The European Union is not reactive enough when freedom of the press is under attack within its borders, in particular from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his government, claimed an NGO on Tuesday. A report by CPJ (Committee for the Protection of Journalists) highlights that Brussels could do more to ensure member states protect freedom of the media, and that European institutions were “poorly endowed” in this matter. “By not holding member states to account, the EU is showing a lack of determination and coherence in the fight to defend freedom of the press,” say the authors of the report.
In Hungary, public media have become “spokespeople for the government,” and “public advertising is used to reward friends and punish deviation,” complains CPJ. It is a country where independent journalists are “side-lined”, and “limits” have been applied to the freedom of information act, added the New York-based NGO.
The EU’s reaction has been to “delay” rather than to hold the Hungarian administration to account, except for a few accusations of violations, and resolutions at the European Parliament, deplores CPJ. “Although Orban’s challenge is recognised as a direct attack against journalists and as undermining the core values of the EU, we have seen no determined effort to counter it,” accuses the committee.
This failure of the EU “does not just affect the press within its borders, it undermines the ability of the EU to defend freedom of the press worldwide, because it gives an easy excuse to authoritarian states to continue with their own repressive policies,” suggests the committee.
The report says Europe should make use of weapons such as voting rights suspension for states charged by European institutions. It could also wield its powers over regulation of state and digital broadcasting to better protect journalists. “Our role is to defend and promote freedom of the press, but according to EU treaties, media regulation is the domain of member states,” was the answer given by the commission’s spokesperson on Tuesday.