This website is an archive of the work of Marietje Schaake in the European Parliament between 2009 and 2019. Marietje can be reached at marietje.schaake@ep.europa.eu

Blog: Europe must be credible advocate of press freedom

Marietje
At a demonstration in Cairo, Egyptian policemen shot two journalists with rubber bullets. In China, journalist Wang Jing was sentenced to nearly five years in jail; her articles caused 'unrest'. She wrote about demonstrations that were brutally crushed by the Chinese police. In Mexico, investigative journalists are targeted by drug cartels and in Bangladesh bloggers have been attacked and killed by extremists. Everywhere in the world press freedom is under increasing pressure and police and justice departments are not doing enough to address the problem. Besides direct threats against freedom of speech and journalists, there is also other pressure in the form of government control, censorship or propaganda. The new Polish media law increases government control over the media in order to keep critical journalists in line. In Turkey, journalists are accused of insults or lies by the President himself. In China, foreign companies have to get the government's permission before they can publish anything online. The Russian government has a key role in various media that spread conspiracy theories or strongly coloured posts in Europe. Where one actively uses the media for political gain, the other restrains it for his political career. Without a free press, people do not have access to appropriate information for example on human rights violations or revelations of whistle-blowers. Without a free press the public debate is silenced, there is no control of government and our democracy cannot exist. Freedom of the press is an essential component of European identity and values. We need to invest in it and it should be an essential part of foreign policy. Unfortunately, more and more often we see the opposite happening. Europe hardly responds when candidate member states violate the freedom of press on a daily basis. In the Balkans and Turkey incidents are increasing. Journalists are threatened, persecuted or imprisoned and different media have been taken over by the state without strong criticism by the European Commission. The result? A Dutch journalist was arrested in Turkey because of a critical tweet and a German comedian is being forced to account for insulting Erdogan. How did we get into a situation where Turkey exports authoritarian tendencies to the EU instead of the EU strengthening freedom of expression in Turkey? This is a question to think about on International Press Freedom Day. Europe can and must do more to guarantee freedom of press and to face censorship and propaganda. Many of the countries where press freedom is respected are located in Europe, globally only 13 % of the population lives in a country where press freedom is respected. Firstly, the European Union must not adopt laws allowing the privatized censorship of online content by companies such as Twitter or YouTube. Sometimes people ask to ban or block publications and websites with propaganda, but a European approach must have the principle of free speech as a starting point. Propaganda cannot be discouraged with censorship; propaganda can only be discouraged by more voices and a pluralistic independent media. The EU must continue to train activists and journalists in the use of anonymising tools and encryption techniques to work online securely. New technologies that protect human rights can be developed especially in Europe. That should be promoted more actively. Further, there must finally the export of European espionage technologies, which allow authoritarian governments too keep an eye on journalists, bloggers or dissidents, must finally be brought to an end. By putting a stop to the export of digital weapons Europe can be a more credible advocate of press freedom. And lastly, European politicians and diplomats should stand up for press freedom always and everywhere. In conversations with countries where press freedom is not respected, this is perhaps the most difficult, but that is also where it is needed most urgently. Europe must show that this is one of our core values, which we do not squander for economic or strategic interests. This means that European diplomats consistently have to go to court hearings for arrested journalists, that Europe should provide legal assistance where necessary and we strengthen trade ties with countries only in exchange for an improvement in human rights and fundamental freedoms. Global press freedom has declined in 2015 to its lowest level in twelve years. Europe should be playing a leading role to put an end to the free fall. Democracy cannot function without free press.