The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), today announced its participation in “Safety Net for European Journalists”, a project creating “A Transnational Support Network for Media Freedom in Italy and Southeast Europe”.
SEEMO’s partners on the project are the Rovereto, Italy-based Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso (OBC), part of the Fondazione Opera Campana dei Caduti; the Rome-based Ossigeno per L’Informazione; and Dr. Eugenia Siapera of Dublin City University.
As part of the project – which is financed by a grant from the European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology – SEEMO on Feb. 1 began monitoring and documenting in detail press freedom violations in Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, the Republic of Macedonia – Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Turkey. Ossigeno on Feb. 1 began similar efforts in Italy.
In addition to a special annual report, SEEMO plans to publish a practical manual advising journalists how to respond to threats and press freedom violations. SEEMO also will organise a public presentation of the initial results of its monitoring during the South East Europe Media Forum, currently slated to take place in Skopje in October, and, starting at the end of April, plans to present on its website regular updates on project-related developments.
“OBC and its partners work together to establish a truly transnational public sphere, starting from the grass-roots and involving European citizens to discuss issues that are fundamental for democracy in our continent, like media freedom,” Luisa Chiodi, OBC’s scientific director, said. “With an innovative approach, we want to overcome the EU democratic deficit, strengthen the European political project and contribute to a citizens’ Europe.”
SEEMO and Ossigeno representatives stressed the importance of the project.
“In the first 37 days of 2014 Ossigeno recorded in Italy 73 intimidations of journalists, cameramen, bloggers and writers,” Ossigeno representative Rossella Ricchiuti said. “The data shows a 100 percent increase compared to 2012 and 2013, during which an average of one intimidation a day was recorded. With the latest episodes, the count of journalists who are victims of intimidations, threats and/or abuses since 2006 and held by Ossigeno has exceeded 1700.
“The data comes from the daily monitoring carried out by [OBC] through a systematic consultation of media sources and the collection, verification and classification of inputs coming from the representative organisations of journalists, and from a rising number of reports coming directly from the interested journalists. Intimidations include threats, damages, public insults, slurs, frequent abuse of the right to file lawsuits for defamation, the use of lawsuits and claims for damages without having asked for the publication of corrections or clarifications according to the law.”
SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic labelled the state of press freedom in some of the countries covered by the project “alarming”, noting the approximately 44 journalists who remain imprisoned in Turkey and violations of the freedom expression, such as bans on websites or online content.
“In most of the countries covered by this project, we constantly have threats or attacks on journalists and we need to see legal changes,” Vujovic said. “In Montenegro and Serbia we have unsolved cases of attacks on journalists and many details connected to the killing of three journalists in Serbia and one in Montenegro still are not clear.
“There have been positive movements in Serbia, thanks to the work of a commission investigating the cases of murdered journalists, led by long-time journalist Veran Matic, but we still lack many answers. For example, this week marked 20 years since Dada Vujasinovic was killed in Serbia, but as of today no one has been arrested in connection with the case.”
Vujovic also cited a number of other recent press freedom violations in Southeast Europe, pointing out that Croatia’s criminal code still contains a provision against humiliation. The Croatian Journalist Association and SEEMO are urging the country’s Parliament to remove the provision.
On April 6, Vujovic noted, Greek police arrested Despina Kontaraki, a journalist with Eleftheros Typos, one of the country’s leading dailies in the country, and detained her for several hours after she was accused of criminal libel. The accusation was levelled against Kontaraki, publisher Aleksis Skanavis and journalist Giorgos Kouvaras after Eleftheros Typos published an article in which a politician was accused of supporting members of the far right party Golden Dawn.
“This case shows the power of a politician in Greece to silence journalists,” Vujovic commented.
In the Republic of Macedonia – FYROM, he continued, the state of media freedom has continued to worsen. In addition to constant pressure on the media by politicians and businesspersons, Vujovic said, state advertising expenditures remain extremely problematic, with many observers claiming that spending is directed only toward pro-government media outlets.
Vujovic said that SEEMO was also worried about threats against journalists and media companies and “clear press freedom violations” in Bulgaria and Romania.
Last week, the private car of Bulgarian journalist Genka Shikerova, host of the morning show on bTV, was set on fire in Sofia. The incident marked the second time that Shikerova’s car was set aflame, the first having come in last September. Vujovic said SEEMO was alarmed by the case and he urged authorities to solve it as soon as possible. He also labelled unacceptable other attacks on journalists, including a reported attack by Levski football fans on April 6.
In Romania, Vujovic recounted, a Romanian member of the European Parliament verbally attacked news channel Antena 3 during a live talk show, stating that he would shut the channel down. At the same time, the president of Romania has refused to enact adjustments made by members of parliament to the new Romanian Penal Code, which abrogate Article 276. The article makes it impossible for journalists to reveal to the public key information regarding judges’ decisions.
SEEMO called on EU institutions in Brussels to monitor more closely media developments and threats against journalists and media companies in EU member states, including Greece, Bulgaria and Romania.
“The project ‘Safety Net for European Journalists. A Transnational Support Network for Media Freedom in Italy and Southeast Europe’ is an important step for SEEMO not only to better cover press freedom violations in the countries it covers, but also to better inform the public about the strong level of self-censorship present in all of the countries covered by this project”, Vujovic said.