Report 2023: Free Media’s Decline Continues Across Europe
Earlier this month, Liberties released our second annual Media Freedom Report - and the news isn’t good. Our report finds little improvement over the last year, as our member organisations reported significant issues including political pressure on public service media, high ownership concentration and abusive lawsuits targeting journalists. Read more here.
Pluralism down, ownership concentration up
The report shows that media pluralism across the bloc continues to decline. In the Czech Republic and France, media ownership is heavily concentrated in the hands of a few powerful people. In Hungary, the government’s control of the media landscape, either directly or through friendly oligarchs, remains unchanged. With concentrated media ownership, there is a risk that media outlets can be used to push a specific agenda or political view or business interest, often to serve as a tool of the owners.
Governments continue to pressure public service media
The last year saw political changes that could have serious consequences for media freedom, both good and bad. Slovenia’s new government adopted amendments to depoliticize the PSM, giving hope that its editorial independence can be restored. However, Sweden’s new right-wing government increasing pressure on public service media gives us pause for concern, as well as fears that a new law targeting foreign espionage may have a chilling effect on the work of investigative journalists. Another concerning tactic to increase control of the media is the weaponizing of state advertising, in which public funds are channelled to government-friendly outlets, starving independent media of a vital source of income.
Liberties in the news
EU ‘Foreign Agents’ Law
Defence of Democracy: Europe Needs Free NGOs (Policy Recommendations)
The EU recently revealed that new rules imposing restrictions on NGOs will be the centrepiece of the ‘Defence of Democracy’ package, due to be unveiled this summer. The obligations, aiming to defend our democracies from covert foreign influence, target NGOs receiving funding from third country donors as potential trojan horses for governments with malign intentions to destabilise EU democracies. However, Liberties is concerned that the proposed package risks weakening rather than strengthening our democracies. In light of these concerns, we took part in the Commission's 'Defence of Democracy package' consultation process. Read a summary of our submission here.
Messaging Guide for NGOs Pushing Back Against Proposed Restrictions
Understandably, concerned NGOs are resisting the proposed restrictions because it will inevitably be used by governments trying to limit civic space and destroy public trust. However, often they are using the wrong arguments to push back. To avoid falling into the transparency trap, we’ve put together a guide for people who wish to convince decision-makers at EU-level to safeguard civic space and abandon these plans that would damage democracy. Read it here.
In case you missed our explainers....
What Is Harmful About Public Surveillance?
We've become accustomed to handing out our personal information regularly, like our name and email. But that isn't the only sensitive data about us that is collected. Oftentimes unknowingly, our biometric data, such as our facial image, is also being gathered. With surveillance technology becoming more sophisticated, many of us live with an unsettling truth: maintaining our private life is becoming harder and harder. Even if the intention is to keep us safe, public surveillance is harmful to society. Read our explainer article here.
Do you want to join us? Check out our vacancies?
Are you a student interested in a career in communications in the NGO sector? We are looking for a Communications & Campaigns Assistant (Intern) to join us for an internship position.
Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. More information here.
My face is not a licence plate: Our Irish member, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, have launched a petition to challenge the potential decision to equip the Irish police force with facial recognition technology. #IDoNotConsent
And the winner is….: Every year our Swedish member, Civil Rights Defenders, award ‘The Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award’. The 2023 winner is Foro Penal, an influential Venezuelan legal organisation whose work meant thousands of arbitrarily detained protesters, activists, and opposition politicians have been released from prison. Congratulations!
Border pushbacks legalised in Lithuania: Earlier this week, legislation was passed which will allow border guards to refuse entry and forcibly return migrants seeking to gain entry into Lithuania through irregular routes. According to Human Rights Monitoring Institute (HRMI), our Lithuanian member, the pushbacks 'trample inherent human dignity'. Learn more.
Calls for more human rights training in Lithuania: HRMI reports that a UN committee has expressed concerns over the lack of specialized human rights training for judges, prosecutors and law enforcement personnel in Lithuania, and the need for new measures to protect national minorities from social exclusion. Read more here.
The fight for same-sex marriage in Lithuania: HRMI also report on upcoming strategic cases, in an attempt to push the needle on marriage equality. Three same-sex couples in Lithuania will turn to the courts to seek legal status for their partnerships, as the country still has no law recognizing same-sex couples. Read more here.
Cerv Grant | Further Information: For our members, who are entitled to apply to our Strive 2023 grant, we’ve put more information on our website to help you with your application. Deadline is May 20th.
What we're reading
- Privacy: “We are totally exposed”: Young people share concerns about social media’s impact on privacy and mental health in global survey - Amnesty International
- NGO Rights: The Assault on NGOs - EU Scream
Democracy Drinks, Thursday 11th May
If you've been following Liberties' work in the past few weeks, the topic for our up-coming Democracy Drinks will come as no surprise. Liberties’ Executive Director, Balázs Dénes, will be discussing the NGO 'Foreign Agent' law and why we're calling on the EU to heed the warnings of civil society.
Topic: NGO 'Foreign Agent' Law: Will the EU Follow Russia's Path?
Location: Ritchie Café & Bar, Oranienstraße 174, 10999 Berlin
Time/Date: 18.00 - 20.00, Thursday 11th May. Don't forget to register in advance via Eventbrite.
How do I stay in the loop? | Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to our mailing list.
Try before you buy | Read a write-up of our past Democracy Drinks events.
Watchdogging in May:
New developments are expected in these hot topics during the coming weeks, and we’ll be shaping the narrative to ensure the EU makes the right moves.
European Media Freedom Act - Liberties’ will be pushing our policy suggestions during the European Parliament discussions
Defence of Democracy package - we’ll be making sure the EU doesn’t do more harm than good by stifling NGOs.
Summer Campaign Accelerator: in the next monthly recap, we’ll announce the selected participants for our summer school workshops.
Liberties’ network research on national AI strategies: we’ll give you the low-down on how well EU member states are protecting fundamental rights in their national AI strategies.