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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
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The Current State of Media Freedom in the European Union

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Media freedom is one of the pillars of democracy in the modern world. The European Union is very involved when it comes to supporting press freedom and human rights among its member states. However, is this enough? Does the European Union put in the effort required to guarantee press independence? Not everyone would agree.

Analysis of the state of media freedom in some of the EU member states, as well as some future candidates, leads to uncomfortable realities. Below we will pinpoint some of the missteps taken recently. Hopefully, they can serve as examples that will not be repeated.

Poland - Concern Over the Media Bill with Impact on Press Freedom

The first stop on the list of countries where media freedom is not fully guaranteed, despite being members of the EU, is Poland. The Polish Parliament passed a media bill in December that brought changes to rules regarding foreign ownership of media.

Many voices seem to think this bill is targeting TVN24 news channels specifically. The channel is owned by the US media company Discovery Inc. While nobody can actually prove that the case new law is targeting that outlet specifically, it already soured the relationships between Poland and the US. The bill was rushed through the parliament and signed by the President putting further pressure on the Polish media sector. Furthermore, nationwide protests erupted to criticize the bill as the citizens are afraid the law will bring limitations to media freedom.

Critics maintain that the December media bill is part of a series of moves planned by the authorities against foreign media groups. If true, this path sets Poland on a collision course with the EU once again after previous friction regarding judicial reforms and LGBT rights.

Bulgaria - A Systematic Media Capture Movement

State-led media capture is another method used to undermine free journalism and media pluralism. Unfortunately, just like in Poland's case, this phenomenon continues to grow in the EU. Bulgaria is one of the countries where the authorities made use of economic, regulatory, and legislative measures to discriminate against independent media and weaken their market position.

According to Reporters without Borders (RSF), Bulgaria ranks 112 on the World Press Freedom Index and the platform describes the country's press freedom as 'trapped'. With such an approach, it's no wonder that outspoken journalists are targeted through smear campaigns and constant harassment. Things even got physical during peaceful protests and demonstrations when Dimiter Kenarov, a freelance journalist, was beaten and detained by the police.

Hungary - Continuous Erosion of State Media Pluralism

According to a report published by the International Press Institute, the situation in Hungary continues to degrade. The ruling Fidesz party achieved one of the most advanced models of media capture within the European Union. Up to the point where the Hungarian media regulator revoked Klubradio's license, an independent broadcaster that didn't align with the views of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The aim is to concentrate private media in the hands of allies of the regime. Distortion of the market to make independent journalism inefficient or even nonexistent is the goal. Through state-dependent businesses and oligarchs that are close to the prime minister, the Hungarian press is slowly but surely more and more controlled by the state.

Georgia - Political Pressure on the Owner of FormulaTV, David Kezerashvili

Georgia is not yet a member, but they are a candidate to join the EU. Analysis of future members can give an indication of the future of the EU. Georgia is probably the best example of a candidate that is having issues with press freedoms. Ahead of the country's local elections, the Georgian Defense Ministry initiated a lawsuit against David Kezerashvili, director and founder of the FormulaTV channel.

According to Kezerashvili, the decision to start the lawsuit just before the elections is clear evidence that the only goal was to put direct pressure on free media. Similar to what's happening in member states like Hungary, Poland, or Bulgaria, Georgia's media landscape is in a fierce fight between independent journalism and state-controlled TV channels and newspapers.

According to RSF, Georgia was ranked 60 on the World Press Freedom Index. The media landscape is characterized as pluralist but not yet fully independent. The recent reforms brought improvements regarding media ownership and pluralism. However, there's still a lot of pressure from the authorities to control free journalism such as the case with the Rustavi 2 TV channel that changed its editorial policy completely after being restored to its previous owner.

Conclusion

Analyzing the facts in the countries discussed above, as well as some other horrific past events, such as the death of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017, one could conclude that the EU has so far failed to guarantee media freedom in Europe. The current conflict in Ukraine may force the EU to make reforms and pressure its members to allow greater media freedom. Only time will tell how the EU will react. 

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