This year’s World Press Freedom Day has the theme of “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation”.
Commenting on the occasion, the European Green Party co-chairs Monica Frassoni and Reinhard Bütikofer said, “Press freedom is our greatest guarantee against corruption and abuse and must be defended at all costs to protect basic human and civic rights. We would like to pay homage to the critical work of journalists.”
They said they “especially remembered” Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak and Bulgarian journalist Victoria Marinova who were killed after unearthing “deep-seated” corruption.
“As we enter the final phase of the electoral campaign across Europe, the need for quality journalism to fend off biased and fake content repackaged as fact has become even more urgent. The only way to preserve the integrity of our democratic process is through a free press that has the teeth to hold the powers that be to account,” said Frassoni, a former MEP and Butikofer, a current deputy.
The pair added, “Over the last five years some progress has been made through recent EU measures to protect whistle blowers and an EU cross-border investigative journalism fund, but we’ve also seen a backlash against media freedom in a number of European countries.”
“We have to harness the regulatory power of the European Commission during its next term to stem political interference, disrupt the concentration of media ownership and protect the integrity and safety of journalists across Europe."
Further comment came from Angela Mills Wade, Executive Director of the European Publishers Council (EPC), who said: “We call on Europe’s governments to consider the consequences of all and any legislation on the freedom of the press, whether intended or otherwise.
“With fake news a very real threat to our democracy, our professional press has never been more crucial. News publishers, who take all the financial risks and carry all the legal liability of creating and distributing professional, fact-checked journalism, can only continue to do so if they are economically viable.
“As we enter the final phase of the electoral campaign across Europe, the need for quality journalism to fend off biased and fake content repackaged as fact has become even more urgent" European Green Party co-chairs Monica Frassoni and Reinhard Bütikofer
“Our independent press not only fuels our culture but, most importantly, holds our leaders to account and supports democratic society. We undermine it at our peril.”
Meanwhile, German Greens MEP Rebecca Harms was in Istanbul on Friday to observe the trial of jailed Turkish cameraman Kemal Demir and co-worker Kemal Karagöz.
The TV journalists were arrested in November 2017 accused of aiding a terrorist organisation, allegations that they and their supporters say are trumped up charges.
Harms, formerly co-president of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, will also participate in events commemorating World Press Freedom Day on Friday and hold talks with journalists, lawyers and representatives of press associations and organisations advocating for press freedom in Turkey.
The German deputy also plans to meet representatives of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) to discuss the situation of hunger strikers in Turkey who include HDP MP Leyla Guven, 55, who has been in jail since January 2018 over her critical remarks about a Turkish military operation in the predominantly Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria.
She faces more than 100 years in prison on charges of membership and leadership of an armed organisation, terror propaganda and inciting people to hatred. German Greens MEP Rebecca Harms
“If the Turkish government has a real interest in normalising relations with the EU, then it must fully respect freedom of press and plurality of opinion"
Harms said she also wants to highlight other human rights cases in Turkey, including six former employees of the newspaper 'Cumhuriyet' who have returned to prison after a failed appeal.
The MEP, a regular observer of the Cumhuriyet trial in recent years, is highly critical of the Turkish regime and told this website, "I strongly condemn this latest escalation against Turkish journalists shortly before International Press Freedom Day.
“During the time I observed trial, I understood how trumped-up those charges were. The accusations brought forward do not justify either the trial or the punishments. I have the impression we are observing the end of a constitutional state.”
Her visit coincides with fresh debate in the current European elections campaign about whether the EU should start possible accession talks with Turkey.
On this, Harms went on, “If the Turkish government has a real interest in normalising relations with the EU, then it must fully respect freedom of press and plurality of opinion."