‘Press freedom is a reliable barometer of the state of democracy. The EU’s failure to live up to its own standards undermines its influence on the rest of the world’, said Jean-Paul Marthoz, author of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report ‘Balancing Act: ‘Press Freedom at risk as EU struggles to match action with values’.* The Report was launched September 29, in the Pressclub Brussels Europe (PCBE).
Marthoz, a Belgian journalist and longtime press freedom and human rights activist: ‘The EU likes to present itself as a model of press freedom. Indeed a number of EU countries top the international press freedom rankings, and confronted authoritarian states bent on restricting free speech and disciplining critical journalists’. However as documented in this report the EU record is far from immaculate, and too often shows a nagging lack of consistency between ideals and actions.
The EU’s defence of press freedom has mainly been tailored to traditional foreign policy criteria, such as security interests or trade relations, the Report says. Key economic or geopolitical actors, not only China but also the US (Guantanamo, death penalty) do not have much to fear from Brussels. This inconsistency is fed by the EU’s own internal contradictions. The EU has issued elaborate guidelines on freedom of expression for other countries, but a majority of its member states still keep illiberal laws, such as those covering criminal defamation and restricting the editorial independence of the media, in their judicial arsenal. Hungary is the best example.
CPJ’s conclusion: This credibility gap affects EU’s capacity to act as an exemplary global power. Authoritarian governments point to the EU’s checkered record to justify their misdeeds. Russia has been particularly adept at this game. Its foreign ministry criticized the EU’s own human rights record, and brushed away Brussels’ attempts to upbraid other countries.
* Balancing Act: Press Freedom at risk as EU struggles to match action with values is a special report by the Committee to Protect Journalists