Marietje Schaake: Freedom of the press and media central role in European external policies

The promotion of freedom of the press and independent media should play a central role in the external policies of the European Union. Increased cooperation within the EEAS and European Commission and with businesses is essential if the EU wants to stimulate and protect these fundamental aspects of democracy. Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake (ALDE/D66): “Freedom of expression is a universal right and it is crucial for the freedom and development of every human being. A free press is a prerequisite for democracy and a key check on power. Just last week we saw how in Turkey, under pressure from Prime-Minister Erdogan’s government, TV stations broadcasted documentaries about penguins and ignored the protests. However, eyewitness reports did reach the outside world through social media. Digitisation can promote human rights, gives protests a human face and enables access to information. But we are also seeing new forms of intimidation, surveillance and censorship by both governments and companies. We need a solution to this problem.” Worldwide trends This afternoon, a large majority of the Parliament adopted a report in which Schaake lays the foundations for a new press and media freedom policy for the EU. Schaake: “I chose not to focus on specific countries but on worldwide trends, such as the increasing violence against journalists, the impunity of perpetrators, the surveillance and censorship of the internet and the abuse of terrorism and national security laws. But also the increased power of some companies which, partly because of the financial crisis, own many different media outlets; both online and offline. The case of Edward Snowden shows the importance of protecting whistle-blowers and sources, especially in our digitized world. Merely training journalists is no longer enough, we need a broader approach." Concrete proposals In her report, Schaake lists a great number of concrete proposals. The EU should focus more on long term projects instead of ad hoc support. During periods of democratic transition, Europe should assist policy makers by offering advice on new media laws and regulations; taking into account the potential of digitisation. Funds and expertise to offer legal advice to journalists who are being prosecuted, and to call a halt to impunity, should strengthen their legal status and decrease self-censorship. Schaake: “To be successful, we will need to focus on and stimulate many different areas at the same time; just one example is that companies too have responsibility. Investing in an open society is safer and more appealing because free media form a check on power and can reveal corruption." Cooperating During the drafting process of the report, Schaake received input from bloggers, journalists, media organisations and companies. On her website, they were able to submit comments and make suggestions, based on discussion papers. Schaake: “I did not want to re-do the work of organisations like Freedom House or Reporters Without Borders. I wanted to engage people in the field through crowd-sourcing in order to find out where the EU can make the difference. This report has become more valuable and relevant because of all the reactions.”