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"The essential role of a free press not only as a conveyer of reliable and accurate news, but as a pillar of democracy,” underlined EU High Representative Federica Mogherini on World Press Freedom Day 2019. The EU has always put the defence and protection of the freedom of expression and qualitative information at the top of its priorities. In her declaration, Ms Mogherini stressed that “there is no democracy without a truly free press".
As part of the high-level panel organized in Geneva for the World Press Freedom Day, Michael O'Flaherty, Director of the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency, provided a keynote speech.
In his keynote remarks, Mr. O’Flaherty addressed the current challenges for journalists and media, and elaborated on ways to improve press freedom. Mr. O'Flaherty started by paying tribute to journalists and the great bravery that they show in carrying out their profession. Recent deaths of Dejan Anastasijević and of Lyra McKee, Serbian and Irish journalists, illustrate the hostile environment faced by journalists, even within the EU. According to UNESCO, nearly 100 journalists were killed in 2018.
Reflecting on how to maximise the impact of today's media for the maintenance and the strengthening of the democratic space, Michael O'Flaherty identified a number of threats and risks to which journalism is exposed, such as violence, interferences, or pressures.
"We have to acknowledge the quite dramatic ways in which our world has evolved. First and above all else, we have to observe the emergence over time and the increasing domination of the digital public space - with all that that implies for how media operate. This public space is largely privately controlled but it permits anyone and everyone to place content. The digitalised world has a most astonishing scope and potential for the delivery of human good, but it is no less a risky space," Mr O'Flaherty underlines. Other speakers, including Ambassador Tichy-Fisslberger of Austria and Alan Doss, President of the Kofi Annan Foundation, also stressed the role of digital media, making the environment in which journalists work more complex than ever.
In the context of the upcoming European elections, it is essential to protect the Union's democratic systems and combat disinformation. The EU Action Plan against Disinformation precisely steps up the European response to strengthen the resilience of our societies against disinformation. The High Representative Federica Mogherini recalled that "Healthy democracy relies on open, free and fair public debate and it is our duty to protect this space and not allow anybody to spread disinformation that fuels hatred, division, and mistrust in democracy."