Democracy & Justice

Systemic threats make media freedom decline across Europe: Report 2022

Press release

by LibertiesEU
Multiple systematic threats made media freedom decline in 2021 across Europe, according to a report by the Civil Liberties Union for Europe with evidence from 15 EU countries. The rights group calls for a strong Media Freedom Act to reverse backsliding.

The Media Freedom Report 2022 investigates media freedom and pluralism, safety and protection of journalists, freedom of expression and access to information, and the enforcement of media laws across Europe. According to Liberties, the Berlin-based umbrella rights group, political pressure is a key factor in the backslide, especially in countries where governments have been threatening media freedom as part of a broader strategy to dismantle the rule of law and democracy, to occupy the public and political discourses and to cover up widespread corruption (Hungary, Poland, Slovenia). But problems exist also in many other countries, because governments do not make enough of an effort or downplay longstanding issues.

The 2022 Report findings are considered by the European Commission for the preparation of the European Media Freedom Act (MFA) proposal due in the third quarter of 2022.

“Media are a pillar for democracy, but the Russian war against Ukraine clearly shows us how state-controlled media is used as a weapon to spread disinformation abroad and manipulate citizens at home in order to keep an autocratic regime in power. The 2022 Media Freedom Report findings confirm media freedom is clearly eroding in Europe, and some governments follow Putin’s playbook. In Hungary, for example, the government used the Pegasus surveillance spyware against investigative journalists and the public media spreads propaganda, while in Poland rights groups reported incidents of police violence and a growing number of SLAPP lawsuits against journalists. The Media Freedom Act could be a lifesaver for democracy in Europe. With it the EU could strengthen free media, enhance media pluralism and transparency, and secure a safer environment for journalists”, Eva Simon, senior advocacy officer at the Civil Liberties Union for Europe, said.

The report’s other main findings are:

  • Political and economic pressure continues to be one of the main threats to media freedom and pluralism in countries including Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Spain. In many EU Member States, even stable ones like Germany, the pandemic has created a great economic challenge for small and local media publishers. In many countries, media authorities are not independent from political influence.
  • A high concentration of media ownership remains a major concern in Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovenia and the Netherlands. The transparency of the beneficial ownership of media would be crucial to tackle the problem. In most countries covered in the report, journalists are facing an increasingly unsafe environment.
  • Rights groups in Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden report worrying episodes of harassment and attacks against journalists, including in connection with demonstrations against COVID-19 measures.
  • There is increasing concern about the frequency and impact of strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPPs) on journalists and media, as reported in Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia. SLAPPs deter media outlets from reporting on matters of public importance.
  • Government-led smear and hate campaigns (Croatia, Slovenia), illegal surveillance practices (Hungary), and continuous online harassment are forcing some journalists to self-censor.

Based on key findings of the report, that collects evidence from Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden, the civil liberties group calls on the European Commission to safeguard media freedom through fair and transparent distribution of funds to media outlets, supporting editorial independence from any form of public or private interference, and strengthening the protection of journalistic sources. Liberties’ policy recommendations also include a proposal for proper enforcement mechanisms, like the establishment of a Board of Media Freedom and annual monitoring of the status of media freedoms.

Further reading on this topic:

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

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

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