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Summit shows solidarity and points to future safeguards for press freedom


25 March 2021

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by Nik Williams

The COVID-19 pandemic transformed Europe, in the same month when the Media Freedom Rapid Response started its first year. It pushed the inaugural MFRR Summit online and  its presence haunted many of the sessions organised between 17 and 20 March 2021.

It is against the backdrop of the pandemic, where countries such as Slovenia, Hungary and Poland have perfected ways to extend government influence over media outlets, regulators or public broadcasters; where protest movements have mobilised anti-media sentiment to target journalists reporting on demonstrations across Europe and where online smear campaigns have transformed social media platforms from journalistic tools to unusable sources of unwarranted toxicity for many.

Four day online Summit

Over four days, eight panel discussions, two workshops and one keynote, 32 journalists and experts from 16 countries came together to diagnose the current media freedom landscape in Europe, where their fears lie, what threats to expect and what needs to change. Moving into 2021, they all gave a captivating but ultimately worrying view of the landscape journalists, media workers and outlets have to traverse in the coming weeks and months.



The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) is funded by the European Commission (EC) as a rapid response mechanism to monitor, track and respond to media freedom violations across European Union Member States and Candidate Countries. Opening the keynote with a video message, Věra Jourová, the EC Vice-President for Values and Transparency highlighted how the MFRR, through advocacy statements, briefings and statistics generated from the Mapping Media Freedom platform has informed her work and the Commission’s work, which has included the recent European Democracy Action Plan and briefings with the European Parliament.

Věra Jourová's message to the MFRR Summit 2021

Throughout the four-day summit, media workers and journalists who are at risk debated the situation of press and media freedom in their own country and on their own beat. As the sessions went on, irrespective of the different political situations and contexts, common themes and trends emerged. These were reinforced by the comprehensive Europe-wide Needs and Gaps analysis conducted by MFRR partner Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT) and launched in the last session of the summit. Powerful testimonies made up the lion’s share of sessions including in the summit and this analysis hopes to guide the international community towards improving what can be offered to ensure all journalists can continue their work free from threats of violence, legal jeopardy or acts of censorship.

Its findings were clear: those most at risk are freelancers, local news outlets and journalists, and women* journalists who are too often the target of online gender-based harassment. The Survey is published in the Resource Centre on Media Freedom in the EU, an online library of research studies, training materials and multi-media publications created by OBCT and ECPMF.

This is a snapshot of what currently is and is not available. Yet the work of mapping the geographical areas and types of journalists under most severe threat continues round the clock. At the MFRR Summit, participants learned how to become part of this effort. ECPMF’s Antje Schlaf and InfAI’s Benjamin Bock gave a step-by-step guide to reporting violations of media freedom through the Mapping Media Freedom platform and the Report It form. When it comes to being a media freedom watchdog we can all play our part. You can watch the training video here in ECPMF’s YouTube video which explains in detail how to do it.

MFRR’s practical support

Some of the people most severely affected by the worsening situation of press freedom in Europe also found practical guidance during the Summit through the workshop on mitigating the effects of online harassment offered by Javier Luque Martinez at MFRR partner, the International Press Institute (IPI). IPI has devised a toolkit for countering online harassment, which offers key pointers as to identifying the different motivations and dynamics behind online abuse, the distinctions between isolated trolls and co-ordinated smear campaigns, and the role influential politicians, media figures or other influential individuals play in directing abuse.

Reactions to the MFRR Summit 2021 were overwhelmingly positive. Thousands of Twitter and Facebook followers shared quotes, tips and comments from the debates and workshops. One of them pointed to the next new challenge: how to reach beyond the media freedom community to win support for journalists under threat from ordinary people. While the impact of COVID-19 could not be ignored, something else could not be escaped: the power and influence of solidarity. Whether from colleagues across the region or from members of the public who value the importance of the free press to democracy, the vital importance of solidarity could not be ignored. Northern Ireland’s Patricia Devlin summed it up:

Use the tag #MFRR Summit you can read detailed report of each day’s sessions and workshops at the #MFRR Summit 2021 here on the ECPMF website.

All content is free to re-use under Creative Commons 4.0, if you credit ECPMF.

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