A few days ago the disciplinary board of the trade union representing Greek journalists imposed penalties on a number of its leading members, expelling a number of them in connection with their coverage of the Greek referendum of June 2015 and accusing them of overt propaganda undermining journalistic standards. Freedom of expression and criticism and the pluralism of the media, which are enshrined in Article 11(1) and (2) of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, are fundamental rights and essential for journalists to exercise their profession. Significantly, all journalists penalised had come out in favour of a ‘yes’ vote, while not one of the journalists who had — even more vociferously — supported a ‘no’ vote (the position favoured by the majority of the union executive) was even summoned. All this has occurred in the wake of other infringements of press freedom in Turkey, Poland and Hungary.
In view of this, will the Commission say:
1. Is it aware that journalists have been expelled from the trade union representing Greek journalists for expressing their views on a serious political issue?
2. What initiatives does it intend to take to protect freedom of the press in Europe?
3. How will it bring media legislation in the Member States more closely into line with the European Charter?
Answer given by Mr Oettinger on behalf of the Commission
Media freedom and pluralism are fundamental rights enshrined in Article 11 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Commission is aware of challenges to media freedom and pluralism in various Member States. It seeks to ensure respect for those rights within its powers under the EU Treaties, in accordance with Article 51 of the said Charter. The reported events mentioned by the Honourable Member fall outside EC law.
The Commission believes that the independent regulatory authorities for the audiovisual sector have an important role to play to ensure respect for media freedom and pluralism .The Commission proposal for the revision of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive reinforces the independence of audiovisual regulatory bodies by setting up a requirement of independence and criteria of independence that they have to comply with.
When legal action is not possible, the Commission acts in other ways, for example by funding — further to the initiative of the European Parliament — independent projects in the field of media freedom and pluralism. These projects, among other actions, map violations to media freedom and support journalists under threat(1).
One of these projects is the Media Pluralism Monitor, which is run by the European University Institute and has the objective of highlighting risks to media pluralism in Member States. Greece was assessed already in 2014(2) and is being assessed again in 2016, along with all EU Member states and two candidate countries(3). The results of the 2016 assessment are expected in the last quarter of 2016.