World Press Freedom Day 2016: FNF Western Balkans Opinion
Freedom of the media is an essential topic for liberals. Free media reflects the extent of democracy. As Freedom House stated in this year’s report that freedom of the media has deteriorated since years it becomes apparent that democracy is under threat. This is unfortunately the case in selected EU and non-EU countries alike, as FNF’s Freedom Barometer (www.freedombarometer.org ) points out. The underlying reasons for this development are countless. Let me just name a few. Governments fear watchdogs, instead they strive to use media as their port-parole to spread messages of their success. The ownership structure of the media in most of the Southern European countries is as such that it enables media tycoons to use “their” media as a tool to influence public opinion. Journalists are not independent in their work. Investigative journalism is thus only possible when the publisher thinks he might use it as a tool to discredit his rivals. The governments only allow independent media to exist in a niche. Towards the international community, e.g. the EU, this media performs the function of a “fig leaf”. Journalists who dare to dig deeper into the relation between politics and organised crime face physical threat.
Despite its presence on the ground, such as in Serbia, the international community/the EU delivers protests but does not take action. Observers might argue that this behaviour reveals a weakness in international human rights standards: What leverage keeps the EU in hand to make sure that its standards are implemented when it refrains from taking concrete counter measures? Is it acceptable to turn a blind eye to domestic politics of future EU countries as long as they fulfil their external obligations? Thus the existence of free media is directly linked to the question of sovereignty of states. The fact that the situation of free media in most of the countries in the Western Balkans has not improved but worsened sheds some light on the ineffectiveness of international counter measures as Freedom House latest report shows – highlighted by the independent media watchdog Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (more info). Free societies can only thrive with the common will of citizens, that is civil society and politics. Free media could be the red line along such a development should take place. The current situation however shows that there is still a long way to go.
FNF Western Balkans is organizing two events devoted to media freedom on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day. One is a discussion for press freedom in Sarajevo (more info in Facebook here) and the other is Pristina (here).
Charles du Vinage
FNF Western Balkans
Photos from Kosovo event: