Screenshot of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union website

Petr Fiala, Prime Minister, Czech Republic

CC: Mikuláš Bek, Minister of Europe

CC: Charles Michel, President of the European Council

CC: Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

June 30, 2022

 

Dear Prime Minister Fiala,

On behalf of eighteen journalists, media freedom, and human rights groups we take the opportunity of the upcoming Czech Republic’s presidency of the Council of the European Union to welcome your government’s commitment to freedom of the media and determination to advance the EU’s ability to address threats to journalism and media freedom.

The current Commission has prioritized media freedom as part of its Democracy Action Plan and has taken important initiatives in advancing the safety of journalists through the recommendations issued in September 2021, and in addressing the balance of power on the internet to preserve fundamental human rights and combat disinformation in the Digital Services Act.

In April the much-needed anti-Slapps Directive was launched and, left undiluted in its current form, can make a very significant impact on protecting journalists from being targeted by vexatious lawsuits designed to stifle public debate and prevent accountability.

And under your presidency the European Commission is due to publish the European Media Freedom Act providing a crucial opportunity to combat the threats posed to European democracy by the capture of media by political parties and governments that has become increasingly prevalent in parts of the European Union.

Media Capture as conducted by political forces can be broadly understood as the abuse of government powers to create a pliant media acting in the interests of the government. It can be divided into four key areas,

  • the misuse and abuse of government funds - advertising, public subsidies or other public contracts - to boost media support for government and punish independent media
  • the taking over of media regulators with politically aligned supporters that can abuse their authority to rule on media licensing and mergers in favour of pro-government media
  • the manipulation of media ownership to create a bubble of government propaganda outfits - often dependent on government largess - and sidelining independent media to the edges of public debate
  • the control of public media, often converted into flagrant propaganda arms.

The EMFA should address all of these areas by introducing Europe wide rules on

  • Improving transparency of media ownership and funding and all financial relations between media and the government
  • Ending the abuse of government funds to finance media allies and creating a hostile economic environment to independent media
  • Improving the independence of media regulators, and
  • Protecting public media from political interference

The Czech Presidency has an opportunity to advance the debate around the EMFA as it understands well the threat posed by media capture and the necessity for EU action.

In particular you have witnessed how public advertising and public contracts were abused by the previous Czech government to fund media close to and owned by the former Prime Minister. You have also witnessed how the appointments process for the governing bodies of the Czech TV were politicised by the previous government in an attempt to take control of the public broadcaster. And you have witnessed how media pluralism can suffer when mainstream media are taken over by oligarchs dependent on close relations with the government to protect their broader business interests.

You were elected to power on the promise of promoting media freedom, independence and pluralism and introducing reforms to end the ability of governments to abuse state funds to influence media coverage. We ask you to help replicate these actions with a strong endorsement of the European Media Freedom Act.

 

Kind regards,

International Press Institute (IPI)

Association of European Journalists (AEJ Belgium)

Baltic Centre for Media Excellence (BCME)

Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties)

The Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ)

Cultural Broadcasting Archive (cba), Vienna

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Finnish Foundation for Media and Development

Free Press Unlimited

Global Forum for Media Development

IFEX

Muwatin Media Network

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

Ossigeno.info

Public Media Alliance (PMA)

South East Europe  Media Organisation (SEEMO)

Society of Journalists, Warsaw

Tags: Czech Republic European policies and legislation Media freedom Media capture