Is the press really free in Europe?

When glancing at the latest International Press Freedom Index it would seem the member states of the European Union have the most free press in the world, but according to the Committee for Protection of Journalist this isn’t the case.

The International Press Freedom Index has been released for 2015, and shows fourteen European Union member states in the top twenty. The index takes into account legal framework for the media, whether there is a member monopoly in the state and level of independence. The lower score the more freedom the media possesses.

World Press Freedom Index – Top Ten

Source: Reporters without Borders - 2015 World Press Freedom Index
Source: Reporters without Borders – 2015 World Press Freedom Index

As shown above the European Union should have a lot to proud of when it comes to press freedom, but is this index an accurate picture of the media freedom; the Committee for Protection of Journalist (CPJ), an independent organisation that aims to project journalist and press freedom, thinks not.

Author of CPJ’s latest report Press Freedom at risk as EU struggles to match action with value, Jean-Paul Marthoz. Mr Marthoz says in the report that while the European Union promotes itself as a model for press freedom, the opposite is a reality.

“Although many of its twenty-eight member state feature at the top of international press freedom rankings, there are significant challenges that undermine press freedom and new threats are emerging” Mr Marthoz said.

The report highlights the growth of large-scale surveillance, the presence of criminal defamation laws (with some charges carrying prison sentences), and restriction on information in a post September 11 world.

Interviewed in the report was Amnesty International Belgium director Philippe Hensmans says that Europe runs the risk of losing international influence if it doesn’t improve press freedom.

“How can the EU hope of convincing other governments, from Turkey to China, to improve their press freedom record if it itself is at fault,” Mr Hensmans said.

The one

main offender of European press freedom violations are Hungary who place sixty-five on the ‘press freedom index’ with a score of 27.44. Hungary’s reputation with the media freedom is poor, with the government controlling a large portion of the media and in some cases taxes being opposed on media outlets not controlled by the media.

When countires wish to join the European Union they must adhere to the ‘Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union’. Article eleven of this charter, deals with the freedom of expression and information and specially states that “the freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected”.

While the report agrees that this charter is hugely important, it is the regulation of article eleven after the country is member is what is failing the EU.

“The EU failed to activate its rule of law mechanism, which is supposed to penalise member states that backtrack on responsibilities, and which might have prevented the situation in Hungary from deteriorating further,” Mr. Marthoz said.

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