Tech & Rights

​Liberties Media Freedom Report 2022 Shows Worrisome Decline in Media Freedom Across Europe

Growing political pressure, high concentration of ownership, smears and abusive lawsuits against journalists, lack of oversight on public service media: we collected evidence to see why media freedom is in decline in Europe.

by Franziska Otto

The Media Freedom Report 2022, published on 28 March 2022, is the first annual report on media freedom in the EU, produced by the Civil Liberties Union for Europe to supplement the Rule of Law Report and supported by the Policy paper on media legislation. The report was written with the help of Liberties’ member and partner organizations in 15 EU countries and used collected case studies. The Media Freedom Report 2022 focuses on four topics: media freedom and pluralism, safety and protection of journalists, freedom of expression and access to information and lastly the enforcement of laws.

A free and diverse media is important in any democracy. In order to have a lively and vibrant public debate, citizens need to be informed about what their political representatives are up to. The work of journalists and media workers makes this possible. However, media freedom is declining in the EU. Many countries show problems in the areas analyzed and while the erosion of media freedom in some states has caught the public eye, the situation is worsening across the Union.

Media freedom and pluralism

Citizens rely on independent journalists to get informed and make up their minds about the important issues of the day. Media freedom implies that media outlets can report on current affairs independently from government interference or influence. When citizens have accurate information and different opinions to consider, they can make an informed choice about how they are governed. One way of ensuring the public can hear different opinions is by preventing a handful of owners from running the majority of media companies. But many EU member states are dealing with a high concentration of media ownership or governments who assert pressure on publishers.

In Hungary, government-friendly business people have bought large portions of the media market. Government loyalists have taken over influential news outlets that used to be critical of the government. And even more stable democracies show problems of media plurality. An example being Italy. In Italy, only two media companies dominate the media market.

But other factors can affect media pluralism as well. Across Europe, especially due to the Covid-19 pandemic, media houses feel economic pressure, for example due to lower advertisement revenue. This affects publishers of all sizes, but small and local news outlets are hit particularly hard.

Journalists and media workers are not safe

Most countries covered by this report show an increasingly unsafe environment for journalists. This ranges from harassment to physical attacks. Rights groups in 11 countries report worrying episodes of harassment and attacks against journalists. In the Netherlands, media workers talk about an increasingly violent narrative against the media. In July 2021, this came to a tragic climax when crime reporter Peter R. de Vries was fatally shot in broad daylight in Amsterdam.

And attacks are not limited to real life encounters, but happen virtually as well. The majority of harassment that German journalists experience happens online, with the result that some choose to self-censor and avoid hot-button issues like migration.

Curtailing freedom of expression and information

Our member and partner organizations across the EU report an increasing number of restrictions on free speech and freedom of information.

In France, the new law on the Respects for the Principles of the Republic is making it harder for journalists to report on and expose police violence. In Slovenia, attempts have been made to introduce new rules on the criminalization of insults to include those against public figures. This would be a way to punish criticism of the Prime Minister and other government officials.

Restrictions on access to information remain a problem. In Poland, dozens of journalists have been refused access to the border with Belarus.

Clearly, a lot needs to be done in order to protect media freedom and ensure media pluralism in Europe. The European Commission is currently working on a new piece of legislation, the European Media Freedom Act, to protect the diversity and independence of the media in the EU. It should include measures to further transparency in media ownership and elaborate on rules on how to make journalistic work more safe.

Our recommendations to the Commission further include:

  • A fair and transparent distribution of funds to media outlets.
  • Support of editorial independence from any form of public or private interference. A special focus should be on the protection of journalistic sources.
  • Proper enforcement mechanisms, like the establishment of a Board of Media Freedom and annual monitoring of the status of media freedom.

To learn more about the current state of the press across the European Union and what can be done to protect journalists and media freedom, read our report here.

Further reading on this topic:

How The EU Can Use A Can’t-Miss Opportunity To Protect Media Freedom

EU Must Act as Countries Copy Putin’s Playbook to Control Media

Systemic threats make media freedom decline across Europe: Report 2022

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