The past year has had a major impact on democratic societies but it has also highlighted the key role that journalists have in providing information to the public.
This was a comment from the European Commissioner for Human Rights Vera Jourova made during the keynote event of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) summit that launched today. The MFRR provides support and projection to journalists and media workers in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. The project is a joint effort between the ECPMF, Article 19, EFJ, Free Press Unlimited, IPI, and various others.
She added that the pandemic exacerbated many weaknesses in freedom of the media and freedom of information that was already present before. Media freedom and its position as a key pillar of the rule of law is a focus of her office, she added.
Jourova noted that a report was being prepared for all EU member states that cover five key areas; independence of media regulators, transparency of media ownership, state advertising, access to information, and a framework for the protection of journalists. Scheduled to be released in July, she said it will look at the developments, stagnation, and backsliding in the last year.
“Media should be at the core of democracy”, she said, adding that her office is pushing two recommendations for all member states. These are a recommendation to improve safety for journalists and a recommendation on protecting journalists from SLAPP and vexatious lawsuits.
These lawsuits she said, are designed to silence the media. There was also a pressing need to improve standards for transparency of media ownership and how political parties push advertising.
Lastly, she announced that more funding to improve pluralism and media freedom throughout the region will be announced in due course.
Irene Khan, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression also took part in the event.
She described how smear campaigns were being widely used to discredit and attack journalists and to tarnish their honest reporting. She noted how it was being weaponized by political leaders and spread through social media.
“It is a very, very, very dangerous threat to media freedom,” she said, adding that “any news governments don’t like is ‘fake news.”
This phenomenon is leading to a decline in public trust in the media.
Khan also addressed the economic difficulties faced by journalists and media portals over the last year. Economic pressure means journalists are struggling to produce high-quality work which further exacerbates the issue of public trust. She described it as a “downward spiral”.
Lastly, she addressed the issue of harassment and incitement to violence, particularly used against female journalists. They are at double risk she said and this needs addressing.
The MMFF platform registered 403 alerts and 1188 attacks on journalists in 29 countries. Albania has registered 62 complaints in seven years.