17th Mar 2018

New EU citizens' appeal targets press freedom

  • Press freedom is increasingly an issue in Europe (Photo: DRB62)

Verdi, a German trade union which triggered the only successful European Citizens' Initiative so far, is throwing its weight behind a new project on press freedom.

With 2 million members, it could easily get the 1 million signatures the EU requires to lodge a citizens’ appeal. But the Lisbon Treaty also says the 1 million people must come from at least seven EU countries.

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  • Graffiti in Berlin against Berlusconi's media empire (Photo: dominique cappronnier)

The purpose-built campaign for the new project, the European initiative for media pluralism, partly funded by two foundations - Open Society and Adessium - calls on the European Commission to consider a legislative proposal to fight media concentration and to protect journalists from attacks.

The campaign is targeting Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and the UK.

Its spokesman, Giovanni Melogli, told press in Berlin on Tuesday (11 March) he got involved because of his own experience as a media advisor for an Italian MEP between 2004 and 2009.

"Back then, during the worst period of [former Italian PM] Berlusconi, the European Parliament asked the European Commission to intervene, because there was a clear breach of freedom of the press in Italy, with a Prime Minister who was also owner of half of the main media and able to control the public broadcaster,” he said.

He accused the EU commission of “hypocrisy" in claiming it upholds free speech, but saying it has no competence to act in the “internal matters” of EU states, such as Berlusconi’s Italy.

Attila Mong, a Hungarian journalist linked to the campaign, said there is a similar problem on Hungary.

The commission criticised laws passed by the strong-handed government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban but to little avail.

"Hungary is the best example of how a country can go wrong. We have both a Berlusconisation and a Putinisation of media," Mong, who was fired from Hungarian public radio after holding a minute of silence on air in protest at the media laws, noted, referring to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

He said the only hope for civil activists in Hungary is for the EU commission to get the power to act on violation of civil liberties in member states.

In Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Romania most media are also controlled by moguls with strong political interests.

Verdi, the German trade union, orchestrated an earlier campaign on access to water, which, in February, became the first-ever EU citizens’ project to make the grade.

Cornelia Hass, the leader of the German journalists' trade union in Verdi, said media concentration may not be as "gripping" a topic as water privatisation was for German people, but added: “in Germany there is a sensibility for the relevance of this issue. Media pluralism is also disappearing on local and regional markets in Germany. And everyone has heard about Italy and Hungary, so it is worth trying.”

The campaign has to get 1 million signatures by 18 August.

The commission will evaluate if it has competence over the field and if it says Yes, it will generate a legislative proposal for MEPs and member states, as with the “Right2Water” project.

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