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AEJ MF Rep tells MEPs EU must “make up lost ground” on Media Freedom

On Tuesday November 6 AEJ’s Media Freedom Representative William Horsley spoke at a Hearing on "Media Freedom in the EU" in the European Parliament in Brussels. The AEJ calls on the EU to take action to fulfill its responsibilities to defend media freedom and safeguard journalists’ physical safety based on Council of Europe norms and standards and the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. Horsley urged that the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency be given a mandate to monitor violations of press freedom by state authorities and non-state actors within EU countries.

The Hearing was held at the invitation of Renate Weber, the Rapporteur on Media Freedom for the Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee. This week’s public hearing was aimed at gathering input from stakeholders for new EP recommendations to strengthen last month’s Draft Report: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meetdocs/2009_2014/documents/libe/pr/914/914699/914699en.pdf on “standard setting for media freedom across the EU”  

The EP’s initiative seeks to push the Commission and Member States to ensure that the pledge in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, that “media freedom and media pluralism shall be respected” is backed up by real and effective safeguards across the Union.

The sorry state of media freedom in EU states was vividly illustrated by Olivier Basille of Reporters Without Borders, who said that every one of the EU’s 27 member states had “gone backwards” on press freedom and freedom of expression. Arne Koenig of the European Federation of Journalists said the intimidation caused by a growing number of violent attacks on journalists was being compounded by impunity, meaning that public officials who threatened or assaulted journalists regularly go unpunished.

Anthony Whelan, the spokesman for European Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes, acknowledged the gap between the public expectations of firm action by the Commission on these issues and what he said could be legally enforced.

The AEJ is closely watching the outcome later this year of several studies on the limits of EU competence on media freedom ordered by Mrs Kroes in the wake of the outcry over Hungary’s 2010 package of media laws, which have been found to violate Council of Europe standards (based on the European Convention on Human Rights) by giving state-appointed excessive powers over the regulation of media content and public service media.

William Horsley cautioned that a preliminary report on the question of EU “competences” unveiled last week by the Florence-based Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom appeared to fall short of addressing the urgent and corrosive problems of widespread corruption of public life and elections linked to widespread failures by EU states to uphold the basic tenets of press freedom, including freedom of the media from direct political and commercial pressures.

Another Report by a “High-Level Group” headed by former Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberger is due to publish its recommendations towards the year end.

William Horsley applauded yet another piece of research – a legal and policy report by the Institute of European Media Law on “the Citizen’s Right to Information” that was commissioned by the European Parliament and appeared this summer. The AEJ Media Freedom Representative noted that the Report found that existing EU treaties and legal texts actually provide a “rather high degree of scope” to shape national media policies.

Last month the AEJ heard first-hand accounts of the deteriorating state of media freedom in more than a dozen European countries from its own journalist members at the Association’s fiftieth anniversary Congress in Offida, Italy.

The reports are published on this website as the 2012 AEJ Media Freedom Survey.
http://www.aej.org/page.asp?p_id=360  

Read EUobserver.com ’s account of the European Parliament Hearing here.
http://euobserver.com/news/118109