The European Union needs to do more to fight threats against independent media in the Balkans, according to the Head of the EU/Balkans desk of Reporters Without Borders, Pavo Szalai.
Media in the region are working in an increasingly pressurized environment, including attacks from politicians, organized crime, vexatious laws and lawsuits, and an increasing lack of plurality in media ownership. Those who criticize or expose sensitive stories and scandals are at risk of smear campaigns, being blacklisted, or even facing administrative harassment.
Szalai said that the EU has the ability to do more to protect journalists and media freedom, but is failing to do so.
“The EU has to be the guard dog of the media. The EU is a big dog but has small teeth and barks rather timidly at enemies of press freedom and bites very little. It must bark more, have stronger teeth, and bit more,” he said.
He noted that “journalism in the Balkans is suffering and urgent action should be taken.”
The comments were made during an online conference on media freedom last week. Serbian journalist Radomir Diklic added that independent journalists in his country have pleaded for help from the EU, as many no longer have the means to work independently.
Bulgarian MEP Elena Yoncheva said that just “monitoring” the situation is not enough.
“The fact that the EU is monitoring the situation is not enough. The European Commission must take concrete action. Providing financial support to small media is a potential solution, as this is one of the main problems.”
The comments come just days after the European Commission backtracked on its support given to Albanian journalists in relation to the controversial “anti-defamation package.”
The Albanian government proposed the draft law and amended it in 2018 but has been widely criticized by local and international media stakeholders, including the EU and EC. After undergoing several revisions, the EC made the rewriting of the bill one of the 15 conditions Albanian has to meet to sit at the table of the first intergovernmental conference.
In particular, the EC stated that the bill should be brought in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission.
Yet after over a year of support for journalists in favor of not allowing the law through in its current form, the EC is now claiming it was never a condition in the first place. This has left journalists unhappy and concerned as it now means the government are free to pass a law that would bring all online media under state control and supervision.