Germany should use its current EU presidency to defend press freedom both inside and outside the EU’s borders, the International Press Institute (IPI) said in a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“We are convinced that Germany can play a leading role in defending the right of journalists to do their job”, IPI said in the letter, which highlights the threat to press freedom in places such as Hungary, Turkey, Egypt, Hong Kong and The Philippines.
“Over the next several months, Germany, in holding the presidency of the European Union, a community founded upon basic human rights and the rule of law, will be in a position to shape the EU’s agenda. We urge you to make defending press freedom a central part of this agenda. The many problems that the world faces – from the Covid-19 pandemic to climate change – cannot be solved without the free exchange of ideas that journalism makes possible.”
Read the full letter below.
Her Excellency Dr. Angela Merkel
Federal Republic of Germany
18 August 2020
Your excellency Chancellor Merkel,
The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists is writing to urge you to use the opportunity of Germany’s presidency of the Council of the European Union to defend freedom of the press both inside and outside the EU’s borders.
Press freedom is fundamental to democratic, open societies based on the rule of law. Without a free and pluralistic media, citizens are unable to scrutinize the actions of their governments or defend basic rights that are guaranteed to them.
Yet everywhere we look, press freedom is under massive threat. Journalists are being jailed, harassed, attacked and even killed for doing their jobs. State-led “media capture” is increasing as governments seek to tighten their grip on the flow of information. Independent media are being smeared as enemies and traitors in an effort to undermine and silence their work.
These developments have been worsened amid the Covid-19 pandemic. IPI’s press freedom tracker has identified over 420 violations and attacks on the press related to coverage of the pandemic. Moreover, The pandemic has led to an explosion of authoritarian “fake news” laws and other restrictions that aim to punish information that deviates from the official line. All of this will lead to a greater chilling effect on the press at a time when we need independent journalism more than ever to share fact-based information and scrutinize government actions taken in the name of public health.
Urgent action needs to be taken to stand up to this new global wave of attacks on independent media. We are convinced that Germany can play a leading role in defending the right of journalists to do their job. Your government’s holding of the EU Presidency adds weight to your voice at a crucial turning point for the future of fundamental rights and liberties around the world.
Some of these attacks are occurring on Germany’s doorstep. Under the EU’s watch, the Hungarian government has spent the last 10 years dismantling media freedom. It has manipulated the media market and abused state resources to harass and drive out the independent press, and took advantage of the pandemic to usher in a “fake news” laws designed to intimidate those who question the government’s handling of the crisis. These developments are clearly reminiscent of Russia, which has also used the pandemic to ramp up direct censorship and intimidate critics with its own, even more drastic “fake news” law.
Two of the EU’s key trading partners, Egypt and Turkey, are also two of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists, with more than 60 behind bars in Egypt and over 80 in Turkey. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, another key EU ally, has not been held accountable for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
In Hong Kong, the world is witnessing the rollback of democratic freedoms, including press freedom, before its eyes. China’s so-called “security law” is already being used threaten and harass both local and foreign journalists who dare to criticize the government in Beijing, denying millions of people in Hong Kong independent, public interest news.
Nearby, the government of Rodrigo Duterte in The Philippines has targeted independent media, stripping broadcaster ABS-CBN of its license. IPI Executive Board member Maria Ressa faces eight baseless criminal charges that are being used to punish her and her news site, Rappler, for their unflinching coverage of the Duterte administration.
In the Americas, Mexico remains the world’s deadliest country for the press, with as many as 7 journalists killed this year alone and more than 100 in the past 10 years with nearly complete impunity. Yet despite this existing danger, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador regularly verbally attacks journalists, adding to an already hostile environment.
The voice of governments that are willing to stand up for media freedom has never been more important. Over the next several months, Germany, in holding the presidency of the European Union, a community founded upon basic human rights and the rule of law, will be in a position to shape the EU’s agenda. We urge you to make defending press freedom a central part of this agenda. The many problems that the world faces – from the Covid-19 pandemic to climate change – cannot be solved without the free exchange of ideas that journalism makes possible.
We therefore call on the German government to support efforts to ensure that press freedom as a fundamental right is protected in all EU member states. But we also believe that Germany, both in its role as Council President and beyond, can and must strongly stand up for press freedom outside of the EU’s borders, too, where the ranks of states willing to do so are thinning and the number of governments attacking independent media are growing.
With so many journalists and independent news outlets around the world fighting for their right to tell the news, your voice and Germany’s voice in standing up for basic rights matters at this moment.
IPI Executive Director