Written by Alina Dobreva,
Press freedom is not just about media and journalists. It concerns every citizen. The media industry is not just another ‘business as usual’. It plays a crucial role as a platform for every social group to express itself, to provide every citizen with access to information so that they can participate fully in political processes and make informed choices. In 1993, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 3 May as World Press Freedom Day, celebrating the fundamental principles of press freedom, media pluralism and independence. It is a day to pay tribute to journalists who risk – and even lose – their lives, to reflect on the level of media freedom across the world, to flag up existing violations and challenges, as well as strategies to overcome them.
In the EU, freedom of speech, which is crucial for media freedom, is protected as a fundamental human right. It is enshrined in the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, this freedom is not unlimited as it coexists with other fundamental freedoms. Therefore, citizens and especially journalists need to observe moral and legal responsibilities related to crime prevention, protection of health, privacy, reputation, refraining from inciting violence, and avoiding hate speech.
Media freedom needs to be constantly monitored and protected. Standards are gradually evolving, together with our standards for democracy. Many indices contribute to these efforts and despite their various methodologies and particular focus, their conclusions largely overlap. The Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders and the work done by the Committee to Protect Journalists focus on the safety of journalists. These are considered to be the minimum standards and EU countries usually score very well (exceptions are mostly related to harassment of journalists and working conditions). The Media Sustainability Index by the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX) explores mostly economic aspects of media practices in some countries, including the EU Member States, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia (Bulgaria ranking worst amongst these Member States due to a rise in violent attacks against journalists and a radical increase in corporate and political propaganda). Indices with broader scope and popularity are the Freedom of the Press Index by Freedom House and the Media Development Indicators by UNESCO. Despite the continuous support for press freedom in the EU, the latest Freedom House report still outlines challenges in a number of EU countries with the worst scores given to Greece (overall score of 48 (0 being the best and 100 being the worst score) with concerns especially regarding political independence and also the legislative environment), Croatia (overall score of 42 with special concerns regarding the political and economic environments), Hungary, and Bulgaria (overall score of 40 for each of the countries).
As part of the EU support for media freedom and pluralism, the European Parliament provides funding for a Media Pluralism Monitor, conducted by the European University Institute. After its pilot tests in 2014 and 2015, the monitor is currently being applied for the first time to all EU Member States. At the end of 2016, it will provide a rich report on the risks to media freedom and pluralism across the Union, analysing the basic legal protection, market plurality and economic viability, political independence and social inclusiveness.