The coronavirus crisis has highlighted not only the importance of reliable news and information and the crucial role played by independent media, but also their fragility. Germany is assuming the rotating presidency at a key moment for the future of journalism and the media in Europe.
Media funding and sustainability
The Council meeting of 17 and 18 July and the coming weeks will see decisive negotiations among member states about the EU budget for the next seven years (2021-2027), known as the multiannual financial framework (MFF), and about the proposed coronavirus recovery package.
The level of MFF funding that the Commission originally proposed for the “Creative Europe” programme, which includes support for media and journalism, has been cut. It needs instead to be increased significantly, in part because of the effects of the coronavirus crisis.
RSF additionally requests the creation a support fund to help endangered European media outlets to overcome the crisis. The funds must be allocated directly to the media concerned in an independent and impartial manner and using a transparent procedure. Finally, in the longer term, RSF calls on the EU to examine the vital issue of media sustainability.
A solid European rule of law mechanism
The European model of democracy and rule of law has been much abused in recent years, especially in Poland and Hungary. The procedure under Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union for addressing violations of fundamental EU values has been initiated against both Warsaw and Budapest. Germany must give new impetus to these procedures and make these recalcitrant countries understand that respect for European values and press freedom is not optional.
The new rule of law mechanism initiated by the European Commission is a step in the right direction. RSF welcomes the inclusion of media pluralism, which signifies recognition of independent journalism and access to information as one of the pillars of democracy. It also reflects a realization of the decline in press freedom and media pluralism in the EU. But for this mechanism to be effective, RSF calls for country-by-country recommendations and sanctions for serious violations.
In this regard, RSF urges Germany to ensure that the proposed regulation linking allocation of European assistance to respect for the rule of law is adopted during its presidency, and to ensure that this includes press freedom.
Lawsuits are increasingly being used to intimidate and silence journalists in Europe. The EU must play a leading role in combatting these so-called Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation, or SLAPPs.
RSF advocates in particular for the adoption of a directive establishing European-wide minimal standards of protection for all victims of SLAPPs, by combining preventive measures to block abusive lawsuits and measures both to punish those responsible for SLAPPs and compensate their victims.
RSF asks the German government to propose an anti-SLAPP directive during its presidency.
Strict control of digital surveillance technology exports
Since 2016, European institutions have been negotiating amendments to the regulations governing the sale and export of dual use technology – technology that can be used for both civilian and military purposes, including digital surveillance technology such as spyware and equipment for monitoring demonstrations. Until the required amendments are approved and take effect, member states will be able to continue exploiting loopholes in the system to sell this technology to authoritarian regimes, which often use them against journalists.
RSF calls on the German government to work for the rapid adoption of amendments that ensure respect for human rights principles and protect the work of journalists
Clear position on human rights in EU-China relations
Independently of the EU-China summit due to be held in the autumn, RSF calls on Germany to push the EU into issuing a clear statement on the latest events in Hong Kong and China. The EU must not allow the “one country, two systems” principle to be jeopardized by the newly adopted security law.
The increasing violence against journalists has already resulted in Hong Kong’s steep fall in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, from 18th when the Index was launched to 80th in 2020.
The EU member states should envisage legal proceedings against China’s targeted violations of international human rights standards. The German presidency should also encourage a European regime of sanctions for human rights violations both worldwide and in China’s case in particular. Chinese officials and politicians responsible for the crackdown on Hong Kong and its population should be sanctioned, above all by freezing their assets. EU representatives should meanwhile establish a dialogue with activists and journalists in a public display of solidarity.