A free press guarantees the integrity of elections

Several senior EU figures have marked World Press Freedom Day (3 May) by praising the "essential" role of a free press.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini led the comments, saying, "A free press is not only as a conveyer of reliable and accurate news, but a pillar of democracy."

On Friday, she added, "The quality of democratic processes is linked to the state of freedom of expression as well as mediafreedom and pluralism. There is no democracy without a truly free press.

"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.

"This year's 26th worldwide commemoration addresses the current challenges faced by the media in elections in times of disinformation, as well as the media's potential to support democracy, peace and reconciliation. Disinformation has a high potential to negatively influence democratic processes and public debates all over the world, and the European Union makes no exception."

The Italian added, "This is why we have launched the 'EU Action Plan against Disinformation' that steps up the European response to strengthen the resilience of our societies against disinformation. The Plan focuses on improving detection of disinformation, coordinating and joining up actions by the Union and Member States, mobilising the private sector to deliver on its commitments, raising public awareness and empowering citizens. 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.

"The EU is promoting free and fair media not only at home but also globally in our relations with third countries, including by providing funding for targeted projects that enhance quality journalism, press freedom and access to public information."

The High Rep said, "With free journalism under increasing pressure, the EU reaffirms its determination to defend press and media freedom within its borders and worldwide."

Elsewhere the European Green Party co-chairs Monica Frassoni and Reinhard Bütikofer said, “Press freedom is our greatest guarantee against corruption and abuse and must be defended at all costs to protect basic human and civic rights.  We would like to pay homage to the critical work of journalists who speak truth to power often at tremendous personal risk."

The two said, "We especially remember Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak and Bulgarian journalist Victoria Marinova who were killed after unearthing deep-seated corruption in the corridors of power.

“As we enter the final phase of the electoral campaign across Europe, the need for quality journalism to fend off biased and fake content repackaged as fact has become even more urgent. The only way to preserve the integrity of our democratic process is through a free press that has the teeth to hold the powers that be to account.  

The pair added, “Over the last five years some progress has been made through recent EU measures to protect whistleblowers and an EU cross-border investigative journalism fund, but we’ve also seen a backlash againstmedia freedom in a number of European countries.  We have to harness the regulatory power of the European Commission during its next term to stem political interference, disrupt the concentration of media ownership and protect the integrity and safety of journalists across Europe."

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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