[Yep, by Independent read: "White" and "Pro-White" Media. Jan]
The assault on independent media
This week the Polish government announced it would change aspects of a plan to levy a tax on advertising revenues on independent media groups. It follows days of protest, including the suspension of services by some broadcasters and radio stations who branded the tax “extortion” and an attack on free journalism.
But this was a rare victory for media organisations who have found themselves under systematic censure from governments from Warsaw to Budapest to Ljubljana.
The past few years have seen free media come under immense pressure, from journalists being singled out and publicly attacked, to licenses revoked and existing independent organisations being taken over by companies sympathetic to incumbent parties
Also in Poland just two months ago the state-controlled oil refiner Orlen acquired 20 of the country’s 24 regional newspapers from their German owners. Since the Law and Justice party came to power in 2015, Poland has fallen from 18th to 62nd place in the World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
In Hungary, the situation is significantly worse. Rather than locking up journalists, or closing down broadcasters, Viktor Orbán’s government has pursued a more subtle and prolonged game of strangling independent media. A typical example came this week when liberal-leaning radio station Klubrádió went off the airwaves on Sunday at midnight after a court upheld a decision by media authorities not to extend its broadcasting licence over minor infringements. The Budapest government claimed it wasn’t a one of offence, and that Klubrádió had been warned.
You might feel that’s fair, revoking a license under certain circumstances seems reasonable but when taken in the context of the past ten years, Klubrádió joins a long list of critical media sources who have been effectively silenced in Hungary. In 2018, a merger of almost 500 pro-government news outlets under the management of a single entity further consolidated government control. Again, unsurprisingly, Hungary has dropped down the world rankings, falling from 53rd place in 2013 to 89th in the RSF list of 180 countries in 2020.
Meanwhile in Slovenia, the Trump-supporting Prime Minister Janez Janša is in full attack mode. He’s branded the Slovenian Press Agency as a “national disgrace”, and claims the national broadcaster is spreading “lies”. Journalists now claim they are working under a culture of fear and that the situation is getting worse.
It’s a pretty bleak picture. One that reflects badly on a European Union that places press freedom as a basic principle. Yes, Members of the European Parliament have spoken out; those from Hungary, Poland and Slovenia are often the most vocal critics. The European Commission consistently condemns these actions when asked in press conferences. But frankly the response is meek words and certainly not actions.
So why not? If this was happening outside the EU, leaders would be expected to be vocal in their condemnation, much like the British government has been this week with the decision by China to stop broadcasting BBC World News. But when it comes to criticism from Paris, Berlin or Rome about what’s happening inside their own Union, little is said. Maybe because media freedom is just one on a long list of EU principles being undermined from judicial independence to free universities and anti-corruption.
And as for taking some concrete steps that might help, well, the Article 7 infringement process against Poland and Hungary is bogged down at Council level with an ineffective, unworkable stick and little desire to use it.
Media freedom is at the core of any liberal democracy. The European Union’s lack of action only seems to have embolden those in power who seek to undermine it. More must be done. In the end where is the EU’s rules-based ethos if you can systematically destroy something so important and frankly get away with it?