Dutch Member of European Parliament Marietje Schaake (ALDE/D66) has been appointed to bring forward a formal report on press and media freedom in the world. The report aims to strategize and optimize the EU’s efforts to foster and protect press freedom worldwide. Schaake: "Democracies cannot bloom nor persist without freedom of the press, it is an essential component of democratic societies and a precondition for ensuring accountability and transparency in public life. The exchange of ideas, investigative reporting and active social debates perpetuate and redefine civil rights and freedoms." The report ties in well with Schaake’s work on the first-ever 'Digital Freedom Strategy in EU Foreign Policy', currently under Parliamentary consideration.
Press freedom is globally under attack: journalists and bloggers in Russia face constant harassment and intimidation, throughout Latin-America radio- and tv-stations are closed, in China millions of micro bloggers challenge the absent independent reporting in state (censored) media. Schaake will map the biggest problems, identify new and simmering threats and suggest effective remedies and policies for the EU’s diplomatic and external action service (EEAS). "Many governments silence reporters, either through legislation or by assault and intimidation. Freedom and independence of the press should be one of the main objectives of the EU’s foreign policy. Bilateral agreements between the EU and third countries as well as financial aid should be made conditional on safeguards for freedom of the press and media. We should not be too hesitant to actually invoke them, which we currently tend to forget," Schaake stresses. The EU could also step up its efforts to support media that serve audiences under authoritarian regimes, like BBC Farsi or Radio Zamaneh that broadcast to Iran based audiences.
Schaake will focus on the traditional role and strengths of independent media, but will also explore the impact of new media and technologies on freedom of expression and news. "The rise of the internet and new technologies, globally connecting over 2 billion citizens, redefine the position of the media. It has spurred an incredible and exiting increase of accessible information, news and citizen journalism. This has huge benefits, but we should also be wary of the coinciding inflation of the quality. Schaake pleads for a vivid discussion on the desirability of international standards, benchmarks, (self) regulation or other ways to protect the reliability and independence of journalism in the digital age. Schaake: "Increased freedom also brings extra responsibilities. Emerging corporate monopolies and commercial interests of large internet (service) companies should not override the public interest."
The role of (social) media, the access to and speed of information during the upheavals in the Arab world have clearly made their mark but should also be put in perspective. Schaake: "The EU has the responsibility in its direct neighbourhood to ensure that hard fought freedoms survive the often difficult transitions to freer and democratic societies. Too often media freedoms are easily restricted, on religious or repressive grounds. Censorship is on the rise due to vague laws and regulations, particularly online. Only moments after societies had established a fragile move towards freedom, the windows are closed again. We’ve seen it before and are also witnessing it today."
The EU can only credibly protect and promote freedom of the press if its own house is in order, Schaake says. Incidents in several EU Member States, like Hungary and Italy, show that press and media freedom can not be taken for granted and require constant vigilance. "Also within the EU we need to be on guard, particularly during these difficult economic and financial times." Schaake emphasizes the importance of investigative journalism, attention for local media and education of reporters.
Schaake expects to finish her report in five months, scheduling the plenary vote in January 2013. Along the way she invites everyone to contribute online. By putting up a working document on her website, that people can edit, Schaake seeks global input and ideas. This open and collaborative way of policy making will become much more common, Schaake believes. "Through the internet and new technologies people can share and pool their experiences and knowledge, that will both improve the work of politicians as well as our legitimacy.”
---For more information: Marietje Schaake +31 6 30 37 79 21 or her press officer Yvonne Doorduyn +32 484 20 15 18