The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response, welcomes the publication of the first EU Annual Rule of Law Report, and we appreciate that a number of the concerns we raised in the preparatory phase have been taken into account.
In April 2020, together with other civil society organisations, the ECPMF and several other MFRR partners provided recommendations for safeguarding media freedom and pluralism through the European Rule of Law Mechanism, including specific recommendations for the Annual Rule of Law Report. Among other things, we underlined the importance of the Report covering the wide range of challenges faced by journalists and the media sector. This includes assessments of transparency of ownership and government interference; whether the environment is conducive to an independent and pluralistic media landscape, online and offline; and, the framework for the protection of journalists and media workers.
Moreover, in order to strengthen the Mechanism’s capacity to bring about concrete change, we called for country-specific recommendations, framed in the context of Member States’ existing obligations under other intergovernmental bodies including the Council of Europe. Furthermore, we also noted the need to ensure that a wide range of stakeholders could feed into the process, to endow the Mechanism with greater credibility and recognition and to promote civil society inclusion in Member States where the rule of law is threatened.
We welcome that in the first Report, the European Commission indeed focuses on media pluralism as one of the four pillars of the work, which draws on a process of dialogue, consultation and expert input, including from MFRR partners and other civil society organisations. However, we regret that country-specific recommendations are missing from the Report. Furthermore, while the assessments refer to EU law requirements, as well as recommendations and opinions from the Council of Europe, it is a missed opportunity that only limited mention is made of the pertinent case law of the European Court of Human Rights.
The Report serves to confirm the critical situation for the safety of journalists and media freedom in several EU Member States and often reflects the concerns highlighted throughout the MFRR’s activities. With more in-depth analysis to follow in the coming days and weeks, it is evident that the publication of the Annual Report must now be followed by strong and definite action, including in the upcoming European Democracy Action Plan, to address the at-times severe deterioration of media freedom that it describes.