European Union External Action

With free journalism under increasing pressure, the EU reaffirms determination to defend press freedom worldwide

03/05/2019 - 11:52
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This year's theme for the World Press Freedom Day is “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation”. The theme covers current challenges faced by media in elections, along with the media’s potential in supporting peace and reconciliation processes.

press freedom, world press freedom day

The 2019 celebrations are jointly organised by UNESCO, the African Union and the Ethiopian authorities. The main event will take place in Addis Ababa, on 1 – 3 May at the African Union Headquarters.

The EU has always been very vocal in defending and protecting freedom of expression and qualitative information. In its Declaration, the High Representative Federica Mogherini stressed: While bearing the great responsibility to guarantee checked and correct news to the public, free, diverse and independent media are at the very same basis of a pluralistic and open society. Investigative journalism fulfils a necessary watchdog role that assists the public in holding governments and institutions, at all level, accountable for their actions and obligations. However, we see more and more attempts to curb the space for free media, also by systematically undermining their credibility, and too many journalists have lost their lives or have put their lives at risk for having exposed inconvenient truths.

The exposure of citizens to large scale disinformation, including misleading or outright false information, is a major challenge worldwide. In December 2018, the EU adopted the Action Plan against Disinformation. The Action Plan sets out measures that should allow strengthening EU's capabilities to better detect, analyse and expose disinformation. It also identifies ways to come up with coordinated response to disinformation, raise awareness about its negative impact, mobilise the private sector and reinforce EU's positive communications in the priority regions.

Other actions include the EU's Code of Conduct for Online platforms, investing in fact-checking as well as Media and Information Literacy. In March 2019 the first ever European Media Literacy Week was organised with initiatives and events in Brussels and in Member States.

Since 2014 the EU has been implementing the EU Guidelines on Freedom of Expression Online and Offline. Through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), the EU supports journalists, media actors and other human rights activists defending freedom of expression who are at risk. With its Media4Democracy programme, the EU helps its Delegations worldwide implement the Guidelines. The EU also supports the work of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression.

Example: Media4Democracy in Indonesia Seeking ways to address hate speech and disinformation from a human rights perspective ahead of the 2019 elections, the EU provided support in hosting a two-day seminar in Jakarta in October 2018. This event was an agreed follow-up to the year’s EU-Indonesia Human rights dialogue. Bringing together 120 participants, European experts, media stakeholders, online platforms and government actors considered approaches and generated recommendations on addressing hate speech and disinformation while protecting the right to freedom of expression according to international and European standards.