EFJ Asks National Parliaments to Act on Threats to Media Freedom

Ricardo Gutiérrez, General Secretary of the European Federation of Journalists, is speaking at the Council of Europe Conference: "The role of National Parliaments in Media Governance in Europe'' in Istanbul Turkey on the journalists' fight to achieve media freedom. 


Füsun Erdoğan, the Dutch-Turkish journalist who was released last week following eight-year of imprisonment also speak at the meeting about the challenge of being a journalist in Turkey. You can watch the short message she sent in the video below to the European journalist community. 



The meeting is organsied by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Sub-Committee on Media and Information Society and the Turkish Delegation to PACE. It is attended by representatives of media and journalists' organisations, NGOs and national parliamentarians from the CoE countries. 


The Voice of Freedom from EFJ on Vimeo. Below you can read the full transcript of the Gutiérrez's speech.


[Full Speech] 

Dear Deputy Prime Minister Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear colleagues,

Today, you have in front of you a worried man. A troubled man.

A priori, I should feel neither worried, nor concerned : the Federation I lead is made of 60 journalists' organizations in 40 countries. Together, we represent 320,000 journalists affiliates members. These women and men are the watchdogs of our democracies. They are an essential stone of the democratic system of our states.


If I appear today in front of you as a worried and concerned man, it is because this mission of a journalist as the watchdog of the democracy is increasingly difficult to bear. The causes of this containment may in fact be overcome by legislative changes, by the intervention of parliaments. I will try to show you how this can be achieved by giving you, through a few examples, a quick overview of press freedom in Europe.


You all know the annual rankings issued by several NGO’s like Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House. These indicators of press freedom are certainly not perfect but they still give us an interesting indication of the situation. 

In the 2014 edition of its ''World Press Freedom Index'', RSF (Reporters Without Borders) indicates the European countries which received the lowest rankings out of 180 countries are Azerbaijan (160th), Belarus (157th), Turkey (154th), Russia (148th), Ukraine (127th), Macedonia (123rd) which fell by 7 places and Montenegro (114th).


Published less than two weeks ago, the Freedom House’s last report on press freedom is no more rejoicing. In Europe, according to this report , the press is "not free" in Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Belarus, the latest being considered the least free state in this part of the globe.


The press is only "partly free" in Italy, Greece, Moldova and Georgia. The Balkan region is also considered "partly free" with countries like Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo getting the lowest evaluation.


Freedom House indicates particularly negative developments between 2009 and 2013. Of the 20 states that show the most important regressions on press freedom, we can see seven European countries which is more than a third. Greece has the highest regression, followed by Hungary, Macedonia and Turkey.


Between 2012 and 2013, no European state shows a significant improvement in terms of press freedom. The evolution is even worse since of the 15 states which recorded the highest regressions in the world during this period, there are four European countries starting with Turkey which went from « partly free » to a « not free » country and followed by Greece, Ukraine and Montenegro, which regressed significantly.


These rankings are disputed by the governments. They will always be questioned today as well as tomorrow but I can assure you that their findings match the lives of our members on the ground which are 90,000 EFJ members in those twenty countries. I will now turn to some concrete examples to show you these facts :


Anti-terror laws


Let’s start with Turkey.

I told you at the beginning of my speech how worried and concerned I am. But today, I also want to say how happy I was last Thursday when we learned about the release in Istanbul of our Turkish- Dutch colleague Füsun Erdogan and her colleagues Bayram Namaz and Arif Çelebi after nearly eight years in prison. I was supposed to visit Füsun in jail tomorrow morning with MPs Roger Gale, Gvozden Flego and Gulsun Bilgehan. But I am very happy not to have to do this and I am happy to see Füsun Erdogan attending with us in this conference.


You should know that the EFJ has been campaigning for the last four years for the release of imprisoned journalists in Turkey. They were over 60 behind bars and the past two years, Turkey has won the unenviable title of world champion of the imprisonment of journalists. There were more journalists in prison in Turkey than in China or Iran. 

The reason of this is mainly due to the misuse of anti-terrorism laws. They have clearly been used in Turkey to muzzle the opposition press. The EFJ is claiming for the revision of such laws, here in Turkey and also elsewhere in the world.


Turkey has taken a first step in removing its Special Courts and limiting the duration of maximum detention period to five year. But the Parliament should ensure that those legislative reforms will be applied by the courts because Füsun Erdogan has struggled to benefit from the effect of these legal developments.


The fight is far from over. According to our accounts, which are maintained on our website in collaboration with the Journalists Union of Turkey, TGS, there are now 32 journalists in prison in Turkey. Most of them are accused of terrorists’ activities. In fact, they find themselves behind bars just for doing their job as a journalist. Other journalists could go to jail if those anti-terrorism laws and the Turkish Criminal Code are not amended.



Although known for their high standards on press freedom, some countries have also shown disturbing regressions on that matter. I think of the United Kingdom where the state reacted with revengeful to the scandal of mass surveillance by the secret services. There was the arrest of David Mirandi on the basis of anti-terrorism laws, he is the partner of journalist Glen Greenwald of The Guardian who revealed this massive scandal. And even within The Guardian’s office, there was the intervention of British security services in order to destroy hard drives containing information that hindered the British government.



Clearly there is some way to go to establish a genuine legal protection for the confidentiality of journalists' sources. The most shocking example is from Macedonia where an investigative journalist called Tomislav Kezarovski refused to reveal his sources and was sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison.



Returning to Turkey, the country was again in the spotlight in March for its disruption of social networks like Twitter and YouTube. The Turkish telecommunications regulator has just delivered to an arbitrary act of censorship unacceptable in a democracy. Even the Turkish courts have established the illegality of this interruption. The Turkish Parliament should review the legal provisions for the protection of privacy that helped enable this massive and disproportionate case of censorship. Twitter and Youtube have to be considered as media. These networks contribute to the dissemination of information that are sometimes filtered by self-censorship in the mainstream media. By prohibiting these networks, the authorities are attempting to prevent the dissemination of information on suspicions of corruption cases hanging over the surrounding of the Turkish Prime Minister. The suspected people have obviously the right to defend themselves but not by restoring the censorship



The European Federation of Journalists criticized on the same way the ban of Russian TV channels on Ukrainian soil under the pretext that they had become instruments of propaganda. The EFJ likewise denounced the attacks made by the pro-Russian separatists in the eastern cities of Ukraine to force broadcasters to delete the first Ukrainian TV channel and replace it with the Russian 24 channel.

I repeat: censorship is not the right answer against propaganda. The only antidote to propaganda is to establish a legal, economic and social context for the development of a free and independent press and the development of a genuine pluralism.



Here, I could again talk about Turkey and the police violence against journalists covering the repression of popular movements in Taksim Square and during Gezi Park events last years. In this area, however, Ukraine is by far the country that gave us the most worry and concern in recent months. There, journalists face physical abuse : harassment, intimidation, bullying, assault, theft of equipment, kidnappings ... Since November 2013, 200 journalists were injured while covering events in Kiev or in Eastern Ukraine.



One of them, Vyacheslav Veremei, was killed after being beaten and murdered while covering the turmoil in Ukraine.

You could tell me that Ukrainian parliamentarians do not have responsibility for such violence. Well, think again : the Ukrainian Parliament under President Yanukovich has created a hostile environment for journalists which in turn released the violence against them. On December 1, more than 50 journalists who covered the events Maidan were victims of police assaults called ''Berkut''.



Between January 2011 and June 2013, the Ukrainian Parliament passed a series of laws which have drastically restricted the freedom of the press: the Access to Public Information Act in January 2011, the new Code of Criminal Procedure in November 2012 and especially a series of particularly restrictive laws adopted on January 16, 2014 which gave free rein to the unleashing of police violence just three days later (January 19) near the Maidan Square in Kiev.

The task of the new leadership of Ukraine is to restore confidence. To establish the legal, economic and social conditions that allow the growth and development of a free and independent press capable of taking his distance from the hate speech that continues even today to spread and support the Ukrainian extreme right rhetoric.


Hate Speech



A few words about hate speech in the media. And, again, the responsibility of national parliaments in the spread of this type of discourse. Macedonia is a good example. A terrible showdown pitted journalists' organizations, the government and the parliament, in the context of the adoption of new laws on the media.


Supporters of press freedom in Macedonia are subject to terrible threats with the obvious complicity of the government. Prime Minister Gruevski who is a regular guest of Milenko Nedelkovki’s TV shows does not hesitate to incite hate against independent journalists and critical intellectuals.


I quote one of his last speeches : ''It is high time that the prosecutor take the necessary measures and protect the country and the citizens against those shits ... It is high time that the government of the Republic of Macedonia ( ... ) protects his people from these insects (...) . If the government and the institutions do not take the necessary legal measures, the Macedonians will hold out of the legal institutions and clean the situation''.


The Macedonian government imposes a sneaky censorship to the press: he buys the silence of the press by funding public media campaigns. And at the same time it gives free rein to hate speech.



The Russian example should also challenge us : there is the same cocktail of government control over the media and the promotion of hate speech.


Last week, the Russian press has revealed the existence of a presidential decree by which President Putin was granting awards to 300 media workers including 91 journalists for their coverage of events in Crimea.


Among the winners of these awards, which may result in financial bonus of 400 % during retirement, we see the new master of the state media Dimitri Kyselov. A man known for his reactionary and homophobic remark but President Putin has placed him at the head of the new media following the merger of the Voice of Russia and RIA Novosti.



After taking control of the state media, the Russian government has targeted the media controlled by some oligarchs close to Putin. The cracked down has affected the independent media publication like the news website Lenta or Dozhd television which were ousted from cable and satellite distribution.


Russian Public Television has become a weapon of war. It systematically presents Ukraine as a country in the hands of some fascists offenders.



Two weeks ago, the managing editor of the Russia Today channel, Margareta Simonyan, published a tweet that says « RIP Ukraine » which means « Rest in peace Ukraine ».

Margaret Simonyan is among those journalists awarded by Putin. Those who received a bonus for propaganda. A premium to lie. It is not easy to fight against propaganda.



The national parliaments should promote the establishment of self-regulatory bodies, investing in media literacy, promote media pluralism, forcing transparency on media ownership, transform state-controlled media in real services audiovisual bodies which should be pluralistic and independent public political power.



Let’s start again with a dramatic example: the abrupt closure of public broadcasting in Greece on June 11, 2013. A closure decided in total opacity and by using the police. More than 2,500 people were dismissed. For nearly a year, Greece had no public television and radio. Same scenario in Spain with the closure of « Canal Nou », the public television of Valencia and the almost closure of Tele Madrid. By sacrificing the public service, we are killing in fact media pluralism.




Ladies and gentlemen, Dear colleagues,


Today, you are facing a worried and concerned man and I hope you will be able to reassure me. You know journalists are like parliamentarians. Their job is to hold accounts on behalf of citizens. MP’s are calling the governments to give explanations and accounts. Journalists demand accountability for those in power regardless of the power in question (state power, opposition parties, trade unions). You and us are in fact a counter-power. We have a duty to represent the people, to meet their expectations otherwise we lose our credibility.


Give journalists decent conditions to practice their profession with total independence which will strengthen the position of parliamentarians as a democratic counter-power. Our fates, ladies and gentlemen, are linked. You already know that there is no democracy without free and independent press. Thank you for your attention.

Ricardo Gutiérrez