The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and journalists for press freedom, urges the new Members of the European Parliament (MEP) to prioritize protecting press freedom and safety of journalists.

“Meeting for the first time after the European Parliament elections, MEPs should set press freedom and safety of journalists as one of the main priorities during their term”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “MEPs have a key role to play in defending and promoting press freedom, a bulwark of democracy, which is facing a serious threat in Europe and elsewhere in the world.”

Over the past few years press freedom has come under significant threat in Europe, with many countries bringing in new laws to stifle independent media and prosecute critical journalists. The murders of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta and Ján Kuciak in Slovakia for investigating and exposing corruption had a chilling effect on media freedom and safety of journalists. In both cases, the European Parliament passed a resolution earlier this year deploring shortcomings in the rule of law in Malta and Slovakia, while warning that threats to journalists were rising all over the EU.

The European Parliament has also taken a firm stand on Turkey, where 137 journalists remain in prison accused of charges ranging from terrorism to insulting the president. The Turkey Support Forum at the European Parliament actively supported civil society and human rights organizations in their campaign for the release of journalists in prison. Some MEPs attended the trials of journalists and other jailed activities to show solidarity with them. In February this year nearly 50 MEPs joined an IPI-led resolution calling for restoration of rule of law and release of Turkey’s journalists.

On March 31 this year the European Parliament voted to recommend a formal suspension of Turkey’s accession to the EU. The vote, while non-binding and subject to justifiable criticism over its strategic value and impact on human rights defenders in Turkey, nevertheless highlights the bloc’s concerns over the violation of human rights, media freedom and the rule of law in Turkey and underscores the need for a concerted effort to defend these.

The European Union as one of the largest providers of development assistance to countries around the world can be pivotal in defending freedom of expression and promoting safety of journalists.

The IPI global network hopes that the new European Parliament will augment its efforts to defend press freedom and fight for the safety of journalists so as to strengthen democracy and human rights in Europe and beyond.