Hungary’s Catch 22 media world

William Horsley

The AEJ had a first-hand look at media freedom problems in Hungary during a mission in July with the Council of Europe’s Safety of Journalists Platform.

AEJ media freedom representative William Horsley looks at how a decade of restrictions and government attacks has crippled independent media and damaged coverage of politics and elections

Zsombor György has a Catch 22 problem. The editor in chief of Magyar Hang, Hungarian Voice, has declared that the newspaper will go out of business this summer unless it finds a fresh injection of income. In Hungary’s modest-sized domestic market, Magyar Hang is one of the two top-selling political weeklies, with over 10,000 subscribers. The editor believes if he could just cover 20 or 30 per cent of its costs through advertising the publication would survive. But that looks beyond reach because every source of those much-needed funds is closed.

In a recent interview György spoke from experience about the multiple ways in which independent media in Hungary are starved both of funds and access to information, with crippling consequences for press freedom.

In an environment distorted by over a decade of intrusive controls, barriers and aggressive smear campaigns by the ruling Fidesz party and its allies, György’s efforts to attract a modest revenue from ads have been thwarted. Government and public advertising is denied, private advertisers are scared off, and the newspaper’s presence at cultural events has often been banned. Even foreign investors have declined Zsombor György’s approaches.
Magyar Hang must also pay unusually high costs to have the paper printed abroad because Hungary’s major printing presses only serve the needs of pro-government media. The editor says the government headed by Viktor Orban considers him and his journalists “traitors” because they maintain their editorial independence. So Magyar Hang journalists are consistently denied access to press conferences and official information sources.  

No “level playing field”

Other independent editors and journalists echo those complaints.

András Desi was foreign editor of Hungary’s leading national daily Népszabadság when the paper was abruptly shut down six years ago in a deal which many believe was engineered by allies of the prime minister. András says the government classifies Hungarian journalists as either “ours” and “other”, so media outlets covering politics can only survive with government support. Public TV and radio are merely “propaganda channels” for the Orban government, he adds, and the national news agency MTI is effectively under the control of the prime minister’s office. 

These observations by senior Hungarian journalists are corroborated by numerous European and international sources of expertise such as the Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM), an EU-funded project run by the European Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom. The Monitor’s latest annual country report on Hungary finds that the channelling of public funds only to “aligned” media distorts the public sphere and weakens media pluralism. Hungary’s ruling parties are willing, the report says, to “override any law by decree” to achieve their political goals’. And though Hungary’s Media Authority and Media Council – the key regulatory bodies – are nominally independent, in reality the ruling coalition uses its two-thirds majority in parliament to ensure that its own nominees are in sole charge of them. Opposition party candidates are not even considered

Yet prime minister Viktor Orban’s chief government spokesman, Zoltán Kovács, brusquely rejects all suggestions that Hungary’s record on press freedom issues is anything other than good.
During an hour-long meeting in Budapest last month with visiting journalists and leading civil society representatives from across Europe, Mr Kovács consistently maintained that negative assessments of Hungary’s record on upholding media freedom, pluralism, and standards of democratic behaviour were based on “lies” and “biased opinions”. The dialogue brought some of the most contentious issues into focus.

Lop-sided media control and ownership

Since  2018 as many as 476 Hungarian media outlets have merged under the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA in Hungarian), an opaque entity which is closely allied with Fidesz. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Irene Khan, harshly criticised the “unprecedented concentration of media in the hands of oligarchs friendly to the ruling party”. She also objected to the government’s claim that the merger was done as an issue of “strategic national interest”, thereby exempting the move from scrutiny by the national competition authority.

Zoltán Kovács made much of the Fidesz party’s command of a two-thirds or “constitutional” majority in parliament, and he asserted that the government’s actions were consistent with its powers arising from that dominant position. He dismissed a much-quoted estimate which put the share of pro-government media in Hungary at close to 80 per cent. Mertek, Hungary’s leading source of media analysis, published that estimate three years ago. Mertek added up the figures for KESMA, the “manifestly pro-government media outside the KESMA” and the public service media, to show that pro-Fidesz media at that time accounted for 77.8 per cent of the country’s news and public affairs media market.

Klubrádió: a symbolic case

In 2021 Hungary’s Media Council and a related court ruling set the seal on the authorities’ denial of Hungary’s last remaining independent radio station’s application to extend its broadcasting licence. The station has lost most of its audience after being forced to transmit online only.

György Ocskó, a legal adviser to the Media Council, declared that the Council is “financially and functionally independent” of the government, and that the Klubrádió decision was justified because the station had failed several times to provide required data about its on-air quota of Hungarian music. The European Commission disagrees. It has concluded that Hungary applied its national law in a discriminatory way and has opened infringement proceedings for a breach of EU law. In May this year Tilos Rádió, a community station also known for its liberal approach, was told its licence renewal was likewise refused.

Media and elections

This year Hungary’s rules on political parties’ access to public media during elections were seen to make a mockery of the principle of fair and equable treatment.
Péter Márki-Zay, the main opposition candidate in the campaign for the parliamentary elections on 3 April, was given literally only five minutes of air time during the whole campaign on the publicly-funded M1 TV channel . That drastically deprived him of the opportunity to appeal to voters, while prime minister Viktor Orban was often on air for lengthy appearances and benefited from consistently favourable coverage in all the public media.

Zoltán Kovács insisted that the campaign for the elections had been “ferocious”. He denied there was any distortion or manipulation in media coverage, and boasted that the result had “always been the same” in each of the four general elections since Mr Orban’s return to the premiership in 2010.

However the International Election Observation Mission of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) said the election was “marred by the absence of a level playing field”. Its post-election report pointed to “bias and lack of balance in news coverage and the absence of debates between major contestants” which limited voters’ opportunity to make an informed choice.

The observers cast doubt on the fairness of the way election disputes were handled by election commissions and courts. And they drew attention to “extensive bias in a number of broadcast and online media against United for Hungary [the opposition] and in favour of the government and Fidesz” — often blurring the distinction between coverage of the government and the party.

That blurring of the distinction between state and party or private interests lies right at the heart of the Hungarian dilemma.   

The precarious life of Hungary’s media – AEJ Hungary
AEJ Hungary statement on World Press Freedom Day 2021
Klubradio fights to stay on air
Does Hungary offer a glimpse of our authoritarian future? – New Yorker magazine


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AEJ hosts well-timed seminar on Ukraine

Brussels, June 17, 2022


by Edward Steen, AEJ Secretary-General

The European Commission today gave the expected green light to Ukraine‘s EU ambitions – also Moldova’s. It came following high-level visits this week to Kiev, where political leaders were exposed to the realities (see below) of Putin’s lunatic war on the country, and the AEJ’s day-long press seminar in Brussels on the meaning of the war for Europe, on the future of Europe, and on signs of hope for free, serious media despite all the well-known pressures on us.

As things turned out, the meeting, held in the European Parliament, prived unusually well-timed, with both issues at the top of the agenda here.

Brilliant and often passionate politicians, experts, and reporters spoke, inter alia, on the long-overdue need for reform of European defence (“the grotesque waste of money of incompatible national weapons systems in Europe” – Guy Verhofstadt, MEP ex- Belgian PM), on the energy energy, and above all on the crucial role of free, serious media in the face of relentless waves of fake news to undermine and confuse the West in Russia’s hybrid assault on what had been a separate, independent neighbouring country.

In Russia itself, the media trying to tall the truth about the war have been closed down, this being reinforced with prison sentences up to 15 years daring to call the grisly “special operation” a war.

One of the most inspiring speakers was Peter Dukes, dramatist turned founder of Byline Times, where some of the most powerful English journalists and investigators have found refuge. Thanks to crowd-funding and immense hard work it now has a a decent-sized staff, a weekly tv programme, a festival, and the special hatred of UK prime minister Boris Johnson. Could this be the model for future free, independent publishers?

Many thanks to the EP media staff for their excellent and patient work, and for these recordings of the seminar:

Webstream – 09.00 – 13.00

Webstream – 13.45 – 17.00

Seminar programme and speakers

Press seminar organised by the Association of European Journalists
with support from the Directorate-General for Communication of the EuropeanParliament – Directorate for Media – Media Services Unit


Thursday, 16 June 2022
SPAAK building, Room 4B1, Brussels

09:00 Introduction: Isaia TSAOUSIDOU, AEJ President (left)

09:15 Othmar KARAS (EPP, AT), Vice-President of the European
09:45 Media freedom and the Conference on the Future of Europe (COFOE):

Raffaella DE MARTE (below) Head of Media Services Unit, DG
Communication, European Parliament

09:55 Four panel discussions introduced by Otmar LAHODYNSKY,

Honorary President of AEJ

Panel discussions

10:00 Panel I: Free, independent media in the EU. Dead or alive? – Signs
of hope for established media (FT, The Economist, Deutsche Welle,
Channel 4). Success of crowdfunding in developing new and
dependable sources of news, the example of Ukraine. The plight of
media under systematic suppression by governments. The panel will
provide examples.

Moderator: Stelios KOULOGLOU (GUE/NGL, EL)
Peter JUKES – Founder of Byline Times
Edward STEEN, Secretary General of AEJ
William HORSLEY, Special Representative for Media Freedom of
AEJ, opens on reporting economics of it all, and new plans by META
(Facebook as was) and other Internet companies

11:00 Panel II: Ukraine and EU Defence – Has Europe acted effectively and
timely? Why not in 2014 (annexation of Crimea). Or 2008 in Georgia?
Do we need to reform NATO, or is it time to create a new European
defence system and a European army with inter-operable national
weaponry? Is Macron right to say that Putin must not be humiliated?
The dangers of allowing Putin’s expansionist aims.
Moderator: Otmar LAHODYNSKY
Hannes HEIDE (S&D, AT)

12.00 Panel III: Media manipulation, disinformation, troll factories – Fake
News. Manipulation of Social Media and use of trolls. Cyber-warfare
and what to do about it? Was it right to ban Russia Today?
Moderator: Cecilia SUNDBERG, Media Services Unit, DG COMM
Daniel FREUND (Greens/EFA, DE)
Peter JUKES – Founder of Byline Times
Herwig HÖLLER – Austrian Press Agency (APA), East-Europe

12:45 Lunch break

14:00 Panel IV: Debate on the Future of Europe and Ukraine’s
aspirations to join the EU – How important it is for Ukraine to
become a member of the EU and how quickly can this be achieved?
Has the war in Ukraine encouraged a new “European spirit” or
recaptured some of the post-WW2 optimism and creativity? What can
we learn from the response to Putin’s war? Energy policy and
consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Moderator: William HORSLEY, AEJ
Arnoldas PRANCKEVIČIUS, Ambassador, Permanent Representative
of Lithuania to EU, Representative of the Lithuanian Government at the
Conference on the Future of Europe
Roland FREUDENSTEIN – Vice-President of GLOBSEC and Head of
GLOBSEC Brussels
Anna YAVORSKA – Political Analyst for the Ukrainian World
Congress, Human Rights Advocacy consultant

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Great Summer Picnic in Kaivopuisto

This year the European Network of Journalists-Finland organized its traditional
Summer Party as a casual Summer Picnic. The venue took place in Kaivopuisto,
Helsinki’s most reputed park, during a glorious sunny evening.
Despite that, during summer like this one, most Helsinki people will leave the city
toward summer cottages; our venue gathered around 25 people between members
and special guests. The Association displayed a lovely white tent, and the venue had a
piece of nice music as an acoustic background. These elements were completed with
tasty international catering.
“We have been affected by Covid-19, which has reduced our activities to a minimum.
But we hope that soon the pandemic will be over, we could once again work as a
professional association and interact with the Finnish society,” said the Association’s
President Amir Kathib in his opening speech.
Sometime after the opening, an international telephone call came in. It was from Saia
Tsaousidou, the International President of the Association of European Journalists, AEJ, our umbrella organization. This year the AEJ is organizing its annual Congress in
Greece. Our Association will send two delegates to that Congress.

Amazing Performances, Music and Dance

The artistic part of the venue started with the excellent performance of Ike Ude Chime,
a board member of the Association. He played a traditional African instrument,
Kalimba, and gifted the presents with a song in Gbo, one of the main languages of
Nigeria. As the atmosphere was very relaxed, one of our members, Bilal Dalkilic, took a
drum of Ike and played a melody from Kurdistan. 

The special guest was Paula, a young Mexican student of the University of Arts in
Helsinki. She danced the typical Middle-East dance, the belly-dance, displaying great
sympathy. Then it was the turn of Daniela, also a young student of the University of
Arts. She is from Ecuador and played us tenders melody with her Jarana, a small guitar-
like instrument with eight strings. 

The atmosphere was in crescendo and ended naturally, dancing in the grass just when
the moon started to rise in the sky. The venue shows that a return to social life is

Text by Adrián Soto, image by Adrián Soto and Nurer Zaman Bhuiyan.

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Turkey: Rights groups call for urgent release of imprisoned journalists and others at risk of Covid-19Turkey: Rights groups call for urgent release of imprisoned journalists and others at risk of Covid-19

Turkey: Rights groups call for urgent release of imprisoned journalists, human rights defenders and others, now at risk of Covid-19
As the Turkish government reportedly prepares for a large-scale release of prisoners amid growing health risks from the global coronavirus pendemic, the AEJ and other organisations in Turkey and Europe-wide call for the freeing of imprisoned journalists, human rights defenders and others whose health may be in danger. 
Amid growing concerns over the spread of Covid-19 in prisons, the Turkish government is accelerating the preparation of a draft law that will reportedly release up to 100,000 prisoners. This is a welcome step. Overcrowding and unsanitary facilities already pose a serious health threat to Turkey’s prison population of nearly 300,000 prisoners and about tens of thousands of prison staff. That will only be exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. However, we remain concerned that journalists,  human rights defenders and others imprisoned for simply exercising their rights, and others who should be released, will remain behind bars in the package of measures as currently conceived  by the government.
The undersigned organisations call on the Turkish authorities to immediately and unconditionally release journalists,  human rights defenders and others who have been charged or convicted simply for exercising their rights.  Additionally we believe that the Turkish authorities should re-examine the cases of all prisoners in pre-trial detention with a view to releasing them. According to international human rights law and standards, there is a presumption of release pending trial, in accordance with the presumption of innocence and right to liberty. Pre-trial detention should only be used as an exceptional measure, yet it is applied routinely and punitively in Turkey. The government should also seriously consider releasing prisoners who are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, such as older prisoners and those with serious medical conditions. The authorities should ensure that all prisoners have prompt access to medical attention and health care to the same standards that are available in the community, including when it comes to testing, prevention and treatment of COVID-19. Prison staff and health care workers should have access to adequate information, equipment, training and support to protect themselves.
Under the current Law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures, prisoners are eligible for parole after they have served two thirds of their sentence. The draft law that is expected to be passed in Parliament within days reportedly makes prisoners eligible for parole after they have served half of their sentence. Under the new law, pregnant women and prisoners over 60 with documented health issues will be placed under house arrest. Individuals convicted of a small number of crimes, including on terrorism-related charges, will not be eligible for reduced sentences. The draft law does not apply to those held in pre-trial detention or whose conviction is under appeal. The measure is expected to be introduced as the third reform package under the government’s Judicial Reform Strategy revealed last summer.
In Turkey, anti-terrorism legislation is vague and widely abused in trumped up cases against journalists,  opposition political activists, lawyers, human rights defenders and others expressing dissenting opinions. As we have documented in the large number of trials we have monitored, many are held in lengthy pre-trial detention and many are convicted of terrorism-related crimes simply for expressing dissenting opinion, without evidence that they ever incited or resorted to violence, or assisted illegal organizations.
This includes high profile journalist and novelist Ahmet Altan, Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, and businessman and civil society figure Osman Kavala, in addition to many more academics, rights defenders and journalists. Demirtas has previously reported heart-related health problems in prison, and both Altan and Kavala are over 60 years old meaning they could be at increased risk from Covid-19. These people should not be detained at all, excluding them from release would only compound the serious violations they have already suffered.
We, the undersigned, call on the government and Parliament to respect the principle of non-discrimination in the measures taken to lessen the grave health risk in prisons. The effect of the draft law is to exclude certain prisoners from release on the basis of their political views. Thousands of people are behind bars for simply exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Now they are also faced with an unprecedented risk to their health. According to its commitments under international human rights law, Turkey is under a clear obligation to take necessary measures to ensure the right to health of all prisoners without discrimination.
We invite Turkish authorities to use this opportunity to immediately release unjustly imprisoned people, and give urgent consideration to the release of those who have not been convicted of any offence and those who are at particular risk in prison from a rapidly spreading disease in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions where their health cannot be guaranteed.


Punto24, Platform for Independent Journalism

Amnesty International


Association of European Journalists (AEJ)

Cartoonists’ Rights Network International (CRNI)

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

Danish PEN

English PEN

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Freedom House

Frontline Defenders

German PEN

Index on Censorship

Initiative for Free Expression – Turkey (IFoX)

International Press Institute (IPI)

IPS Communication Foundation/bianet

IFEX – the Global Network Defending and Promoting Free Expression

Norwegian PEN

Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)

PEN Canada

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

Swedish PEN

Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project (TSLP)

Wan-Ifra/World Association of News Publishers

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AEJ accuses UK government of hypocrisy over restrictive policies on media access

The Association of European Journalists calls on the UK government headed by prime minister Boris Johnson to end at once its restrictive and partisan media policies. On Monday British political journalists staged a collective walkout from an official briefing arranged at Downing Street, the residence of the prime minister, in protest at a decision to separate out and exclude critical media on an arbitrary basis.

Under the new policy, as explained by the prime ministers’ aides, favoured journalists are routinely being granted special access to some press briefings a part of an “inner lobby” while others, including the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror and the Huffington Post, are excluded. When challenged yesterday  one of Mr Johnson’s aides reportedly said “we reserve the right to brief whoever we like, whenever we like’.

The prime minister’s staff had invited selected political journalists to a “technical briefing” on Boris Johnson’s plans for a trade deal with the EU. When other members of the Westminster “lobby” – full-time political journalists based in the Houses of Parliament – showed up as well, the group was told that only those who had been invited could go in and the rest should leave. All the journalists present then walked out together in a joint protest. They included the BBC political editor Laura Kuensberg, and the political editor of the Daily Mirror, Pippa Crerari who called the exclusion “sinister and sad”.

The Society of Editors, in a letter signed by the editors of all UK national newspapers as well as leading regional and broadcast journalists, protested at the denial of access to briefings to particular journalist and called on Boris Johnson to reverse his government’s practice of holding regular briefings at Downing Street instead of the traditional and more convenient location inside parliament. The editors expressed real concern that the changes would “hamper the workings of a free press”.

The AEJ’s Media Freedom Representative, William Horsley, said: “The UK government has laid itself open to the charge of hypocrisy by seeking to evade the robust media scrutiny of its actions by independent media that is essential in an open society, while it also claims to be acting as a champion of media freedom to the rest of the world.”

Last July the UK hosted a major Global Media Freedom Conference in London; and the UK has now assumed a leading role in a 33-nation Media Freedom Coalition whose publicly stated goals are to ensure that international and UN-sanctioned standards related to media freedom are upheld by the countries making up the Coalition themselves. The 33 states have also announced their intention to apply significant pressure on other states by diplomatic and other means to encourage them to discard repressive laws and practices that stifle of arbitrarily restrict press freedom.

In the context of the Global Media Freedom Coalition the UK Foreign Secretary Raab wants to ensure that the UK imposes harsh sanctions on individuals found to be responsible for serious abuses of fundamental rights. And last week, in a speech about Britian’s post-Brexit outlook, Mr Raab claimed that the UK would show itself to be “even better neighbours, allies and partners” through its membership of NATO, the OSCE and the Council of Europe. Among the Council of Europe’s foremost priority is that member states should exert themselves to create a “favourable environment” for free and independnet media to hold governments to account. 

In the six months since Boris Johnson’s government was elected it has provoked sharp protests from the UK media as well as opposition parties for its high-handed dealings with the media. The prime minister and his aides have imposed tighter restrictions on ministers’ contacts with the media and boycotted both the BBC’s flagship morning radio current affairs show, the Today Programme, and Channel 4 News, both of which are known for asking searching questions to  government representatives.

Mr Johnson’s communications team have also sought to bypass the mainstream media altogether to deliver messages directly to the public in their own way. Mr Johnson’s “address to the nation” to mark the UK’s departure from the EU on 31 January was filmed and released by his own staff instead of by a national TV network. Number Ten Downing Street staff were said to be furious after the BBC and some other networks declined to air clips from the message in their live programmes marking the actual moment of Brexit last Friday night. 

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EJN members participate AEJ Congress in Paris

This gallery contains 4 photos.

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EJN Secretary Nurer Zaman Bhuiyan attended EP Press Seminar

This gallery contains 4 photos.

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Britain’s Exit Could Rejuvenate the European Union

By Llewellyn King

PARIS — There are those who believe when Britain finally shakes off its European bondage it will prosper as never before. This prosperity will be so compelling that the remaining 27 countries that comprise the European Union will follow suit in pursuit of riches. The end of European integration.

This is a view easier to find in Washington than it is in Paris or in London. There is a sense here of Europe Rising not Europe Disintegrating. Britain will still, despite the contrived case against membership, look to selling to and buying from Europe. After all, the EU will still be there: a huge market just a little over 20 miles across the English Channel.

Europe is beset with sluggish growth. The euro — the currency used by 19 of Europe’s nations — has been a mixed blessing, unable to serve hurting states by devaluing to increase exports. Yet it is the symbol of Europe, particularly to a new generation that has known nothing else and looks more to a united Europe than, perhaps, their parents.

These are problems but not insuperable. From what I heard here at the annual congress of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), Europeans feel that they really need each other, not least because they are constantly under a sophisticated and relentless attack of fake news and disinformation from Russia. Russia is a huge problem in Europe with fake information and even fake events, like the planting of disrupters pretending to be reporters or staged events suggesting a fascist penetration that does not exist. Daily, Russia endangers the truth in Europe.

The AEJ is, to my mind, as good a place as any to take the temperature of Europe. It is made up of working journalists, not stars or polemicists, but day-to-day reporters from across Europe, from Bulgaria to Spain and from Finland to Ireland. Collectively, they provide unique insight on the mood of Europe.

Rather than Britain’s departure (which nobody in Europe wants), here at the AEJ congress Brexit is regarded as the kind of misfortune that brings people together and leads on to triumph. Rather than Europe’s tragedy, here it is seen as Britain’s tragedy. And rather than Brexit being a precursor to the breakup of the EU, here it is seen as a precursor to the breakup of the United Kingdom.

Otmar Lahodynsky, president of the AEJ, says that England has discovered nationalism, as have Scotland and Wales — suggesting the inevitable breakup of the United Kingdom as it has been constituted since the Act of Union in 1707.

For Europe, the continuing problem is immigration.

While there are rich and poor nations, those in poverty will try to live in those with prosperity and migrate illegally. Not only has this been one of the drivers of Brexit, but it is also a massive problem for Europe, both the internal movement of people from countries like Poland to France, Holland and Germany, and from countries outside, especially Africa where people board unseaworthy vessels and risk drowning trying to reach Europe.

Add climate change to worries about Russia and immigration.

Europeans, much more than Americans, are palpably stricken about climate change and concomitant sea level rise. This adds to immigration pressure and free-floating anxiety about the future — an anxiety that is unifying, particularly for the young.

In London, once my home and now a bitterly divided place, there is agreement that new trade deals will not be written at the speed of a French train. People point out ruefully that it took Britain seven years to conclude a trade deal with Canada — and Britain and Canada l-o-v-e each other as mother and daughter. Who wants a deal with, say, the Czech Republic, with such passion? Not a tempting future.

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AEJ Statement on the draft media law proposed by the Albanian government

December 12 2019

The Association of European Journalists’ Albanian section expresses its urgent concern that the proposed new law on online media registration is a “direct attack” on the freedom of online media. We join the statements of 15 other associations and that of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media that this draft has serious defects that directly affect the freedom of online media.

The so called anti-fake news draft, whose stated goal is to stop the spread of fake news, child pornography and news that represent a risk to national security, actually reflects the demand for arbitrary powers to be assumed by the government of Prime Minister Edi Rama. The legislation threatens the fundamental rights of the Albanian public and is vigorously opposed by the media community and the associations that protect them.

15 associations of journalists have strongly criticized this new draft that is not yet voted by the parliament, considering it a great risk to media freedom and failing to provide workable solutions to issues related to fake news, propaganda, hate speech and disinformation.

The law has also been criticized by representatives of the European Union and the OSCE, who have called for less intrusive and wide-ranging approaches. The Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe has stated said that the proposed stringent regulation of online media is not in line with the standards of the Council of Europe, so it is necessary to adopt different policies concerning online and offline media.

The official in the OSCE’s office in Tirana who has responsibilities for the media, Irina Radu has pointed out that many people benefit greatly from using online media because it is cheaper and less subject to restrictive controls. Earlier, the OSCE’s media freedom representative Harlem Desir called for a review of the draft law  proposed by the government.

We also welcome the comments made by the prestigious The New York Times newspaper which advocated a re-think of this draft legislation because of its likely damaging impact on online media freedom.

The law was drafted without initial consultation with journalists’ associations and was kept secret until a few weeks ago. The law grants the AMA (Albanian Media Audio Visual Agency) legal authority to fine online media based on third party annexes, to order the closure of internet portals in Albania without the necessary legal safeguards, or to impose fines of up to 8 million leke ( about 6500 euros). It even gives powers to AKEP, an institution whose head is elected by political parties, to shut down online media without a proper legal procedure at the outset of a complaint by a third party, which significantly increases censorship and the risk of self-censorship in the media.

The proposal to impose a 20% tax on online media and a 6% tax on television stations demonstrates the hostile intent of this initiative by the ruling part, towards online media which criticize  its actions. According to official data the traditional media TVs have the highest annual revenues, yet they are to be more lightly taxed.

AEJ Albania insists that self-regulation is the best solution for the Albanian media, because any political interference violates its independence and has a negative impact on the country’s democracy.

For these reasons it calls on the Government and MPs not to vote on this legal initiative but instead to withdraw it. Such a vote would risk inflicting long-term damage on media freedom and obstructing Albania’s progress towards EU integration.

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Finland’s press freedom under pressure from politicians and lack of transparency

Fred Krull

Finland holds the presidency of the council of the EU for the next six months.To find out what this means for press and media freedom in Europe, the ECPMF talked to Salla Vuorikoski, a leading Finnish journalist who reported on the “Sipilägate” scandal in 2017 and later resigned from the Finnish public broadcaster Yle after disagreements over journalistic integrity.

Find details:

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