Message for the UN-EU High-Level Policy Dialogue – Protecting the safety of journalists, media freedom and pluralism in the European Union: challenges and opportunities

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank the UN Human Rights Regional Office for Europe and the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for this event on protecting journalists, media freedom and pluralism in the European Union.

A first priority for the European Commission is the safety of journalists.

This week marked a very sad anniversary.

It was the fourth anniversary of the murders of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. They were 27 when they were killed.

As Nobel Peace Prize winner and journalist Dmitry Muratov said, I want journalists to die old.

But the situation remains very worrying. Also this week, the EU-funded Mapping Media Freedom project published its annual report including data on EU Member States.

2021 was a year of violence against journalists.

Two journalists were killed: Peter R. de Vries in the Netherlands and Giorgos Karaivaz in Greece.

Demonstrations remain dangerous for journalists. More than one in three incidents occur during demonstrations, making demonstrations the most frequent place where journalists were attacked in 2021.

Data also shows that women in particular are victims of online harassment.

The Recommendation on the safety of journalists that we adopted last September is more relevant and needed than ever. We prepared the Recommendation in close cooperation with our international partners who are here today, and I thank them for the cooperation.

One practical measure is that Member States should ensure the creation of independent national support services, including helplines, legal advice, psychological support and shelters for journalists and media professionals facing threats.

I urge Member States to implement the Recommendation as soon as possible. We had a discussion on this on Tuesday.

Let me mention two other areas of work.

The Commission is now preparing measures to fight abusive litigation against journalists and rights defenders. This phenomenon of Strategic Litigation against Public Participation – so-called SLAPP – is gaining ground in the EU. Its aim is to silence journalists.

We need to address this and to protect the weaker parts in the proceedings. This is in our public interest.

We are working on a solid combination of legislative and non-legislative measures.

Then, the next step is the Media Freedom Act. I am glad to see that one of the panel discussions today will focus on this. We are now consulting widely. There is a public consultation ongoing on the Act until 21 March and I invite you all to participate.

This legislative initiative is unprecedented. For the first time, we will set out in EU law safeguards to protect media freedom and pluralism. We will protect independent and plural media as an essential pillar of our democracies, as the watchdogs of democracies.

We need to act because we have seen attempts across the EU, by state authorities and by private actors, to put pressure on journalists and media outlets.

With the Media Freedom Act, we want to address problems, and support what is working. Because we see, also from the Rule of Law report, good examples in Member States to protect media freedom and pluralism.

We need a set of rules based on common principles, such as the editorial independence of the media and the transparency of ownership.

One key measure, in my view, is to strengthen independent media regulators and their cooperation across the EU.

This would allow them to protect media freedom and pluralism on a more consistent and efficient way.

Thank you.

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