European Federation of Journalists

Ursula von der Leyen calls on EU member states to protect journalists

The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen gave the annual address on the State of the Union in front of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) on 15 September. In her speech, she stressed the need to better protect journalists, media outlets’ independence and the public right to information. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) welcomed a strong statement in favour of media freedom and demanded concrete binding initiatives for EU member states to make these words a reality.

President Ursula von der Leyen gave a long speech outlining her vision for the future of Europe and reaffirming European values “enshrined in the treaties”, such as the rule of law and the freedom of expression.

For the very first time, she addressed the deteriorating situation of media freedom in the European Union citing the numerous attacks that journalists are increasingly facing and the tragic assassinations of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, Jan Kuciak in Slovakia, Peter de Vries in the Netherlands.

“Journalists are being targeted simply for doing their job. Some have been threatened, some beaten and, tragically, some murdered. Right here, in our European Union. Let me mention some of their names: Daphné Caruana Galizia. Ján Kuciak. Peter de Vries. The details of their stories may be different but what they have in common is that they all fought and died for our right to be informed. Information is a public good. We must protect those who create transparency – the journalists,” said Ursula von der Leyen.

She announced two upcoming initiatives: the EU recommendation on ensuring safety of journalists and media workers – to be presented by commissioner Vera Jourova on Thursday 16 September – and the European Media Freedom Act.

“We need to stop those who threaten media freedom,” added Ursula von der Leyen. “Media companies cannot be treated as just another business. Their independence is essential. Europe needs a law that safeguards this independence – and the Commission will deliver a Media Freedom Act in the next year. Defending media freedom means defending our democracy.”

“We welcome this State of the Union Address which, for the first time, includes strong statements and commitments on media freedom,” reacted Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, EFJ President. But the situation has deteriorated to such an extent, with 14 murders of journalists in EU member states since 2015, that it is also a question of taking measures that force states to take action”.

“We hope that the EU Recommendation on the Safety of Journalists, which will be presented tomorrow, will call for better social protection for journalists, especially freelancers. And better protection for women journalists and journalists from minority backgrounds. We also asked the European Commission to give attention to police violence against journalists and to promote dialogue between EU member states, journalistic self-regulatory bodies and journalists’ associations and unions,” added the EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez. “Above all, the EU should assess the situation of press freedom in each Member State, and its evolution year after year. It is high time to name and shame the EU member states that do nothing or almost nothing to protect journalists”.