Media freedom in the EU in steady decline, annual report by 20+ civil liberties groups finds

Physical attacks, often by the police, and abusive lawsuits against journalists are on the rise, data protection rules are abused to restrict freedom of information, unchallenged media ownership concentration threatens pluralism, national security used as a pretext for laws that restrict free speech: problems reported in the previous year in most EU countries remain unresolved and in some cases even worsened in 2022, according to the Liberties Media Freedom Report 2023 (Report) published today.

Compiled by more than 20 civil liberties organisations from across the EU, the Report presents evidence and analyses key developments in media freedom and pluralism, safety and protection of journalists and freedom of expression and information in 2022, when media markets have been shaped by not only landmark regulations such as the adoption of the the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act or the European Media Freedom Act proposal, but also by Russia’s invasion (and disinformation) of Ukraine or the general elections in Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia or Sweden. The main findings of the Report are:

  • Media controlled by too few. Strong and persistent concentration of media ownership threatens the diversity of media voices and creates more opportunities for biased reporting. Last year, Poland’s second largest press distributor, which was acquired by a state-owned energy company in 2020, terminated distribution contracts with independent media. News outlets in the Czech Republic and France are heavily concentrated in the hands of billionaires. Public service media are under government control in Hungary and Poland.

  • Journalists’ work is less safe, SLAPPs on the rise. In many countries, it has become increasingly difficult for journalists to do their job: they face harassment, physical and verbal attacks, mostly online or during protests, as reported in Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands. Shockingly, the police are often the perpetrators. The number of abusive lawsuits, so-called SLAPPs, is increasing in Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. Safeguards to protect journalists and their sources from state surveillance are insufficient and women continue to be paid less than their male colleagues and are more likely to be harassed and threatened, particularly online (in Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Romania).

  • Freedom of information restricted - by abusing data protection rules. Freedom of information is restricted due to the abusive enforcement of data protection laws or through slow processing of freedom of information requests (Belgium, Croatia, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Spain).

“Media freedom is a precondition of stable democracies in the EU. Liberties Media Freedom Report 2023 reveals that free media in 2022 was in decline and most governments clearly neglected to fix the main problems reported in their countries. However, the good news is that the proposed European Media Freedom Act has the potential to strengthen media freedom and pluralism across the EU and address the issues identified in the Report. In addition, European legislators must pass a robust anti-SLAPP Directive to protect journalists from bogus lawsuits. The Commission should launch infringement proceedings against non-compliant Member States and maintain pressure through the rule of law conditionality mechanism”, Jascha Galaski, advocacy officer at Civil Liberties Union for Europe, said.

Download ‘Liberties Media Freedom Report 2023’ here

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