EU urged to protect independent journalism in Poland, Hungary, Slovenia

Ljubljana – A group of 19 NGOs and associations advocating media and human rights urged the EU on Tuesday to “take decisive action to protect independent journalism” in Poland, Hungary and Slovenia. The call comes a day before a debate on threats to media freedom in the three countries to be held at the European Parliament.

A letter addressed to MEPs says that Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party has “perfected the procedure to subjugate media by the state in the past decade”, while the EU’s failure to react has led to similar trends now being witnessed in Poland and Slovenia.

“The consequences are clear. Independent journalism is at stake like never before when the two governments [Hungarian and Polish] are twisting and transforming the media mare to their own benefit, which has harmful consequences for media freedom and democracy in Europe.

“A similar development can now also be seen in Slovenia, where the government led by the SDS leadership attacks public media and incites hatred towards critical journalists,” the NGOs, among them Slovenia’s Journalists’ Association (DNS), say.

The EU turning a blind eye to the undermining of media freedom and pluralism in Hungary and Poland has enabled the model of subjugating the media to spread to other EU members, the letter says, adding: “It is time for the European Commission to act.”

The Commission was called upon to investigate measures against the Hungarian radio station Klubradio, whose licence has not been extended, and the use of state-controlled Polish refiner PKN Orlen to buy private media outlets in Poland.

The letter urges more powers for the European Commission to be able to better protect pluralism and media independence while the Commission should also make sure EU members do not use post-pandemic EU recovery funds to further subjugate media.

Tuesday’s letter, signed among others by the International Press Institute, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, European Federation of Journalists, PEN International and Reporters without Borders, comes a day before MEPs discuss media freedom in the three EU members that joined the EU in 2004.

The Commission was also urged to take action to protect the rule of law and democracy as Europe-wide civil liberties advocacy group Liberties published a report today.

The Civil Liberties Union for Europe says the rule of law and democracy have been substantially weakened across the EU in the coronavirus pandemic, while political pressure on the media is worrying in Poland, Hungary and Slovenia.

As for Slovenia, the report also says journalists are regularly threatened and being labelled “prostitutes”, while to avoid such attacks, they resort to self-censorship.

The report also says the governments with authoritarian traits in Hungary, Poland and Slovenia have used the pandemic as an excuse to weaken democratic standards.

Slovenia is also mentioned in groups of countries where public assembly has been curbed, protesters arbitrarily detained, and journalists, activists or artists taken to court.

The 14-page section of the report on Slovenia was prepared by the Ljubljana-based Peace Institute.

Its main points are that the media environment is increasingly hostile, marked by an increasing threat to the regulator’s independence, a lack of ownership transparency and by the government’s pressure on the national press agency STA.