Juha Rekola on The Future of Journalism in Finland and Beyond

Helsinki, 15.5.2019: Juha Rekola, International Ombudsman for Journalists in Finland,addressed a group of members from the European Journalists Network in Helsinki on a topic which has been discussed since time immemorial but is now more relevant than ever.

Where are we now? The industry has been undermined and is in great turmoil with social media platforms taking the lead in what people read and how they interpret it. Scepticism towards the media has increased exponentially to the point where open warfare has been declared by an illustrious President across the pond. Reporters without Borders claims that 2018 was the worst year on record for safety of journalists and even countries that have traditionally been friends of the free press are now in decline. Hanna Arendt, the venerable American philosopher and political theorist, put it aptly:

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. …”

This bodes for dangerous circumstances where crowd manipulation reigns as can be seen in the numerous right-wing populist parties gaining traction across Europe and beyond.

It takes the research of Rasmus Kleis Nielsen to shine a spotlight on the future. His 5 key points include (Authors are Dr. Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Meera Selva):

1.) Social media platforms control access to audiences where as before media organisations were the ‘gatekeepers to the news agenda’
2.) This move does not generate ‘filter bubbles’ as many would believe. Instead, our attention is driven by ‘automated serendipity’ which results in more diversity of information
3.) Journalism is losing the public’s attention and in some countries, their trust
4.) Business models for funding of media no longer work and together with the weakening of journalism, make the profession vulnerable to commercial and political pressure
5.) News is more diverse than ever, and the best journalism in many cases better than ever, taking on everyone from the most powerful politicians to the biggest private companies.

It is not surprising that digital use is growing and revenues are amounting to 30 to 40% of the total. As we already know, it also provides more diversity but at the same time there is so much to sift through before reaching qualitative truth. It lies within the scope of journalists and publishers to manage content which speaks to the public good and restores faith by calling out post-truth and the harm it can do.

 

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The Media in Armenia One Year After the “Velvet Revolution”

Liana Sayadyan

A Velvet Revolution swept through Armenia in April 2018 and gave hope that the oppressive situation for the country’s media would be transformed. A year later the early optimism is tempered by evidence of a renewed surge of political influence affecting the media’s independence.

 In past years I have always begun my annual report about Media Freedom in Armenia by writing about the numerous acts of violence registered during the year against journalists and the slander, and many libel lawsuits filed by politicians and oligarchs against the media.   

But a“Velvet Revolution” quietly swept through Armenia in April 2018 and gave hope that the situation would change. The national movement — bolstered by years of media reporting about corruption and murky business dealings by government officials and MPs — brought thousands to the streets in peaceful protest, forcing Serzh Sargsyan, Armenia’s president for 10 years, to resign.

The first symptom of an improved environment is the decline in the number of physical assaults and cases of harassment against the media.

During Armenia’s “Velvet Revolution” 18 cases of physical violence against media representatives and eight cases of impeding their professional activity were recorded. Criminal cases were filed in only 15 out of the total of 26 recorded incidents of violations of press freedom; only four of them went to court, of which the courts issued a verdict in only three. 

Nikol Pashinyan, a former journalist and opposition Yelk party MP, who led the peaceful revolution, formed a temporary government in May 2018 and was elected prime minister in snap parliamentary elections on December 9, 2018.

Unlike the past, when elections were coupled with a spike in the number of violations of the rights of media workers, this time there were just a few such transgressions and the elections were held in a peaceful and safe atmosphere for journalists.

Cases of physical assault, which mired coverage of previous elections, were no longer the norm.

Nevertheless, there was no real change in the way law enforcement and the courts operated. They have been examining multiple past cases of violence against reporters that occurred in 2015-2018. These included the Electric Yerevan protests (July 2015), the events surrounding the capture of a Yerevan police building (Sari Tagh, 2016), and instances of violence during the parliamentary elections of 2017.

No significant progress was recorded in any of the cases. No new suspects have been identified or prosecuted, which proves the inefficiency of the pre-investigation process. Moreover, on September 25, 2018, the Special Investigative Service (SIS) halted the proceedings of the Sari Tagh incident, arguing that “the person engaged as the defendant is unknown”. Two of the journalists recognized as case-related victims, Mariam Grigoryan from “1in.am” and photo-journalist Gevorg Ghazaryan appealed against the decision by SIS to the prosecutor’s office, and after being rejected, they turned to the courts. The First Instance Court also rejected the claim of journalists and they turned to the Court of Appeal.

New Government and Media Relations

The first positive steps taken by the new government was to open government cabinet sessions to the press. These sessions had been closed to reporters by legislative amendments made by the previous government.

As a former journalist and outspoken champion of the important role of the media in strengthening democracy, Armenia’s new prime minister is accessible to reporters and often organizes interviews press interviews that are open to all media representatives without discrimination. In contrast, the past president never organized a press conference during his ten-year tenure and only granted interviews to  hand-picked journalists all of whom had a pro-government stance. Due to the efforts of Nikol Pashinyan the country witnessed the first live TV debate of the leading representatives of parties vying in the December 2018 snap elections.

Despite this, relations between the media and the government are far from ideal in the new Armenia.

Self-Censorship

Much of the Armenian media helped to mobilize citizens and so effectively drove the revolution through its coverage — especially the 24-hour coverage by online media.  Having taken such a clear stance at a key moment in modern Armenian history, in the initial post-revolutionary period the press refrained from any direct criticism of the new government. Many editors, in conversations amongst themselves, confessed that they were practising a kind of self-censorship, arguing that the new government needed time to take stock of the situation in the country and draw up a plan of action. Furthermore, the new government enjoyed a high level of public confidence. Its public support rating was high. So criticism of the new government was liable to be unpopular, and editors were concerned about a negative backlash from readers and audiences.

For these reasons, the press in Armenia adopted a “wait and see” approach in late 2018 and early 2019. Social media users attacked media outlets which criticized the new government, even calling on readers to boycott them. The new government did not attempt to stem this tide of intolerance or to publicly chide those fomenting it. The situation became so bad that Armenia’s Human Rights Defender made the following statement regarding the government’s neglect of the issue.

“It is very concerning that as of now respective state authorities have not issued an official statement in reaction to this phenomenon. Such approach is also dangerous in that it may create a favorable atmosphere for illegitimate interferences with freedom of speech of the media and freedom of speech in general. The concerns grow even further in considering that intolerance on social networks is constant and amounts to hate speech in certain cases. Pluralism must be always promoted, and one of its effective guarantees is that media are able to operate freely in the country.”

Redistribution of Media Ownership and Polarization of Media: Igniting Hate Speech

During 2018, and especially after the “Velvet Revolution”, a significant re-ordering of the landscape of media ownership in Armenia has taken place.  First of all the ousting of the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) from the government led to an abrupt reduction or stop to the funding of their own media outlets. An important factor was the return to politics of Armenia’s second president, Robert Kocharyan, after which a number of media outlets were linked to his name. Of special note was the sale of the “Ararat” TV company, affiliated to RPA, which was re-born as “Channel 5” with a completely different political orientation. (Robert Kocharyan is currently detained on charges of usurping state power in Armenia during the March 2008 post-election protests in Yerevan that claimed the lives of ten people.)

Qariak Media, a new media company f?unded by four former Republican Party of Armenia MPs, has emerged after the revolution. It includes one TV channel (Armnews TV), one radio station (107 FM), one online media (Tert.am) and one social media platform (Blognews).

The current government does not own large media resources itself, except for the daily newspaper Haykakan Zhamank. It is a family business operation of Prime Minister Pashinyan, whose wife is the paper’s chief editor.

These media groups, serving the political interests of their owners, are pursuing an aggressive political PR campaign to divide society into opposing camps. They are also using their social media pages to foster the spread of hate speech.

Armenia’s Human Rights Defender addressed the issue in a public statement in which he called on the public, public officials and political figures to cease all attempts to divide society into supporter of the “old regime” and the “new regime”,  or to be guided by such divisive principles.

In short, former office-holders and public figures still maintain their control of important media resources. Reporters Without Borders, in its April 2019 report, said about Armenia that “The media landscape is diverse but polarized and the editorial policies of the main TV channels coincide with the interests of their owners.”

Fight for Transparency in Media Ownership

The political majority in Armenia’s National Assembly (the My Step Alliance that came to power as a result of the Velvet Revolution), seeks to make the media sector transparent by revealing the names of media outlet owners and their sources of financing. As it now stands, there is no law requiring media outlets to reveal data about their real owners or to publish financial reports about their funding sources.

In other words, without that and other fundamental reforms, journalists will continue to face severe challenge in terms of their editorial independence and the  transparency of media ownership.

Attempts to Combat “Fake News” raise fresh concerns for free speech

Armenia’s new government has already taken steps to combat the rise of fake news and the manipulation of information reporting. Prime Minister Pashinyan, at a cabinet session on April 4, instructed the head of the National Security Service (NSS) to launch a campaign against the purveyors of fake news in the media and social websites. “Yes. Freedom of speech and information is guaranteed in our country. But if criminal circles spend millions to manipulate public opinion via social networks and media outlets, it is a matter of national security,” Pashinyan stated.

One day later, the NSS arrested a Facebook user on charges of  “inciting racial or religious enmity publicly or by using media resources”. A few days ago, another Facebook user received a letter from the NSS asking him to  refute “information of a slanderous nature” contained in his post about the NSS director.  Various press circles in Armenia regard such government attempts, especially when they include the NSS, as unacceptable interference in the pursuit of freedom of speech. They regard such steps as a failed attempt to regulate the internet.  

“The new government must refrain from any excesses in its attempts to combat “fake news”. Its use of the security services for this purpose, followed by a social network user’s arrest, prompted concern”, Reporters Without Borders has declared.

*****According to Reporters Without Borders, Armenia improved its ranking in the 2018 Press Freedom Index by 19 points (from 61 in 2017 to 80 now). It must remain a priority for the new government to consolidate the reforms it has made so far and to ensure a safe and enabling environment for free and independent media, in order to raise the country’s press freedom rating higher in future years.

Liana Sayadyan, AEJ Armenian Section and deputy editor of the leading news outlet Hetq online

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AEJ national sections and journalists around Europe mark World Press Freedom Day

The Romanian Section of the AEJ (AZIR) celebrates World Press Freedom Day with a special event on 7 May focused on journalists’ dealing with those who wield political power. For the first time the AZIR Prize for the Independence of the Journalist will be awarded. The winner will be Tia Serbanescu, one of the most free spirits of contemporary Romanian journalism. Tia writes incisively and with humour about the society around her and the unedifying spectacle of Romanian politics today, maintaining her independence and exposing the follies and weaknesses of all political sides with equal candour. The event will be attended by AZIR members, fellow-journalists, media experts from the University of Political Sciences and the University of Journalism, and others who are committed to strengthening and protecting independent journalists who now have to work in difficult and often hostile environments.

In the UK the AEJ has responded jointly with Index on Censorship to urge the British government to rethink its proposals for new, wide-ranging regulation of “online harms” as set out recently in an online harms white paper. The government’s outline proposals are that a new legal duty of care by platforms would be established covering a very broad range of “harms”, for example disinformation and violent content. In combination with substantial fines and potentially even personal criminal liability for senior managers there I concern that it would create a strong incentive for platforms to remove content proactively – including news stories that might be deemed ‘harmful’ by the propoed new regulator although their contents is not illegal.

Other proposals in the white paper may also have damaging impacts on media freedom, such as potential ISP blocking (making a platform inaccessible in or from the UK). The draft provisions for ensuring protection of users’ rights online, particularly freedom of expression, rights to privacy and the public interest are now sketchy and inadequate, and they need to be robust, detailed and provided for in law.

The government’s proposals were the subject of a media freedom alert on the Council of Europe’ Platform for the afety of journalist on April 25.

Index on Censorship and the AEJ have asked the government to provide in unequivocal and concrete detail how it intends to establish such safeguards to make the future system of online regulation compatible with the UK’s obligations to uphold journalism and media freedom.

The alert can be viewed here:

https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2019/04/index-urges-uk-government-to-rethink-proposals-for-online-harms-regulation-over-risks-to-media-freedom/

Also in the UK the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) will pay tribute to the life and work of the murdered Northern Ireland journalist Lyra McKee. The event take place on the evening of May 3, with NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet, and other speakers at the Free Word Centre in London. Funds raised by ticket sales will go towards the International Federation of Journalists Safety Fund.

On World Press Freedom Day the occasion will be an opportunity to review the range of challenges and threats facing journalists and press freedom throughout the world, and to pay respects to journalists who are currently in prison as well as to those who paid the ultimate price in the line of duty.

World Press Freedom Day UNESCO conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Journalism in Times of Disinformation

The relationship between the press and democracy will be the main theme of this year’s edition of World Press Freedom Day (3 May) jointly organized by UNESCO, the Ethiopian government and the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), from 1 to 3 May. More than one hundred events will also take place around the world in observance of the day.

How can journalism rise above emotional content and fake news during an election? What should be done to counter speeches demeaning journalists? To what extent should electoral regulations be applied to the internet? This year’s World Press Freedom Day, whose theme is “Media for Democracy, Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation”, will be the occasion to reflect on these current issues.

Among the highlights will be the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize award ceremony on the evening of 2 May. The prize will be awarded, on the recommendation of an independent international jury, to imprisoned Myanmar journalists Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone by Audrey Azoulay, in the presence of Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, and African Union Commission Deputy Chairperson, Amb. Kwesi Quartey.  

This year, UNESCO also launched the Defend Journalism Campaign that encourages media to show their solidarity for a free and independent press through the use of banners on their printed publications and digital platforms.

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The Assange case concerns the public’s right to know but also public trust in a free press

Protecting media freedom is a core principle and purpose of the Association of European Journalists. The in-depth Report ‘Democracy at Risk’ [see below], which the AEJ and other partner organisations of the Council of Europe’s Safety of Journalists online platform published in February, showed that press freedom across Europe is now more fragile than at any time since the end of the Cold War.
 
The US bid to extradite Julian Assange from London has far-reaching implications for press freedom and the public’s right to know — but also for public trust in journalism.  A commentary by AEJ Media Freedom Representative William Horsley:-
 
The possible extradition of Julian Assange to face criminal charges in the USA following his expulsion from the Ecuadrrian Embassy in London could lead to a dangerous precedent that would severely damage the cause of press freedom. But Assange’s deliberate disregard for the ethical tenets of journalism and the unresolved sexual offences accusations against him make this more complex than a straight contest between press freedom and government secrecy.
 
A British court has found Assange guilty under UK law of breaking his bail conditions when he fled to the Ecuador Embasy in 2012. On May 2 he is due to face an extradition hearing to the US based on a charge of conspiring to break into a Pentagon computer to steal classified data. It remains unclear whether or not the Swedish authorities may also seek Assange’s extradition there to face accusations of sexual offences which Assange has denied and which date back to 2010 but were dropped while Assange had asylum in the embassy.
 
Global public opinion is divided for or against Mr Assange because of the publication by Wikileaks of vast amounts of raw US military and diplomatic secrets, and the finding of the recent Mueller Report in the US that Assange helped Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election by publishing Democratic Party emails hacked by Russian military intelligence in order to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
 
The publication of the US ‘war logs’ from Afghanistan and Iraq, obtained by Wikileaks from Bradley (later Chelsea) Manning, a military intelligence analyst, and published in coordination with leading US and European newspapers, served a critically important public purpose by revealing shocking abuses including the video which Wikileaks called ‘Collateral Murder’. It showed the crew of a US helicopter targeting and killing unarmed civilians in a Baghdad street. Among the dead were two Reuters journalists. The video shone a spotlight on the Pentagon’s routine attempts to conceal that and other incidents which human rights groups say might amount to war crimes.
 
But later Julian Assange recklessly published thousands of US diplomatic cables on the Wikileaks website without editing out the names of vulnerable people such as Afghans who had worked for the Americans, possibly putting their lives at risk. And his actions in releasing hacked Democratic Party emails and allegedly promoting falsehoods to discredit Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign led many  former supporters to denounce his actions.  
 
Assange’s lawyers fear that if he is sent to the USA additional charges may be brought there leading to very severe penalties. They say, too, that he would not get a fair trial in America because his case is so politicised. The Amecian extradition bid represents a hardening of the stance of the US government. President Obama decided against seeking to extradite him and freed Chelsea Manning by commuting his lengthy jail sentence. Against that Mike Pompeo, when he was President Trump’s CIA Director, condemned  Wikileaks as a ‘non-state hostile intelligence service’; and now Chelea Manning is back in jail for refusing to give further evidence to a secret grand jury investigation into Wikileaks.
 
The Guardian, which played a leading part in selectively publishing many stories based on Wikileaks’ early troves of US classified materials, has said it strongly disagrees with Assange’s bulk-publishing of unredacted classified documents. But it also says that to extradite Julian Assange to the USA would be a dangerous precedent, putting at risk the press freedoms protected by the First Amendment. There are genuine fears that it would be seen as an endorsement of strongarm governments’ desire to penalise every journalistic scoop based on classified material – even exposes of serious corruption and human rights abuses.      
 
Much is at stake for journalists and the future of the public’s trust in journalism as a force to hold state power to account. Julian Assange chose self-promotion and causing maximum embarrassment to the US over the rigours of journalism that is demonstrably in the public interest. And his actions have contributed to the drafting of laws in many countries to strictly regulate the content of online platforms, with the growing  risk that governments themselves will increasingly seek to decide what is and is not fit to print, setting aside the essential  protections of free speech and press freedom in international law. Such decisions must be for journalists and editors to decide, not for state authorities.
 
The publication of the Afghan and Iraqi war logs was another landmark in the struggle for press freedom and  for peoples’ right to know what a government does in their name, like the publication of the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s and Edward Snowden’s revelations about unlawful surveillance activities by the US and other intelligence agencies in 2013. However, as the New York Times wrote, a clear distinction must be made between “journalists exposing abuse of power through leaked materials and a foreign agent seeking to undermine the security of the USA through theft or subterfuge.”
 
Publication: Democracy at Risk, Threats and Attacks against Media Freedom in Europe; Annual Report by the Partner Organisations to the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists: https://rm.coe.int/annual-report-2018-democracy-in-danger-threats-and-attacks-media-freed/1680926453

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Stop Turkey’s ‘relentless’ judicial harassment against free expression champions

The AEJ and other journalists’ and press freedom organisations have publicly condemned the Turkish authorities’ three-year long judicial harassment of the RSF representative in Turkey, Erol Onderoglu, and two other press freedom defenders who are due to appear in court on 15 April. 

The freedom of expression organisations listed below denounce the lengthy judicial harassment suffered by Reporters Without Borders representative and IPI member Erol Onderoglu, Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation Chair Sebnem Korur Fincanc? and journalist Ahmet Nesin and call for their full acquittal at the hearing on April 15, 2019, when a verdict is expected.

The three defendants are charged with “engaging in propaganda for a terrorist organisation”, “incitement to commit a crime” and “praising criminal activities and those engaged in them” for standing in as guest editors in the “Editors-in-Chief on Watch” solidarity campaign for the shuttered pro-Kurdish daily Ozgur Gundem.

We further denounce the ongoing detention and prosecution of scores of journalists in Turkey as an autocratic attempt to silence all dissenting voices and to prevent independent journalists from carrying out their profession.

We offer our support and solidarity to our colleagues Onderoglu, Korur Fincanc? and Nesin, who have been subjected to a trial lasting almost three years, and we call on the Turkish government to cease such oppression of journalists, academics and writers.

“This case is about an act of collegial solidarity that should never have resulted in criminal proceedings. Turkey must cease violating the rights of journalists to disseminate the news and of the public to receive balanced reporting,”, Caroline Stockford, Turkey Advocacy Coordinator at the International Press Institute, said.

“By targeting prominent human rights defenders, the authorities aim to decimate what little remains of civil society in Turkey. They will not succeed. We stand united with our colleagues and insist that this relentless judicial harassment cease,” said Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia at ARTICLE 19. 

“When the very act of solidarity for repressed journalism is criminalised in Turkey, international solidarity for our colleagues becomes even more crucial.” – Nora Wehofsits, Advocacy Officer at the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

“International public opinion should know that Turkey is not merely Erdogan’s Turkey. Like Erol Onderoglu, Sebnem Korur Fincanc? and Ahmet Nesin, there are many people and courageous initiatives that need to be heard about and be supported. This is why providing the international public with continuous and in-depth coverage on Turkey is so important today”, Chiara Sighele, OBC Transeuropa.

“We stand united in support of Erol Onderoglu, Sebnem Korur Fincanc? and Ahmet Nesin. We promise that we will do our utmost to support the journalists and to put pressure on the Turkish government to cease the prosecution and detention of journalists“, said Kjersti Loken Stavrum, Vice President of Norwegian PEN.

Ozgur Gundem has long been targeted by Turkish authorities for its journalism. Last month the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Turkey had violated the right to freedom of expression in systematically bringing terrorism-related criminal cases against Ozgur Gundem’s owner, Ali Gurbuz, between 2004 and 2005.

ARTICLE 19

Articolo 21

Association of European Journalists

CRNI (Cartoonists Rights Network International)

CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists)

Danish PEN

ECPMF (European Centre for Press and Media Freedom)

EFJ (European Federation of Journalists)

English PEN

Freedom House

Front Line Defenders

German PEN

IFJ (International Federation of Journalists)

IPI (International Press Institute)

Norwegian PEN

OBC Transeuropa

PEN America

PEN Belgium/Flanders

PEN Canada

PEN Germany

PEN International

PEN Netherlands

P24 (Platform for Independent Journalism)

SEEMO (South East Europe Media Organisation)

Swedish PEN

Wales PEN Cymru

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Turkey must respect foreign media outlets’ independence

 Joint statement calls for press card to be renewed without further interference 

Pressure on international media in Turkey is increasing. German journalists have been expelled from the country as their press accreditations were not renewed. International freedom of expression organisations including the AEJ urge Turkey’s authorities in a joint alert to revoke the decisions, to stop the expulsion of international journalists, to renew press cards to foreign media outlets, and to respect their independence.Joint alert

Two German journalists were compelled to leave Turkey on Sunday, 10 March 2019, after their press accreditations were not renewed for 2019 without any explanation. Jorg Brase, a journalist working for Germany’s ZDF public broadcaster, and Thomas Seibert, reporter at the Tagesspiegel newspaper, were long-term correspondents in the country. The Turkish embassy in Germany apparently tried in vain to make a deal to have the correspondents replaced, Tagesspiegel’s editor-in-chief reports. A third journalist, Halil Gulbeyaz, with NDR TV also had his accreditation refused and is not allowed return to Turkey.

Besides the recent and on-going intimidation, detention, and prosecution of local journalists, pressure against foreign media outlets has been growing in Turkey. These incidents are not isolated cases, but show a systematic approach to also silence and control foreign independent media coverage in the country. Several international journalists have faced intimidation or been forced to leave the country already over the past year after they fell out of favour with Turkey’s government. Others are still waiting for the renewal of their accreditations and might have to leave the country as well. Press cards are necessary work permits to receive a residence permit.

The latest incident yet again marks a strong and arbitrary affront against international press freedom and independent media outlets. It is especially worrying in the run-up to local elections at the end of March (and general elections in 2023).

The undersigned organisations call on the EU institutions for a meaningful response. Moreover, we urge Turkey’s authorities to revoke the decisions, to stop the expulsion of international journalists, to renew press cards to foreign media outlets, and to respect their independence.

 

Signed:

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

Article 19

Articolo21

Association of European Journalists (AEJ)

Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

Danish PEN

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

German PEN

Global Editors Network (GEN)

Human Rights Watch

International Press Institute (IPI)

Italian Press Federation

Norwegian PEN

OBC Transeuropa

PEN America

Platform for Independent Journalism (P24)

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

Swedish PEN

World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)

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Now what? Brief answers to 8 questions about gov’t resignation

The prime minister tendered his government’s resignation to the president on Friday, and questions abound as to what that means for Finland moving forward.

Details find here:  https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/now_what_brief_answers_to_8_questions_about_govt_resignation/10681192

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Data leak reveals shady financial transfers to Nordea Bank

Nordea bank in Finland received hundreds of millions of euros, some of it from suspicious sources, according to leaked documents.

Details find here:  https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/data_leak_reveals_shady_financial_transfers_to_nordea_bank/10672754

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EJN demund freeing political prisoners in Egypt

Helsinki, 25 February 2019

We want to bring to your attention the situation of seven Egyptian citizens: Mr
Marzouk Masoum , former assistant foreign minister, former journalist and
Ambassador to Finland, Estonia and Uganda and his 6 fellow human rights activists:
Professor of Geology at Helwan University Yahia Al Qazzaz; Economist Raed
Salama; Activist Nermeen Hussein; Activist Amr Mohamed; Professor of
Archaeology Abdel Fattah Saeed El-Banna; Sameh Saudi, head of Union.
We call for the immediate release and fair treatment of these opposition
activists.
Following reports on CNN, BBC Arabic, The Times, Al Jazeera and other
media outlets, Mr Marzouk Masoum was taken from his home on 23rd of August
2018 and kept in detention for 15 days accused of ‘complicity with a terrorist group
aiming to undermine the state’s institutions.’
Since then 6 months have passed and the activists are still held in solitary
confinement in a state prison. Concerned for their health, several personalities and
humanitarian associations have made a call to action to change the terrible detention
conditions and for their immediate release.

Urgent action is required- on 2nd of March a court session will decide on
further imprisonment or conditional release.
The official accusation tries to falsely enlist Mr Marzouk as a supporter of the
Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Egypt, and against which Mr Marzouk
wrote many articles, as reported by his family.
The visits are reduced to 30 minutes a week and some had been cancelled
without explanations after families had waited several hours in the scorching sun in
front of the prison.
The arrest came shortly after Mr Marzouk called for a national referendum
regarding President Sisi’s power, only months after he secured a second term as
President. In reality the activists are political prisoners.
As journalists we are increasingly alarmed by executions and unlawful
imprisonments repeatedly reported by international media and by human rights
organisations. Attempts to silence freedom of speech and political opponents in Egypt
have been frequently reported.
Following these widely available reports, President Sisi has won his second
term after banning 5 of his opponents to run in the presidential elections, only
allowing one of his supporters to pose as counter candidate. Under a pretended
popular campaign he is also looking for a change in Constitution to ensure his
position in power after the 2 terms stipulated by law.
We, the European Journalists Network in Finland, branch of the
Association of European Journalists, call on the Egyptian authorities to show
their good will and follow international practices in order to ensure freedom of
speech and fair treatment of members of the opposition.
We equally call onto the European Union members and its institutions to
support our action and call for freedom of expression in Egypt and the freeing of
journalists and political activists.
We join our voices with those of Egyptians requesting the immediate release of
all unlawfully imprisoned people and of the 7 persons detained in case no. 1305 of
2018 opened on August 23, 2018 :
Mr Marzouk Masoum
Professor of Geology at Helwan University Yahia Al Qazzaz
Economist Raed Salama
Activist Nermeen Hussein
Activist Amr Mohamed
Professor of Archaeology Abdel Fattah Saeed El-Banna and
Sameh Saudi, head of Union

To:
Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Mr Timo Soini
President of the European Council, Mr. Donald Tusk
President of the European Commission, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker
President of the European Parliament, Mr. Antonio Tajani
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Michelle Bachelet
Secretary General of Council of Europe, Mr. Thorbjørn Jagland
European Union members
Amnesty International
Members of the Media

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Call for justice and accountability of state authorities on the anniversary of the murder of Jan Kuciak

On behalf of the undersigned media freedom organisations, representing thousands of journalists and human rights activists across Europe, we urge the Slovak authorities to immediately start examining state responsibility in the failure to prevent the assassination of Jan Kuciak.

Tomorrow marks a full year since journalist Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova were murdered in Slovakia. Kuciak was investigating cross-border corruption and links between powerful people and various mafia networks.

Since February 2018, we have closely monitored press and media freedom in Slovakia. We welcome the arrests of suspects who have now been charged in connection with Kuciak’s and Kusnirova’s murder.

However, a few months before he was killed, Kuciak reported threats against his person to the police. He published a post on his Facebook timeline on 20 October 2017 describing the absence of police actions after he had officially reported a threat by the businessman Marian Kocner. “It’s 44 days since I filed a threat … and the case probably doesn’t even have a particular cop [named in the case]”, his post reads.

When journalists report threats against them, the state is obliged to protect their life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. We are concerned that to date there has been no adequate investigation of possible state breaches in its protective obligation.

We need answers to the following questions: (i) whether Slovakia knew, or ought to have known, of a present and immediate threat to his life; (ii) which steps, if any, have they taken to protect Kuciak from that threat; (iii) and what will be done to protect Slovak journalists in the future.

The killing of Kuciak and Kusnirova shocked the European public and has had a chilling effect on other journalists. In an environment of intimidation, threats, political interference and impunity, investigative journalists have to fear for their lives to fulfil their work and report on corruption and other threats to democracy. The value of independent journalism and free media should not be put into question. Anti-media rhetoric from those in high office is unacceptable, all the more so after the assassination of Jan Kuciak.

In addition, in January 2019 the Slovak ruling party proposed a bill, which would amend the Press Act to reintroduce a “right of reply”. If passed, this provision would contribute to an increasingly hostile environment for the free press by providing politicians who are the subject of critical news with the means to censor unwanted criticism. We call on the Slovak parliament to reject this bill. Moreover, the Government of the Slovak Republic must not undermine trust in public institutions, including the now to be newly composed Constitutional Court. It is its duty to uphold the rule of law.

We ask the Slovak authorities to carefully consider the resolution, approved by the LIBE Committee of the European Parliament on 19. February 2019, that includes a call on the Government of Slovakia to ensure the safety of journalists.

It is imperative that all relevant state authorities take effective and consistent action to counter the lack of safety for journalists across Europe. We seek justice for Jan Kuciak’s killing. We will keep pressuring until the perpetrators are found and duly convicted according to European standards.

 

Signed by:

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

Article19

Association of European Journalists (AEJ)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Index on Censorship

Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)

Ossigeno per l’informazione

PEN International

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

Sources AEJ

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