As part of its effort to map media freedom in Europe, Index on Censorship’s regional correspondents are monitoring media across the continent. Here are incidents that they have been following.
Police denied journalists access to the site where members of the right-wing group “Die Identitären” were demonstrating on May 17. News website reports and a video from Vice News show police using excessive force against demonstrators. The Austrian Journalists’ Club described the police’s treatment of journalists as one of the recent “massive assaults of the Austrian security forces on journalists” and called for journalists to report breeches in press freedom to the club. (Austrian Journalists’ Club) (Twitter)
Croatia’s new Criminal Code establishes the offence of “humiliation”, a barrier to freedom of expression that has already claimed its first victim among journalists – Slavica Lukić, of newspaper Jutarnji list. A Croatian journalist is likely to end up in court and be sentenced for “humiliation” for writing that the Dean of the Faculty of Law in Osijek, Croatia’s fourth largest city, is accused by the judiciary of having received a bribe of 2,000 Euros to pass some students during an examination. For the court, it is of little importance that the information is correct – it is enough for the principal to state that he felt humbled by the publication of the news. According to Article 148 of the Criminal Code, introduced early last year, the court may sentence a journalist (or any other person that causes humiliation to others) if the information published is not considered as of public interest.
9.5.2014: The former Director General of the Ministry of Health, Christodoulos Kaisis, is alleged to have censored the responses of two ministerial departments during an audit regarding a 30 million scandal of mispricing of drugs. He did not send the requested information to the Audit Committee of the Parliament. (Politis)
On May 22 2014 two Danish journalists got convicted for violated Danish law protecting personal information because they named twelve pig farms in Denmark as sources of the spread of MRSA, a strain of drug-resistant bacteria. They argue they had been trying to investigate the spread of MRSA, but the government had wanted to keep that information secret. Their defense attorney claims revealing the names was appropriate because ‘there is public interest in openness about a growing health hazard’. The penalty was up to six months imprisonment, but the judge ruled they have to pay 5 day-fines of 500 krone (68 euro). The verdict is a ‘big step back for the freedom of press’ in Denmark, one of the journalists, Nils Mulvad said after the trial.
On April 29 2014, the European Court of Human Rights rejected a free speech claim over a defamation conviction by a Finnish journalist. In August 2006 journalist Tiina Johanna Salumaki and her editor in chief were convicted of defaming a businessman. The newspaper published a front page story, asking whether the victim of a homicide had connections with this businessman, K. U. The court ruled that Salumaki and the newspaper had to pay damages and costs to K. U. According to Salumaki her right to free expression was breached.
A journalist’s telephone conversation with a source was tapped by state criminal police. The journalist, Marie Delhaes, spoke about the police’s subsequent contact with her on the media show ZAPP on German public television. Police asked her to testify as a witness in a criminal case against the source she communicated with, an Islamist accused of inciting others to fight with rebels in Syria. Delhaes was threatened with a fine of 1000 Euros if she were to refuse to testify. She has since claimed reporter’s privilege, protecting her from being forced to testify in a case she worked on as a journalist. (NDR: ZAPP)
A court ruled on May 22 that police officers’ 2011 confiscation of recording equipment and laptops in a van used by the podcasters Metronaut and Radio Freies Wendland was illegal. The podcasters were covering the transport of atomic waste through Germany and were interviewing anti-atomic energy activists. When the equipment was confiscated, police officers also asked the podcasters to show official press passes, which they did not have. The court ruled that police failed to determine the present danger of the equipment in the van before confiscating it for three days. Metronaut later sued the police. (Metronaut) (Netzpolitik.org)
The Greek newswire service ANA-MPA is accused by its own Berlin correspondent of engaging in pro government propaganda after a translation of the official announcement by the German Chancellor regarding Angela Merkel’s Athens visit is ‘revised’, eliminating all mentions of ‘austerity,’ replacing the word with ‘consolidation’. (The Press Project)
A union representing pharmacists in Attica has accused the government of censorship, after it was told it may not broadcast adverts deemed by the authorities to be a political nature in the run up to elections later this month. (Eleftherotypia, English Edition)
The regional Italian newspaper “L’ora della Calabria” is shut down due to political pressure
After the complaint, in February, against the pressures to not refer in an article to the son of senator Antonio Gentile, and to the block of the printing presses on the same day (an episode that is under investigation by the judiciary), now the newspaper L’Ora della Calabria is closing. The publications have been halted, even that of the website. This was decided by the liquidator of the news outlet, who had for a long time been in financial difficulties.
Reporter sued for criticizing the commissioner
Marilena Natale criticized a legal consultancy that cost €60’000 in the town whose City Council has dissolved for mafia, and which suffers from thirst due to the closure of the artesian wells. Ms Marilena Natale, reporter for the Gazzetta di Caserta and +N, a local all-news television channel, was sued. She had in the past already been the victim of other complaints and assaults. To denounce the journalist was Ms Silvana Riccio, the Prefectural Commissioner who administers the City of Casal di Principe, fired due to Camorra infiltrations. The Commissioner Riccio feels defamed by a series of articles written by the reporter in which the decision to spend €60’000 for legal advice is criticized, while the citizens suffer thirst due to the closure of numerous wells due to groundwater pollution.
24.4.2014: A music band called “The Reporters” was created recently by famous Macedonian journalists. The project aims to defend press freedom in Macedonia and support their colleagues who are facing censorship and other limitations. (Focus)
14.5.2014: The Macedonian government quietly encourages censorship in the press, buys the silence of the media through government advertising and at the same time gives carte blanche to use hate speech, said Ricardo Gutierrez, Secretary General of the European Federation of Journalists during a conference of the Council of Europe in Istanbul on the 14th of May. (Focus)
24.3.2014: Sixty-five per cent of Macedonian journalists who responded to a survey publish last March, have experienced censorship and 53 per cent are practicing self-censorship, says the report, entitled the ‘White Book of Professional and Labour Rights of Journalists’. (Balkan Insight)
The Nationalist Party complains of censorship by the public broadcaster PBS
The Nationalist Party (PN) has accused PBS of censoring it in its coverage of the European parlament elections campaign. The party noted that PBS did not send a journalist to report on Simon Busuttil’s visit to Attard and Co on Tuesday and it had also failed to sent a reporter to cover a press conference addressed by PN Secretary General Chris Said in Gozo this morning. “This is nothing but censorship during an electoral campaign,” the PN said. The PN has also complained with the national TV station on its choice of captions for news items carried in the bulletin.
During a raid on a trailer park in Zaltbommel on may 27 2014, the cameras of two press photographers were seized by the police. According to the spokesman of the court of Den Bosch the police took the cameras after several warnings. The photographers were on the public road. After a few days the two photographers got their cameras back, but their memory cards with the photo’s are still not returned. The NVJ, de Dutch journalist Union, has pledged to stand with one of the journalists in his claim to get his photo’s back.
Websites criticising the government’s handling of the flood disaster in Serbia have come under attack from hackers in what some call a covert act of censorship. Creators of the Serbian blog Druga Strana, which published critical posts on the Serbian state’s handling of the flooding, were forced to shut it down on Tuesday after repeat attacks on the site. “The site has been under heavy attack so we decided to shut it down in order not to compromise other sites on the server,” Nenad Milosavljevic said.
The sacking of Srdjan Skoro, editor of state-owned newspaper Vecernje Novosti, who publicly criticized Serbia’s new ministers, has been described as an attack on independent media. Skoro said that he was told that he was no longer the editor of the Serbian tabloid Vecernje Novosti on Friday morning, but was given no explanation for his sacking. “I have been told to find another job and that I would perhaps do better there,” Skoro said. He said that although no one has said it directly, the reason for his dismissal was his recent appearance on public service broadcaster RTS’s morning TV show, in which he openly criticised some candidates for posts in the new Serbian cabinet.
Aleksandar Vučić’s government seems to be adopting a double standard when it comes to media: one for the EU, one for Serbia, with tight control over newspapers and television stations. I do not believe in chance, and I know “where all this is coming from and who is behind it”. Thus Aleksandar Vučić, Prime Minister of Serbia, commented the statement by Michael Davenport, head of the EU Delegation, about “unpleasant and unacceptable” issues in Serbian media. Davenport said that elements of investigations conducted by the judiciary are leaked to the public through some media, and that the “cases” of parallels being made between representatives of civil society and crime are “a clear violation of the ethical standards of the media”.
On the 17th of April 2014, the European Court of Human Rights issued a judgement in the case of Mladina v. Slovenia. In this case, the Court further develops its standing case law on “public statements susceptible to criticism”. When assessing defamation cases, the Court has in the past found that authors of such statements should show greater resilience when offensive statements are in turn addressed to them.
The government threats to censor social media
“We have to combat cybercrime and promote cybersecurity, and to clean up undesirable social media.” These were the words of the Spanish Minister of Interior, Jorge Fenández Díaz, after the wave of comments published on social media about the assassination of Isabel Carrasco, president of the Province of León and member of the government party (Pp). Although the majority expressed their condolences to the family of the victim, there were some that took advantage of the moment to openly criticize the politician, including mocking her assassination. These tweets generated a strong reaction of rejection in certain circles. For their part, Tweeters have reacted by creating two hashtags, #TuiteaParaEvitarElTalego (Tweet to stay out of Jail) y #LaCárcelDeTwitter [Twitter Prison], through which many Internet-users vent their frustration against politicians who want to silence them. On the other hand the Federal Union of Police has published a note that proposes a change in legislation with the alleged intent of protecting minors, relatives of victims, and users in general.
Extremadura public television don’t broadcast the motion of censure on the regional president Monago
Extremadura public television did not broadcast the debate and subsequent vote of no confidence on the regional president and member of the government party Antonio Monago on May 14th, despite the political relevance of the issue (the debate was broadcasted only trough the TV’s website). The workers called a protest to consider a motion of censure “is a matter of highest public interest and should be covered by public broadcast media in all its channels”, as expressed by the council in a statement.
The founder of the satirical online forum Ekşi Sözlük was given a suspended sentence of ten months in prison. Forty authors for the user-generated website were detained in connection to a complaint that a thread in an Ekşi Sözlük forum was insulting to Islam. Founder Sedat Kapanoğlu and another defendant received suspended prison sentences for insulting religious values. (Hürriyet Daily News)
Journalists who had been imprisoned for two years in connection to the KCK case were released this month. Several of the released journalists gave a press conference on May 13 condemning the government’s manipulation of the case to improve its own human rights and press freedom standing internationally. Yüksek Genç, a journalist who spoke at the press conference, said that the amount of journalists in prison can not be the only measure of Turkey’s press freedom, since the government has other ways of meddling in media and putting economic pressure on news organisations. A number of journalists have been released from prison this year after a court regulation was changed, enforcing a shorter maximum detention time for prisoners awaiting trial on terrorism charges. (Bianet)
During May Day protests in Istanbul, police blocked journalists’ access to demonstrating crowds and demanded they show official press passes to enter the area around Taksim Square. At least 12 journalists were injured by police officers using rubber bullets, teargas and bodily force. Deniz Zerin, an editor of the news website t24, was detained trying to enter his office and held for three days. (Bianet)
On April 28, the journalist Önder Aytaç was sentenced to ten months in prison for a 2012 tweet that the court ruled to be insulting to Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan under blasphemy laws. The tweet included a word that translates to “my chief” or “my master” (relating to Erdoğan), but included an additional letter at the end that made the word vulgar. Erdoğan sued Aytaç, who maintained that the extra letter in his tweet was a typo. (Medium)
For more reports or to make your own, please visit mediafreedom.ushahidi.com.
With contributions from Index on Censorship regional correspondents Giuseppe Grosso, Catherine Stupp, Ilcho Cvetanoski, Christina Vasilaki, Mitra Nazar