Veran Matic 2021

Veran Matic 2021

June 10, 2021 disabled comments

Veran Matić (1962) is Chairman of the Commission for investigating killings of journalists in Serbia established in February 2013 on his initiative and supported by the Government of Serbia. He is also founder of RTV B92 and served as the CEO of RTV B92 from its establishment in 1989 until 2019.

Photo from the police investigation immediately after the murder of Milan Pantić: area of the building where Pantic was killed.

Statement of Veran Matić, Chairman of the Commission for investigating the killings of journalists, regarding the murder of journalist Milan Pantić, 20 years later

When I speak about resolving the case of the murdered colleague, journalist Milan Pantić, in this case I find it hard to see the individual as the exclusive executor, and the concrete privatization as a motive for his liquidation. Since 2000s onwards, in all processes of privatization happening in this period of democratic changes, one could see a reflection of the state’s attitude (namely, those of its representatives holding the political power at the time) toward the citizens and society as a whole. Having in mind the predominantly negative undertone of this relation, the question arises whether that particular individual was stronger than the state at the given moment? He was clearly untouchable for that state and that government. A far greater mystery is that he is untouchable even today. He remains untouchable for the present-day state, for the state that established the Commission for investigating the killings of journalists, and therefore the murder of Milan Pantić.

That is something none of us in the Commission can come to terms with.

Should we conduct a journalistic analysis, with all the findings we have so far reached (and as a journalist, I have learned quite a bit about police work throughout this process), it is understandable to some extent how inspectors and police officers reason and how they approach and solve the most difficult cases. Admittedly, until recently I couldn’t either accept or understand that, regardless of so much information and, in my opinion, evidence – some cases (including this one) do not gain a court epilogue, i.e. do not enter court proceeding.

Material evidence is crucial. How to obtain material evidence when you have all the other segments necessary for processing? You are familiar with the motive, you know the instigators and the executors, but you can’t move forward… I have realized that the first contact with a case, or as it is professionally called – crime scene investigation, is one of the most important elements in any case, including this one. How to obtain material evidence after such an, I can freely say, amateur investigation conducted at the time of committed murder of Milan Pantić exactly twenty years ago?

Is it sufficient knowing who secretly followed Milan around the village, few days before the liquidation?
Is it sufficient knowing who was standing in front of murdered Milan’s apartment building, observing and secretly following him, and in the end, carrying out the liquidation itself?
Is it sufficient knowing the motive for the murder of Milan Pantić?
Is it sufficient knowing the name of the person who killed him, the organization, the criminal group that devised it all?
Is it possible that a powerful individual from so-called democratic government at the time, could have sent a fax to the acting judge in Kragujevac, with an order to reach a verdict as directed, so that the hearing is only a confirmation of the message received via fax and its decision, by which the economic giant, of whose privatization colleague Pantić wrote (and which stands for the direct motive for his murder), had been exempted from paying gas bills (worth $ 12 million)?

Is it sufficient if the person in the court proceeding admits to have received money to complete the initiated privatization, to have found swift codes for payment transactions for the mentioned act, damaging the state and that this person remains unconvicted in the end? (On that note, that person refused to be subjected to polygraph testing for taking part in the case of the murder of our colleague Pantić).

Is it sufficient if the acting prosecutor at the time rejects all information related to the case, abolishing all of the participants, thus even the Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime cannot, does not want or, for some other reason, is prevented to re-open it, despite additional material evidence submitted in 2013 and acquired from the witness who also testified in the prosecutor’s office?

Yes, what he wrote and what he would have written about the privatization of Cement plant Novi Popovac in Paraćin cost Milan Pantić his life. Had he been aware of the weight of this information, I wonder if he would have written about it, or if he would have hoped his actions could have contribute to the improvement of lives of those workers and region, and ultimately prosperity of Serbia? I think Milan would have written it anyway, perhaps more cautiously, but it would be written and disclosed.

Is it sufficient to identify the killer via the photograph, and the photo robot based on observations of citizens who witnessed his presence at Milan’s apartment building entrance in the evening right before the murder, still without having a court proceedings?

Unfortunately, it must be admitted that despite all these findings, we are standing still and making no progress, still hoping to find a way out of this maze. If I could, I would gladly tell you the names of all actors, but I still hope that a solution will be found for the case to be resolved. Or I, as the Chairman of the Government Commission, will propose a meeting in the upcoming period and submit a final report to the Government, in order to inform the Government of everything we have done so far. In that case, I would leave it to the Government to assess the work of the Commission.

If things remain unchanged, I don’t see what else we could do as a governmental Commission, having in mind we are soon entering the third decade since the killing of Milan Pantić. The presented, logically supported findings are convincing proof that we are close to the goal. Who, why and for what purpose is preventing the initiation of court proceedings and resolution of one of the greatest traumas of our journalism? The answer is being awaited by his family, the media and journalistic community, Serbian society and the international community. The deceased Milan deserves this answer the most, as all he did was doing his job professionally hoping to contribute to the public interest.

Veran Matić, Chairman of the Commission for investigating the killings of journalists
Belgrade, June 10th 2021

Milan Pantić (1954-2001) worked as a journalist for the daily newspaper Večernje Novosti, reporting particularly on crimes and trials from the city of Jagodina. He received telephone threats for articles he had written. He was killed on 11 June 2001 in the morning near the entrance of the building where his apartment was.

Joint call to make respect for press freedom a cornerstone of all demands towards Belarus

June 10, 2021 disabled comments

10 June 2021

The undersigned organisations are calling for the international community to make respect for press freedom a cornerstone of all demands it voices towards Lukashenka’s regime. The hijacking is yet another step in a massive attack on press freedom and should not be treated as a separate incident. Any response from the international community must be seen within the broader context and addressed as such.
Before his arrest, Raman Pratasevich was already on the wanted list for the role his media outlets played in the coverage of Belarus protests. The Telegram channel NEXTA, where he was editor-in-chief, was particularly instrumental in inspiring and maintaining the protest movement. For this, Belarusian courts added NEXTA to a list of banned “extremist materials,” while Pratasevich himself was labeled an “individual involved in extremist activity”. The case of Raman Pratasevich is unfortunately only one incident in the pattern of unspeakable repercussions against the media by the Belarusian authorities.
Since August 2020, there have been more than 550 instances of journalists being arbitrarily detained and they have spent more than 3, 000 days in jail collectively. In an attempt to silence all independent reporting, journalists have frequently been held under administrative arrest for a period of 15-30 days. At the time of writing, 28 journalists and media actors are imprisoned or under some form of detention or arrest, including two TV journalists, Daria Chultsova and Katsiaryna Andreyeva, who were sentenced in February to two years in prison for “organizing activities that violate public order”. On 25 May, seven people, including writer and prominent politician Pavel Seviarynets, blogger Zmitser Kazlou, and editor Iryna Shchasnaya, were sentenced to 4 to 7 years imprisonment.
As emphasized by the UN special rapporteur on Belarus and in the OSCE rapporteur’s report under the Moscow Mechanism, the crackdown against media workers and human rights defenders also constitutes gender-based violence. Sexual violence, including threats of rape, have been reported against these groups – especially in detention centers. There is limited evidence that the authorities intend to launch investigations into these reports. Whilst women have been at the forefront of the protests, there is systematic repression of female opposition leaders, as well as biased, sexist news coverage of their actions. Further, there is a continued trend of threats and deprivation of custodial rights as a way of silencing women protesters.
In the midst of the fallout from the hijacking of the Ryanair flight, on 24 May Lukashenka simultaneously signed new amendments to the Mass Media Law that enable further repression of independent media, and all but outlaw their activities. When the amendments come into effect, the Information Ministry will be authorized to shut down media outlets without a court order. Amendments also include a ban for news media to report live from unauthorized mass gatherings and extends the right to block and censor websites to local prosecutors. Furthermore, authorities have voiced plans to introduce ‘foreign agent’ laws copied from Russia and to punish anyone subscribing to informational resources they label ‘extremist’, in a misuse of vague anti-extremism clauses that has been growing in frequency in Belarus. Pro-government media have also been echoing such labeling in an escalating smear campaign against independent media and opposition voices.
To suppress the free flow of information further, over 20 websites have been blocked, with the biggest portal Tut.by under criminal investigation after their offices and homes of some staff were raided on the morning of 18 May. Their leadership and several staff remain in detention pending trial.
Responding to the events outlined above, therefore, requires a strong commitment to defend the space for media freedom in Belarus. Belarus’ media sector faces an existential threat at a time when news about the grave human rights violations being committed by the Belarusian state is absolutely critical, both for the public’s right to know and to contribute to international efforts to document crimes and hold the regime accountable.
Therefore, in addition to urging the immediate and unconditional release of all detained or imprisoned journalists and media actors, we urge the international community to make respect for press freedom conditional in all its demands towards Lukashenka’s administration. We call on all states to ensure that business does not continue as usual and to exert their influence to cut the economic lifeline of the regime’s authoritarian leadership.
At the same time, we also stress that comprehensive economic sanctions on any country can cause enormous hardship to civilians who are often not responsible for the actions their government takes. The international community has begun imposing sanctions on Belarus over its outrageous act. It must ensure that any additional sanctions it considers imposing are targeted specifically on Belarusian officials and their financial interests, or private entities that actively collaborate with regime officials and their repressive measures, while insulating Belarusian people from any harmful effects. Foreign businesses entering into relationships with Belarusian corporations should undertake enhanced due diligence to ensure that they are not supporting government officials or their actions – in particular, restrictions on individual freedoms, including the right to free expression.
Finally, we also urge increased support to independent media and threatened journalists in Belarus, including through the streamlining of humanitarian and relocation requests, so that they can continue their work safely and effectively. People need access to reliable information, especially during situations of crisis.
In addition, other concrete actions that can be taken by the international community include:
• Call on Belarusian officials to ensure the safety and protection of those exercising their rights to free expression, association and assembly, including those who have been detained, arrested, or charged;
• Further call for accountability for all those responsible for violations of the rights of journalists, activists, cultural figures and others subjected to excessive force, reprisals, torture and ill-treatment;
• Provide support to international accountability efforts, such as the monitoring and investigatory work of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights mandated in HRC resolution 46/20 and the recently announced International Accountability Platform for Belarus;
• Call on European countries neighboring Belarus as well as other supportive governments to improve the asylum procedures for Belarusian journalists, media workers and other dissidents to be able to quickly get to a safe place in the case of immediate danger
• and speak out on further developments related to efforts to criminalize the activities of the above-mentioned groups, including through local CSOs and journalists.

Signed

• IFEX
• ARTICLE 19
• European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
• Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
• Index on Censorship
• Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
• South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
• PEN America
• International Media Support (IMS)

Tunisia: Rights groups call on authorities to safeguard the right to independent public media

April 29, 2021 disabled comments

Journalists hold up signs reading in Arabic “fourth estate, not kneeling estate” and “journalists’ rights are not privileges”, as they demonstrate outside the headquarters of the Tunis Africa Press (TAP) news agency, in Tunis, 15 April 2021, FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images

A number of IFEX members join rights groups in welcoming the Tunisian government’s decision to rescind a controversial appointment to the country’s national news agency, Tunis Africa Press (TAP), and call on those who ordered a police attack on the agency’s journalists during a peaceful sit-in to be held accountable.

The undersigned NGOs welcome the Tunisian government’s decision to withdraw its nomination of a controversial political appointment as director general of the country’s national news agency, Tunis Africa Press (TAP), and express their support to Tunisians’ right to independent public media, committed to ethical journalism. They strongly condemn, however, the 13 April police attack on the headquarters of TAP in Tunis, during which a number of its journalists and employees were assaulted while taking part in a peaceful sit-in.

TAP journalists had been protesting the prime minister’s nomination, which the government officially withdrew on 19 April, allegedly following the “resignation” of its nominee, Kamel Ben Younes. His nomination had prompted a wave of protests among journalists and civil society groups, including denunciation by 39 local NGOs on 8 April 2021.

TAP journalists and employees ended their sit-in following the withdrawal announcement after previously emphasizing in a 6 April press release, their “outright refusal to deal” with Ben Younes as director general, due to his involvement, prior to 2011, in “violations of freedom of expression and of the press, and of union activities, and for political propaganda, benefitting the Ben Ali regime, and his current allegiance to the Ennahdha Islamic party,” which has been in power over the past ten years.

The undersigned organisations consider the police raid on this public media outlet a dangerous precedent, unseen under previous autocratic rulers; and a crime that cannot be tolerated in countries that respect human rights, especially the right to freedom of expression and a free press. They demand that those who ordered the police incursion into the premises of TAP and the assault of its journalists and employees, be brought to justice.

Furthermore, the signatory organisations believe that Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi’s initial decision to appoint journalist Kamel Ben Younes as director general of TAP, succeeding journalist Mouna Mtibaa, who was known for her independence and commitment to ethical journalism, runs counter to recommendations and proposals presented since 2011 that call for public media reform. In addition, public media organisations in Tunisia continue to be governed by laws violating international standards for freedom of expression, dating back to the autocratic regime toppled in 2011.

O
n the other hand, the below organisations express their satisfaction at the government’s announcement made in parallel to its decision regarding the deputy director general of TAP to also withdraw its decision to appoint controversial journalist Hanan Ftouhi as director of Radioo Shems FM, owned prior to 2011 by one of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s daughters.

Regardless of these positive developments, the prime minister’s attempts to make appointments seen as favourable to political allies proves once again, a lack of political will to enhance the quality of pubic media and media expropriated from the family of the previous autocratic ruler, in cooperation with professional and civil society groups that have consistently defended the right to public media free from the grip of political power and financial pressure groups in support of Tunisia’s difficult walk towards democracy.

The undersigned NGOs warn the head of the government against the risk of taking arbitrary decisions, and call on him to stop rewarding political parties that back him by allowing them to exert their undue influence on public media and other State institutions.

We demand the elaboration, in a participatory manner, of objective criteria, based on competence, independence and transparency, in order to end political appointments, likely to turn public media into partisan and government media. Such practices violate the values of pluralism in democratic countries, as well as international standards for Freedom of Expression that the Tunisian government is obligated to uphold.

Signed
Adil Soz – International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
Aliansi Jurnalis Independen/Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI)
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
ARTICLE 19
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
Bytes for All (B4A)
Foundation for Press Freedom – FLIP
Globe International Center
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
International Press Centre (IPC)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Media Watch
Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF)
Pacific Islands News Association (PINA)
Pakistan Press Foundation
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
Association histoire et mémoire commune pour la liberté
Association Attalaki pour la liberté et l’égalité
Association Citoyenneté, Développement, Cultures & Migrations Des Deux Rives
Association de solidarité civique – Tunisie
Association des femmes tunisienne pour la recherche sur le développement
Association Dissonance
Association du droit à la différence
Association Joussour de la Citoyenneté
Association tunisienne de défense des libertés individuelles
Association tunisienne de défense des valeurs universitaires
Association tunisienne des femmes démocrates
Association tunisienne pour la justice et l’égalité
Association Vigilance pour la démocratie et l’Etat civique
Association Wachm
Centre de soutien à la transition démocratique et aux droits de l’homme
Centre de Tunis pour la liberté de la presse
Comité pour le respect des libertés et des droits de l’homme en Tunisie
Euromedrights
Forum Attajdid pour la pensée progressiste
Free Sight Association
Groupe Tawhida Ben Cheikh
Initiative We Exist pour l’égalité
Intersection Association for Rights and Freedoms
L’Association Arts et Cultures des deux Rives
L’Association Tunisienne de l’Action Culturelle
La Fédération des Tunisiens pour une Citoyenneté des deux Rives
La Fondation Hassen Saadaoui pour la démocratie et l’égalité
L’association des Tunisiens en France
L’association L’ART RUE
L’association Perspectives el Amel tounsi
L’association Tunisienne de Prévention positive
Le Comité de Vigilance pour la Démocratie en Tunisie – Belgique
Ligue des électrices tunisiennes
Ligue tunisienne de défense des droits de l’homme
L’union des Tunisiens pour l’Action Citoyenne
No Peace Without Justice association
Observatoire national pour la défense du caractère civil de l’Etat
Organisation 23_10 de Soutien au Processus de la Transition Démocratique
Organisation contre la torture en Tunisie
Organisation Souvenir & fidélité
Syndicat national des journalistes tunisiens
Tunisian forum for youth

Armenien 2021

April 10, 2021 disabled comments

ARMENIEN UND DIE RECHTEN
in der Götterdämmerung des alpendeutschen Abendlandes
von Herbert Maurer

Die paar abstrusen rechten Gestalten, die da in Corona-Zeiten in Simmering auf und abgehen oder sich am Heldenplatz zusammenrotten, versuchen nach und nach in größeren Zusammenhängen skandierend zu denken. Das „chinesische Virus“ und der Umgang der Regierungen mit der Pandemie sowie den Auswirkungen derselben auf die Volksgesundheit, ist für die eine oder andere Hausfrau mit ihrem biertrinkenden Mann im Schlepptau die Einübung in eine weltpolitische Dimension des rechten Denkens.
So haben es die gescheiteren Gescheiterten unter ihnen, die Intellektuellen der Inneren Partei gerne, auf ihre „Prolos“ (Orwell) ist Verlass. Verschwörungstheorien sind gut für den Kreislauf und bringen das Blut in Wallung. Keine Maske zu tragen, das bedeutet auch mehr Sauerstoff und lässt den Intellekt der Biertrinker zur Hochform auflaufen. Längst ist nicht mehr nur von Vaszinen die Rede, es geht um den bevorstehenden Untergang des Abendlandes. Unter Anleitung der Vordenker der Inneren Partei (Orwell) erweitert sich der Horizont über Simmering hinaus bis in den Kaukasus, einer der letzten Bastionen des christlichen Abendlandes, bedroht und belagert von türkischen Horden und Islamisten Söldnertrupps.

Trauriger Kulturkampf

Diese martialische Definition von Kulturkampf trifft vor allem auf das traurige Schicksal der Armenier zu, der ersten christlichen Nation der Welt. Diese befinden sich tatsächlich in einem Kulturkampf, weil es um die Rettung ihrer Existenz geht, um die Bewahrung ihrer Kultur, die jedoch – und hier irren die Rechtsradikalen aus Simmering – eben nicht martialisch ist, sondern christlichen Traditionen wie Toleranz oder menschenfreundlicher Intelligenz geprägt ist, den Tugenden und Werten der „Weicheier“, wie die Retter des Abendlandes im fernen, Corona-geknechteten „Altreich“ konstatieren. Bisher ist es für die Armenier im aktuellen Karabach-Konflikt tatsächlich blöd gelaufen, was hatten die Nachfahren des sagenumwobenen Stammvaters „Hayk“, der älter ist als jeder „Tuisco“ oder cheruskische Hermann den islamistischen Horden auch schon entgegenzusetzen? Ausgerechnet von den Russen, diesem minderwertigen slawischen Volk mussten sie sich retten lassen. Für die österreichischen Rechten, ob für die Prolos oder die Mitglieder der Inneren Partei ist das naturgemäß ein Skandal und ein weiterer Hinweis auf den Untergang des Abendlandes, der nicht mehr nur bevorsteht, sondern längst im Gange ist – groteskerweise haben sich jetzt auch ein paar fundamentalistische Opus-Dei-Jünger und konservative Anthroposophen hinzugesellt. Derselben Meinung sind sogar die von den arischen Rechten unter ihre Fittiche genommenen Kleinslawen (Tschechen, Polen etc.), die ja auch ihre Probleme mit den großslawischen Russen hatten und haben und als nationale Entität ebenso kleindimensioniert sind wie die Armenier, die am äußersten Rand, an der vordersten Front des untergehenden Abendlandes gerade noch existieren. So ist der Existenzkampf der ur- oder proto-arischen Armenier ein Fanal und exemplarisch für die rechtsintellektuellen Internationalisten unter den hanebüchenen und viel zu kurz zum Beispiel gegen Kanzler Kurz denkenden Simmeringer Prolos.

Die Feinde der Feinde

Der Feind des Abendlandes ist eben nicht ein scheinheiliger christlich-sozialer Bundeskanzler mitten im Stimmbruch (O-Ton in Burschenschafterkreisen), der Feind, in größeren Dimensionen gedacht, ist der menschen- und kulturverachtende Islamismus. Schön und gut, das mag wohl stimmen der islamistische Stumpfsinn ist ja im wahrsten Sinn des Wortes tödlich. Was aber wird von den rechten Recken oder den listigeren Denksportlern und Rhetorik-Freaks als Alternative angeboten? Offizielle Vertreter der AfD bieten den Armeniern Söldnerkontingente an und beteiligen sich an der chauvinistischen Aufrüstung der vom Christentum verweichlichten Blutsbrüder im heiligen „Haystan“, dem Land des Hayk. Der Vorteil ist, und das beruhigt auch die Prolos in Simmering, dass ihre Führer und Vordenker, selbst die aus kleinslawischem Geblüt (Hojac, Nawratil und wie sie alle heißen) immer recht haben, und das kommt ja, gemäß dem Hausfrauenverstand der Corona-Revoluzzer, von „Rechts“. Hinzu kommt, fast nebenbei, dass man mit dem Stichwort „Türkenbelagerung“ bei den Armeniern in offenen Wunden rührt. Somit können Sie sich der ritterlichen Faschisten oder Austrofaschisten kaum erwehren, die sie nach ihrer Facon retten wollen.

Stolz und Witz

Bevor diese rassistischen, zum Teil mafiosen Strömungen höhere Wellen zu schlagen begonnen hatten, in der ersten Zeit der von der Sowjetunion unabhängig gewordenen Republik ab 1990, hatte eine ausgleichende Nachbarschaftspolitik auf vernünftiger wirtschaftspolitischer Basis für Armenier in dieser sensiblen Kaukasus-Region ganz gut zu funktionieren begonnen. Die deutschen Kreuzritter mit ihrer Simmeringer Rhetorik kippen aber dann doch – „Gott sei Dank“ – und „sub specie aeterntatis“ oft wieder ins Lächerliche und fallen immer wieder von ihren deutschen Hengsten und Stuten im Trachtenanzug, das bleibt auch weiterhin zu hoffen, um ein Mindestmaß an Zivilisation und Menschenverstand am Leben zu erhalten. Die Armenier haben schon vieles mit dem ihnen eigenen Stolz und Witz überlebt, hoffentlich auch den Ansturm des ritterlichen Stumpfsinns aus dem christlichen Abendland. Immerhin gehört die Heilige Corona als Patronin des Geldes, der Metzger und Schatzgräber ja der ganzen Christenheit.

HERBERT MAURER
geboren 1965 in Wien, studierte Sprachwissenschaften in Venedig, Köln, Bilbao, Jerusalem und Jerevan. Seine Romane, Gedichte, Theaterstücke, Essays und Übersetzungen sind in deutschen, österreichischen und armenischen Verlagen erschienen. Maurer arbeitet auch für Zeitschriften (LETTRE, Die Presse, Wiener Zeitung, Lichtungen, Literatur und Kritik, INTERNATIONAL etc.) sowie fürs Radio und als Dolmetscher, Vortragender und Moderator. Er wurde mit dem Rheingau-Literaturpreis ausgezeichnet und ist Träger der Franz-Werfel-Medaille.
Eine kurze Werkauswahl:
Gnädige Frau oder die Kunst des Tiefschlafs (Erzählungen, Wieser)
Ein Rabenflug (Roman, Wieser)
Venetia (Erzählungen, Eichborn)
Beata, Beatae … (Gedichte, Thanhäuser)
Pannonias Zunge (Roman, Berlin Verlag)
Bitte Regen (neue armenische Literatur, Wieser)
Und Gott spricht Armenisch (Essays, Klever)
Über den Tod (Essays, Ibera)
Byron schwimmt … (Roman, Klever)
Lebendig Sein (mit Martin Salzer) … (Ibera-Verlag)
Himmlisch trauern (B&B – Verlag)
Ästhetik des Abstands (Sonderzahl – demnächst)
www.herbertmaurer.at

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Press freedom groups condemn confirmed conviction of Montenegrin investigative journalist

March 31, 2021 disabled comments

The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) joins leading press freedom and journalists’ organisations in strongly condemning the decision by the Court of Appeals to reject Jovo Martinović’s appeal and uphold the first instance verdict of the High Court in Podgorica which convicted Martinovic to 12 months of prison.


While he will not be imprisoned due to time already spent behind bars, Jovo Martinović will have a criminal record, solely due to his journalism. The undersigned organisations condemn the verdict and regret that the Court of Appeals has not seized the opportunity to acquit the internationally awarded journalist and send a message of support to investigative journalism in Montenegro.

Martinović was convicted for violating the Criminal Code of Montenegro relating to the creation of a criminal organisation, as well as illicit production, possession and distribution of narcotics. While he did set up a meeting with defendants over the filming of smuggled weapons in France, he did so for journalistic purposes. We believe that throughout the detention and subsequent trial, his rights to a fair trial have been violated. Prior to his arrest on 22 October 2015, Martinović had already been held in custody for almost 15 months before being finally freed, provisionally.

A retrial formally began on 2 December 2019 and on 8 October 2020, the High Court of Montenegro sentenced Martinović to one year in prison for participating in drug trafficking. He was acquitted on charges for membership in a criminal organization. Yesterday, while Martinović’s appeal was rejected, an appeal brought by the state calling for these charges to be reinstated was also rejected. This offers little solace either to Jovo Martinović or other investigative journalists who can read the ongoing judicial persecution as an attempt to dissuade and chill reporting of corruption and organised crime in Montenegro. Investigative journalism is not a crime and should not be treated as such by the Montenegrin authorities.

In 2019, the Court of Appeals returned the case against Jovo for a retrial precisely due to lack of evidence against the journalist. The undersigned organisations highlight the continued absence of evidence that would justify a conviction. This further highlights a fundamental flaw in yesterday’s verdict. While Jovo Martinović will not be imprisoned, this politically motivated judicial persecution is an attack on investigative journalism and a damning indictment of media freedom in Montenegro.

There remain few precedents for this level of judicial persecution aimed at an investigative journalist in the Balkans and Europe more broadly and highlights a significant failure for the rule of law, which remains important as Montenegro is seeking ascension to the European Union. In a 2020 report, the European Commission, highlighted that while there are legal guarantees in place to protect judicial independence, the system is still “vulnerable to political interference”. To ensure this situation does not continue and to build trust in the judicial system, these guarantees need to be strengthened as a priority.

The undersigned organisations condemn the Court of Appeals’ verdict and stand in solidarity with Jovo Martinović and all investigative journalists in Montenegro. We call on Montenegrin authorities and courts to work in line with their commitment to media freedom and European standards, as part of their commitment to the ascension process for the European Union, to ensure Martinović is not further criminalised or persecuted for his journalism.

Signed:
ARTICLE 19
Centre for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro (CIN-CG)
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
Free Press Unlimited
International Press Institute (IPI)
OBC Transeuropa
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
Trade Union of Media of Montenegro

Letter re smear campaign against KRIK

March 24, 2021 disabled comments

Aleksandar Vučić, President of Serbia
Ana Brnabić, Prime Minister of Serbia

CC: Officials members of the Working Group for the Security and Protection of Journalists:
Dejan Stojanović, Ministry of Culture, Head of the Working Group
Mladen Basic, Prime Minister’s Office
Ana Miletic, Prime Minister’s Office
Branko Stamenković, Deputy Public Prosecutor
Zoran Pašalić, Ombudsman
Nenad Stefanovic, President of the Association of Judges and Prosecutors
Dejan Eraković, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Slobodan Malešić, Ministry of Interior Affairs
Miroslav Gačević, Ministry for European Integration
Jovan Ćosić, Ministry of Justice

CC:
Olivér Várhelyi, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement
Věra Jourová, European Commission, Vice-President for Values and Transparency
Sem Fabrizi, Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union to Serbia
David Casa MEP and Ramona Strugariu MEP, Co-Chairs of European Parliament Media
Working Group
Tanja Fajon MEP, Chair, European Parliament Delegation for relations with Serbia
Vladimir Bilčik MEP, European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs Standing
Rapporteur for Serbia
Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights
Irene Khan, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of
freedom of opinion and expression
Teresa Ribeiro, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media
Jan Braathu, Ambassador and Head of OSCE Mission to Serbia

Sent electronically

24 March 2021

Dear President Vučić,
Dear Prime Minister Brnabić,

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and partners are writing to condemn the lack of resolute government response to the smear campaign against independent news outlet KRIK. We reiterate our call on the Serbian authorities to take the necessary steps to put a stop to this ongoing threat against these and other independent outlets in
Serbia, as well as to sanction such discrediting tactics and threats by all institutional means possible. This is more necessary now than ever, following reports that five of thenine non-state members of the Working Group for the Security and Protection of Journalists have stepped down from the group just three months after its establishment
due to the state’s apparent unwillingness to engage with this important threat.

The MFRR and its partners have previously condemned the smear campaign and called
for action to ensure the situation does not escalate. We pointed out that the publication
of baseless claims linking KRIK to prominent criminals puts them at risk, and we stressed that pro-government media should not be used to further polarisation or to target independent outlets. We fear that, in a climate of endemic impunity for attacks against journalists, this smear campaign, if left unchecked, could invite further threats and acts of violence against KRIK and provide cover for police interference and persecution.

Instead of unequivocally defending journalists, the representatives of the ruling party SNS have continued to attack them. This has had significant implications for the Serbian Government’s commitment to media freedom and the protection of at-risk journalists and media workers. The Working Group, which was established to facilitate coordinated action between relevant state bodies and media outlets, journalist associations and unions to respond to emergent threats to journalists and media workers, can only function as intended when all parties contribute fully and state bodies commit to meaningful action. A breakdown represents not just a failure of the Working Group, but can also actively undermine the media’s trust in the state’s commitment to journalists’ safety and media freedom more broadly.

The key findings of an MFRR fact-finding mission conducted in January and February 2021, led by ARTICLE 19 in cooperation with the Independent Journalists’ Association of
Serbia (NUNS), show alarming numbers of verbal and physical attacks and harassment against journalists often perpetrated by public authorities, in particular politicians and police. These threats are often followed by coordinated smear campaigns and online harassment. Accountability for these attacks is insufficient despite the existence of numerous mechanisms at governmental level aimed at enhancing the work of police and prosecutors to investigate violence against journalists and cooperate with media associations and journalists’ organisations.

The decision of five organisations to step back from the Working Group should not be dismissed out of hand. Without their involvement, the legitimacy and efficacy of the Working Group can no longer be guaranteed. The Serbian Government should work to address all concerns in an open and transparent manner. As outlined in the Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the protection of
journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors (CM/Rec(2016)4), any mechanism focused on the protection of journalists and media workers “should be subject to meaningful civil society oversight”. This oversight is now severely damaged, raising legitimate questions as to the ability of the Working Group to continue functioning as envisaged.

We call on the Serbian authorities to meaningfully engage with journalists and media workers, journalists’ associations and unions, and civil society and to implement itscommitments to improve the safety of journalists, media workers and outlets. This includes a full-throated high-level condemnation of the smear campaign against KRIK and other independent outlets in Serbia and immediately undertaking all necessary steps to stop and sanction these discrediting tactics and threats by all institutional means possible.

Signed:

ARTICLE 19
Committee to Protect Journalists
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
Free Press Unlimited
International Press Institute (IPI)
OBC Transeuropa
Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

Bahrain: Open letter to Danish Prime Minister to take immediate action to free Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja

March 10, 2021 disabled comments

Bahrain: Open letter to Danish Prime Minister to take immediate action to free Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja

As prominent human rights defender Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja completes his tenth year in prison, over 100 rights organisations call for his immediate release.

22 January 2021

Dear Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen,

We the undersigned, more than 100 organisations from around the world, are appealing for your assistance to secure the release of prominent human rights defender and dual Danish-Bahraini citizen Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja from prison in Bahrain, where he is serving a life sentence for his peaceful political and human rights activities in violation of his right to freedom of expression. As he completes the tenth year of his imprisonment, we appeal to you directly as head of the Government of Denmark to renew and strengthen efforts to ensure his immediate and unconditional release so he can be reunited with his family and receive much needed medical treatment and torture rehabilitation in Denmark.

An internationally-recognised human rights defender, Al-Khawaja is the co-founder of both the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), for which he was also the former President, and he worked as MENA Protection Coordinator for Front Line Defenders from 2008 until early 2011.

He was arrested on 9 April 2011 for his role in organising peaceful protests to defend people’s rights and to demand political reform during the popular movement which began in February 2011. Security forces violently arrested Al-Khawaja, as detailed in a report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), published in November 2011 at the request of the Bahraini king. It says, “Immediately after the arrest, the detainee received a hard blow to the side of his face, which broke his jaw and knocked him to the ground. He was taken to the Ministry of Interior (MoI) clinic and then the Bahrain Defence Forces (BDF) Hospital where he had major jaw surgery for four broken bones in his face.” Al-Khawaja was subjected to additional severe physical, psychological and sexual torture in detention (as described in the BICI report, as Case No. 8.)

Security officers tortured Al-Khawaja directly after his major jaw surgery, while blindfolded and restrained to a military hospital bed, which forced the doctor to ask the security officers to stop as it would undo the surgical work. Almost ten years later he still suffers from chronic pain and requires additional surgery to remove the metal plates and screws that were used to reattach his jaw. Despite continuous requests, including through Danish diplomats, his medical records were not shared with the family for a second opinion and recently the authorities claimed that the records had “gone missing”.

In June 2011, Al-Khawaja was sentenced to life imprisonment following unfair trials in courts that did not comply with Bahraini criminal law or international fair trial standards.

In a recent call, Al-Khawaja listed four concerns, including that prison authorities placed restrictions on phone calls with his family whom he hasn’t seen in person since January 2020 due to Covid-19, and confiscated hundreds of his books and reading materials. He also stated that prison authorities are arbitrarily denying him proper medical treatment and refusing to refer him to specialists for surgeries he requires. Denying a prisoner adequate medical care violates the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules.

Finally, Al-Khawaja continues to protest his arbitrary detention. Since his arrest, Al-Khawaja has undertaken six hunger strikes (of liquids only), including one lasting 110 days in 2012, to protest conditions in Jau Prison and his unjust imprisonment. Shortly after his arrest, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Al-Khawaja’s arrest is arbitrary, as it resulted from his exercise of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, and called for his release.

In March 2020, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Bahrain released 1,486 prisoners, 901 of whom received royal pardons on “humanitarian grounds.” However, Al-Khawaja and other prominent human rights defenders and activists – many of whom are older and/or suffer from underlying medical conditions – were not among those released.

We appreciate the efforts of Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, who supported resolutions at the European Parliament when he was a member, in 2014 and 2017, calling for Al-Khawaja, as well as other human rights defenders detained in Bahrain as a result of their peaceful and legitimate human rights work, to be freed.

Today, we the undersigned organisations appeal to you personally to facilitate negotiations between your government and the government of Bahrain to secure the immediate and unconditional freedom of a Danish citizen who has been unjustly detained for almost a decade so that he can receive proper medical treatment and be reunited with his family.

Sincerely,

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
ARTICLE 19
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Bytes for All (B4A)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
Free Media Movement
Globe International Center
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Human Rights Watch
Independent Journalism Center (IJC)
Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkey
International Press Centre (IPC)
Maharat Foundation
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Media Watch
Pacific Islands News Association (PINA)
PEN Canada
PEN International
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
ACAT – Belgium (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture)
ACAT – Česká Republika (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture)
ACAT – Germany (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture)
ACAT – Italy (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture)
ACAT – Luxembourg (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture)
ACAT – Spain-Catalonia (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture)
ACAT – Switzerland (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture)
ACAT – UK (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture)
ACAT – USA (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture)
Access Center for Human Rights (ACHR)
Aflami
Al-Haq
Al-Marsad-Arab Human Rights Centre in Golan Heights
Amman Center for Human Rights Studies (ACHRS)
Amnesty International
Arab Women Organization of Jordan
Bahrain Human Rights Society
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
Bahrain Press Association
Botswana Centre for Human Rights (DITSHWANELO)
Btselem
CARAM Asia
Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)
Center for Rights and Development (CEDAL) – Peru
CIVICUS
Civil Society Institute – Armenia
Citizen Observatory – Chile
CODESA – Western Sahara
Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) – UK
Committee for Legal Action (CAL) – Chile
Community Development Services (CDS)
Community Media Forum Europe (CMFE)
Czech League of Human Rights
Dakhla Bay Network for Association Work & Development
Danish PEN
Ecological Action – Ecuador
English PEN
European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
Finnish League for Human Rights
Freedom Now – Morocco
Front Line Defenders
German PEN Center
Global Focus
Hellenic League for Human Rights
Human Rights Association (IHD) – Turkey
Human Rights Foundation of Turkey
Human Rights Sentinel
HUMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement
Innovation for Change – Middle East and North Africa Hub
INREDH – Ecuador
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
International Media Support (IMS)
International Organisation for Women Detainees
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Iraqi Al-Amal Association
Iraqi Journalists Rights Defence Association
Iraqi Network for Social Media – INSM Network
Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR)
Iraqi Observatory for Press Freedoms
José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective (CAJAR) – Colombia
Lao Movement for Human Rights
Latvian Human Rights Committee
Legal Action Committee (CAJ) – Argentina
MENA Prison Forum
Metro Center for Journalists Rights and Advocacy
Moroccan Association for Human Rights
Mwatana for Human Rights
National Commission for Human Rights, Dominican Republic (CNDH-RD)
National Human Rights Movement (MNDH) – Brazil
National Forum of Human Rights
No Borders Humanity Organization (NBH)
Nophotozone
Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Pariwartan Sanchar Samuha
PAX for Peace
PEN Iraq
Portuguese League for Human Rights – Civitas
Protection Organization for Digital Rights
Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies (RCHRS)
Rays of Hope Support Initiative
Rural Media Network Pakistan
Sisters’ Arab Forum for Human Rights
Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Researches
Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH)
Wlad Al-Bilad Network for Development
World Human Rights Forum
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Yemen Organizations for Defending Rights & Democratic Freedoms
Yemeni Institute for Strategic Affairs

A global call for the UN Security Council to act against the killing of journalists in Afghanistan

March 10, 2021 disabled comments

People attend the funeral ceremony of Malalai Maiwand, a journalist at Enikass Radio and TV in Nangarhar, after she was killed along with her driver in an attack on their vehicle in Jalalabad, capital of the eastern province of Nangarhar, on December 10, 2020 in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. (Photo by Wali Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

In a letter to the UNSC and UNAMA, civil society organisations from around the globe highlight the wave of journalist killings in Afghanistan and urge them to act now.

Dear permanent and elected members of the UN Security Council and Deborah Lyons, Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan

Your Excellencies,

The Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC) and undersigned civil society organizations, dedicated to the defense and promotion of free expression and the safety of journalists, are deeply concerned by the torrent of targeted killings of journalists in Afghanistan since early 2020. These attacks have had a devastating impact on Afghanistan’s vulnerable civic space, press freedom, and related democratic rights, and we write to urge you to take immediate action.

AFJC’s press freedom tracker has documented 11 journalists and media workers who have been killed in Afghanistan since the peace deal was signed between the United States and Taliban in February 2020. Most of these journalists were deliberately targeted for their work, which underscores the lack of effective human rights protections in the country. Among the eight journalists are TV presenter Malala Maiwand, who was killed on Human Rights Day on December 10, 2020 with her driver, freelance photojournalist Rahmatullah Nikzad, who was killed in Ghazni province on December 21, 2020, and Besmillah Adel Aimaq, a radio journalist who was killed in Central Ghor province on January 1, 2021.

Media freedom and freedom of expression are human rights recognized under international legal conventions that Afghanistan is a party to, as well as domestic law. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protects the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, while enforcement of Afghan Media Laws ensuring the security of journalists and media outlets is a fundamental responsibility of the Afghan government. Although some efforts have been made by the government to protect and uphold these rights, they have not been sufficient to prevent violations, and prosecute the perpetrators of violence against journalists. The Afghan government has made repeated pledges to ensure the security of Afghan civilians, yet there remains a culture of impunity for those responsible for carrying out targeted killings of journalists.

In response to this failure, AFJC and 200 journalists published a letter in July 2020 to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and called on the government to end this worrying trend. Likewise, in December 2020, an EU delegation representing 8 EU member states plus Australia, Canada, the NATO Mission to Afghanistan, Norway, the United Kingdom and the U.S. Mission based in Kabul condemned the targeted and unlawful attacks on representatives of the media and called on the state to investigate and prosecute those who target these individuals with violence and immediately end impunity for killings.

We believe that strong and concerted political action from the United Nations Security Council and increased support from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan are now essential, given their interest in a peaceful transition and the role that a free press plays in this endeavour. Targeting journalists creates a societal ripple effect of fear and censorship and deprives the public of crucial information about the peace process. Therefore, we request that the UN Security Council stand against the ongoing impunity for attacks against journalists in Afghanistan.

We, the undersigned organizations, call on the United Nations Security Council and UNAMA to support the media community by calling on all parties to stop violence against journalists in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2222 (2015) and other established UN standards for the protection of journalists in conflicts and warzones. Among these are the 2012 UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which also calls for the need to “strengthen provisions for the safety of journalists in conflict zones” (paragraph 5.24).

With these calls to action in mind, and in light of the distinctive threats faced by journalists outlined above, the Council should:

• Use every diplomatic power at their disposal to ensure the protection of press freedom and the safety of journalists and media workers as a group of civilians under the imminent threat of physical violence in Afghanistan today and in the event that the peace deal results in a new political settlement;

• Intensify efforts to protect journalists in Afghanistan, in particular working together with the government to take serious actions to end impunity and pressure the perpetrators to cease targeting journalists;

• Scrutinize and reconsider international financial support to the Afghan government, to ensure meaningful commitments to protect media freedom and the rule of law.

• Encourage the international community to offer and strengthen practical and accessible support to threatened journalists and media workers, such as safe passage, refuge and medical assistance where necessary

Signed,

Media Freedom in Poland, Hungary and Slovenia

March 9, 2021 disabled comments

Statement to Members of the European Parliament ahead of the March 10 debate: ‘Government’s attempt to silence free media in Poland and in Hungary’

Dear Members of the European Parliament,
Article 11 of the European Union’s Charter on Fundamental Rights is under threat as media freedom and media pluralism deteriorates alarmingly in Hungary and Poland.
Over the past decade, Fidesz has perfected the process of state capture of media. Through the misuse of legislative, regulatory and administrative tools it has muzzled critical media while building a vast array of government cheerleaders that dominate the national media landscape.
The failure of the EU to act has emboldened the Hungarian government and now Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) government is cherry-picking elements of the Hungarian model to fit the Polish system.
The model of media capture is a subtle, complex and direct threat to the public’s right to know. It is carried out through indirect means or formally independent bodies, providing governments with plausible deniability when accused of dismantling of media freedom.
Yet the effects are clear. Independent journalism is under unprecedented threat as the two governments distort and reshape the media market to their advantage, with damaging implications for both media freedom and democracy in Europe.
Similar developments are also apparent in Slovenia where the SDS government is attacking public service media and stoking hostility towards critical journalists whilst backed up by a media operation with significant investments from Fidesz linked companies.
The EU has sat on the sidelines for too long. Repeated inaction to stop the undermining of media freedom and pluralism first in Hungary, and then in Poland, has allowed this model of media capture to grow and spread to other Member States. The cost of further inaction is simply too high. It is time for the European Commission to act.

In particular we call upon the commission to
– Open investigations into the two complaints brought against the Hungarian government by Mertek Media Monitor, former MEP Benedek Javor and Klubradió for breach of EU state aid rules.

1. Complaint No. 53108 from 2019 on the abuse and discriminatory application of state advertising to starve independent outlets and reward pro-government outlets in breach of EU Article 107 TFEU
2. Complaint 45463 from 2016 on the anti-competitive mode of funding the public broadcaster which acts as a state broadcaster.

– Investigate the measures taken against Budapest’s Klubrádió, and to examine if the ruling not to renew the broadcast licence broke EU law on non-discrimination and proportionality.

– Investigate the use of Poland’s state-controlled oil company, PKN Orlen, to purchase private media and to monitor its impact on media pluralism and editorial independence

– Strengthen powers of the European Commission to protect media pluralism and independence, whether through strengthening the Rule of Law mechanism or the European Democracy Action Plan

– Support the development of an anti-SLAPP directive to protect media against abusive lawsuits such as those used in Poland against Gazeta Wyborcza and other independent media outlets.

– Ensure that EU recovery funds are not abused by governments to further their capture of media by unduly rewarding their supporters at the expense of independent media

Signatures
Association of European Journalists (AEJ-Belgium)

ARTICLE 19

Committee to Protect Journalists

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom

European Federation of Journalists

Free Press Unlimited

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Index on Censorship

International Media Support

International Press Institute

Mertek Media Monitor

OBC Transeuropa

PEN International

Reporters Without Borders

Slovene Association of Journalists

Society of Journalists (Warsaw)

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

ANNEX
Summary of Recent Developments in Poland and Hungary damaging media pluralism
In Poland
– Independent media organised a news blackout in protest against a new tax on advertising revenue that would strike independent media harshest.

– In December, the state-controlled oil company PKN Orlen took over German-owned Polska Press, giving it indirect control over 20 regional dailies, 120 weekly magazines and 500 online portals across the country and access to an estimated 7.4 million readers in the run up to 2023 local elections

– In November, PKN Orlen purchased the newspaper distribution company Ruch, a network of 1,300 newspaper kiosks

– Government allies have launched a stream of vexatious lawsuits against independent and investigative media, including over 50 against liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza

– State advertising funds have been withdrawn from independent media, further draining revenue, and redirected to finance a bubble of pro-government media.

– In 2020 Gazeta Wyborcza was the only newspaper to be entirely excluded from the government’s Covid-19 public health campaign, denying the newspaper revenue and its hundreds of thousands of readers access to important health information

– Meanwhile plans for the ‘repolonisation’ and ‘deconcentration’ of media in the name of creating grater pluralism are, in reality, covers for the dismantling of independent media companies which can then bought by pro-government business allies or state enterprises.

– Without assertive action, we are likely to see the wholesale withdrawal of independent investors (including foreign investors) in Polish media, as has taken place in Hungary, as a direct result of discriminatory government practice

In Hungary

– Last month the government-controlled Media Council blocked the broadcast license renewal of the country’s last independent radio station in Budapest, Klubrádió, following a ten-year campaign to silence it. The media regulator responsible for the decision is populated solely by Fidesz party appointees and has a track record of decisions that discriminate against independent media

– In August, there were mass resignations from the largest independent online news portal, Index.hu, following the firing of the editor-in-chief, who had raised the alarm its independence was under threat from external pressure and Fidesz-linked investors

– In April, Hungary introduced a law criminalizing disinformation enabling the jailing of journalists for up to five years. Given that all critical media are regularly labelled sources of ‘disinformation’ by the government, the chilling effect on journalism was immediate

– Over the past decade, through its abuse of state advertising and media regulatory decisions to create a level of media pluralism in which 80% of the market for political and public affairs news is ‘financed by sources decided by the ruling party’

In Slovenia

– Since returning to power, the country’s Prime Minister has used Twitter to launch a litany of attacks on multiple journalists and media outlets, discrediting, demeaning and denigrating critical reporters and dismissing challenging reporting as “fake news”. The PM has also launched multiple attacks on the country’s public broadcaster Radiotelevizija Slovenija, even accusing it of trying to “overthrow” his government, enabling a worrying rise in online harassment of media

-In November 2020, the Slovenian Government Communication Office (UKOM) announced it had suspended the financing of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) over a contract dispute. Press freedom groups criticised the suspension as politically motivated and part of a wider effort to undermine and stigmatise the country’s public service media

– In late February 2021, UKOM announced that it had suspended STA’s financing for the second time in three months, a move the Slovenian Journalists’ Association described as yet another attempt by UKOM and its director Uroš Urbanija to destabilize the agency through financial pressure

– In July 2020, the Ministry of Culture proposed draft amendments that would significantly alter three media laws, initially giving only five days for a public consultation. If passed, the amendments would financially weaken the public broadcaster and allow far greater government control over the management of the STA, sparking concerns the changes would pave the way for increased political interference

– In October 2020, the third largest media company in Slovenia, Planet TV, was sold to Hungarian pro-government media company TV2 Media, in a deal that intensified concern over its future independence as well as the increasing influence of the Fidesz party in the Slovenian media market