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21.04.2018

EU reports: Macedonia improved climate towards journalists - and then there is Turkey

By Emil Weber

The European Commission has praised Macedonia and Albania for recent progress regarding  freedom of expression, while Turkish politics continue to be most alarming.

EU Commission Brussels EU Commission, Brussels

In separate reports published on 17 April 2018, for the assessment of the countries’ annual situation regarding a potential European Union enlargement, the Commission acknowledged that Macedonia made "good progress", Albania "some progress" whereas, the other Western Balkan states Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia made no progress at all.

The assessments come almost two months after the Commission published a "Western Balkan Strategy" where it reiterated the EU perspective for the six Western Balkan countries, noting specifically the overall front-running progress of Montenegro and Serbia.

In the new report it says, that Macedonia has improved the climate towards journalists, that its new government made supportive statements as well as providing easier access to public information. "There has been a decrease in pressure on journalists with an improved political climate", the report says, despite noting the continued presence of intimidations and court proceedings. The report emphasises the improvement of audio-visual media supervision, a better election coverage by the public broadcaster, as well as the discontinuation of government-paid commercials for private tv stations as previously recommended by the EU.

The report encouraged more improvements in Macedonian journalists’ labour rights while noting that most hate speech and ethical violations took place in online media. In Albania, physical assaults on journalists “remain very rare”, it added. One case was reported in March 2017 that was swiftly condemned by the authorities, and investigations were launched which led to the perpetrator’s arrest. According to the report, Albanian public broadcaster offers balanced news, as the audio-visual supervisory body has made the final preparation for the digital switchover.

However, more progress would be expected in the field of labour rights for journalists and the improvement of independency of Albanian media. “The editorial direction of private media continues to be strongly influenced by political and business interests”, the report said.

No Progress

In the other four Western Balkan states "no progress" was made, it said in the report. Explicitly mentioned was the year to year doubled number of attacks against journalists in Kosovo and seven attacks in Montenegro, as well as the absence of an institutional follow-up or convictions on attacks and intimidations against journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. 

All four countries - Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia, continue to face challenges with media ownership and transparency of finances, it said. Similarly, their public broadcasters remain prone to or vulnerable to political influence. The report also said, that Serbia in particular needs to strengthen the independence of the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM) “to safeguard media pluralism”. Overall the Western Balkan media environment would encourage self-censorship, it adds. 

Serious relapse in Turkey

Regarding the situation in Turkey, the EU Commissions’ report underscores the country’s serious relapse when it comes to freedom of expression. “Heavy pressure on media continued” with estimated more than 150 journalists imprisoned, extensive threats and attacks, as well as the ongoing interference with editorial independence. According to the report, 175 media outlets remained closed down due to “emergency decrees” and 5,882 academics were expelled from 118 universities.

“The Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), displays a significant pro-government line. […] State-sponsored advertising is neither fairly nor transparently distributed,” the report said. “Journalism in Turkey is an increasingly precarious profession with low wages, the risk of judicial harassment and the lack of job security”.

The EU Commission called upon Turkey to “release journalists, human rights defenders, writers and academics being held in pre-trial detention” and to “refrain from and end the practice exercised in various forms by both state and non-state agents of intimidating, interfering with and putting pressure on the media”.

Moreover, it said that Turkey must refrain “from undue restrictions on freedom of expression, including in relation to antiterrorism operations, in line with the Guidelines of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on protecting freedom of expression and information in times of crisis”.

Please find here the EU assessment reports on the Western Balkan countries and Turkey:

https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/countries/package_en





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