The situation concerning freedom of media is “alarming” as only a fraction of the world’s population enjoys a free press, an EU official warned on Wednesday. Experts want new laws to protect investigative journalists.
Ahead of the World Press Freedom Day on May 2, the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights discussed threats to journalists in the European Union and other parts of the world.
“I would like to remind you of the alarming situation concerning the freedom of media. According to a survey of Freedom House, only 13 percent of the world’s population enjoy a free press,” said Laszlo Tokes, a Member of the EP from Hungary and Vice-Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights.
“I don’t think I’m understating it when I say that the countries in the European Union have a duty to uphold democratic values at a time when they appear to be eroding,” said Anne Marie Hammer, Programs and Policy Manager at the Global Forum for Media Development and former OCCRP program manager.
“Investigative journalists play a crucial role in holding our governments and institutions accountable and they need all the help they can get.”
Hammer called for more effort from the EP, highlighting the killings of Jan Kuciakand Daphne Caruana Galizia. She explained that those who order the assassination of these journalists are often never caught while those who do the killings are–up to 10 percent of the time.
Kuciak was killed in February 2018 along with his fiancee. He had been working with OCCRP and Aktuality.sk on an in-depth investigation about the Italian ‘Ndrangheta, one of the world’s most powerful and fearsome criminal groups, and their infiltration into his country.
A car bomb killed Galizia in October 2017. Three men have been arrested for her murder but the public wants to know who ordered it. Media organizations have continued her work through the Daphne Project.
The EP recently adopted a resolution to protect whistleblowers, but more could be done to protect the journalists investigating, Hammer said. The legislation could be called Jan’s Law.
OCCRP believes Jan Kuciak’s murderers found him through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request he made that required him to provide his home address and identity, Hammer noted.
No laws protect those who file the requests, making them open targets if they are investigating sensitive stories with potentially dangerous subjects.
Further, Hammer quoted OCCRP’s Editor-in-Chief, Drew Sullivan, that another law in honor of Galizia called Daphne’s Law could be set up to mandate an advisory body to oversee the investigation of journalist murders in the EU.
“We are not advocating for a commission with specific legal powers. We are suggesting a body made up of experts with forensic skills and a strong politicalmandate that can help and advise local police and verify their procedures, thereby helping well-meaning law enforcement to do their job,” Hammer explained.
In response to Hammer’s comments, Francis Zammit Dimech, a Maltese MEP, emphasized his support for these protections as well as acknowledging Malta’s alleged contribution to silencing journalists.
“I am not surprised by the loss of our ranking,” he said referring to Malta’s drop in Reporters Without Borders’ Annual World Press Freedom Index. The country fell 18 spots to 65th in the world.
“I think it is our duty to ensure that whoever was responsible to bury an investigative journalist like Daphne Caruana Galizia will not succeed to bury the investigative stories she was working on,” he said.
In his response, Dimech explained that freedom of expression is not one-sided. Just as individuals should be able to impart information, they should also be able to receive it.