Violence threatens European journalists

The EU’s internal divide on press freedom has widened as France prepares new measures to protect journalists.

Greece slipped to 108th place in the world after the murder last year of crime journalist Giorgios Karaivaz, according to an index published on Tuesday (May 3rd) by the Paris-based civil organization Reporters Without Borders.

This put Greece last in the EU and less free than the lowest-ranked former member state, Bulgaria (91st place).

Malta remained low (78th) and the Netherlands dropped out of the top ten, in 28th place after the murder of crime journalist Peter R. De Vries.

Norway and several EU states – Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Finland, Ireland and Portugal – top the global table.

But if the EU displayed some of the highest standards in the world, then elsewhere in the same bloc, in Poland (66th) and Hungary (85th), “governments have stepped up draconian laws against journalists”, warns Reporters without borders.

Germany (16th), France (26th) and Italy (58th), countries in the heart of the EU, have also seen journalists “physically attacked”, indicated the NGO.

The report came out amid a raging war in Ukraine, where at least seven journalists have been killed, according to figures from the French EU presidency.

Russia (155th place) and Belarus (153rd) are in any case among the worst press regimes in the world, according to Reporters Without Borders.

But the war had triggered “a level of [Russian] censorship unprecedented since the Soviet period, massive misinformation,” he said.

“The Russian military deliberately targeted sources of information in [Ukrainian] territories it occupies,” the NGO said.

The French EU Presidency also indicated that Russia was targeting journalists during the war in an internal EU memo dated April 28 and seen by EUobserver.

Journalists can be “particularly exposed and become targets themselves, as the situation in Ukraine has shown”, indicates the French draft press release.

The EU must “promote the financial, legal and professional support and reception of independent journalists and other media professionals in exile, in particular from Ukraine, Belarus and the Russian Federation, who have found refuge in the European Union “, said France.

This could be done “by offering residencies, for example, and exploring how to extend these mechanisms to journalists fleeing [other] armed conflicts,” he added.

The French ideas must be fleshed out and turned into a public EU commitment by July.

But the concern about protecting free media in times of war comes amid a parallel discussion about propaganda and freedom of expression.

“European standards”

The French proposals speak of directing advertising revenue to media that meet “European standards”.

The EU should “encourage labeling initiatives for online news media based on European standards and independently established criteria”, France said.

“So that platforms and advertisers can demonstrate accountability by favoring news outlets that meet these standards,” he said.

The EU has recently drawn red lines around these standards by banning Russian propaganda outlets such as RT and Sputnik.

And the European Commission on Monday criticized Italian broadcasters for giving interviews to Russian journalists from these banned channels.

There was an “anti-circumvention” clause in the penalties “which applies”, a commission spokesman said.

But for Norway and for Reporters Without Borders, this kind of approach went too far.

Norway last week decided that RT and Sputnik should be allowed to remain on the air because they “do not pose a threat to the fundamental interests of society”, said Culture Minister Anette Trettebergstuen.

EU states “banned media broadcasting Russian propaganda in the context of the invasion of Ukraine… without an appropriate legal framework”, Reporters Without Borders said.

And this “risks being a pretext for retaliatory actions against European media”, he said.

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