From: Arjola Tafaj
MFRR: State Capture in Media is Undermining Press and Media Freedom Across Europe

Between 17th and 20th March, the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), which monitors and tracks media freedom violations, will bring together leading journalists from over 13 countries and representatives of press freedom organizations, unions, and journalist bodies to discuss key threats and trends that underpin threats to media freedom across Europe 

In one of the webinars held on Wednesday, MFRR and high-level speakers from Poland, Hungary, and Slovenia discussed “State Capture in the Media, which Undermining Independence of Media Outlets and Regulators”.

Ahead of a major debate at the European Parliament on efforts by governments to silence free media, MFRR were part of 18 organizations calling on the European Union to take decisive action to defend independent journalism and media freedom in Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia

Selling media outlets to state-owned companies or abusing legal powers to silence critics are common strategies of governments jeopardizing media & press freedom, they observed. 

According to Adam Bodnar, Commissioner for Human Rights of Poland “Media capture can have a significant impact on political discourse by silencing any governmental problems. It creates a sense of political stability for those who don’t use independent media and it amplifies negative voices about the opposition.”

MFRR partners were profoundly concerned about the latest media freedom attacks in Hungary.

IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said “At precisely the same moment in which Poland and Hungary are fighting tooth-and-nail to block mechanisms intended to protect the rule of law in the EU, Poland is already busy undermining the rule of law and democratic norms further.”

Veronika Munk, former deputy-editor at Index in Hungary shared her experience on how political power through economic power led to the firing of Szabolcs Dull. The remaining editorial staff quit on the same day. Following this, the MFRR sent a letter to the EU raising concerns about the state of media freedom in Hungary 

 Munk stated that “Hungary’s media landscape has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. Less & less independent media, more & more TV, radio stations, newspapers with connection to the Fidesz government”. 

“The state capture depends on the location. Outside of the capital, it is difficult for people to consume independent news. All newspapers outside of Budapest were brought up by business owners,” she added.

Journalist Petra Lesjak, one of the panelists, explaining the situation of the media in Slovenia said that “It is important for independent journalism in a small country like Slovenia to have a back-up in Europe. It is important that we are on the radar and that the discussion is going on.” 

“What we are facing here is not just violations of media freedom, we see that the law is not respected. The government doesn’t follow its own law”, she added. 

Press freedom groups raised concerns about the deteriorating media freedom landscape in Slovenia to the European Commission.

At the end of the meeting Bodnar added that “Although crowdfunding is existing to create quality coverage, it might not be sufficient to support long-term quality based editorial offices & civil society organizations. International donors should consider that people are changing habits from traditional media, to online ones”.