The European Union has a duty to speak out against increasing censorship, writes Rohan Jayasekera
It was disappointing to see the European Union reacting so slowly in the days following the arrest of Greek investigative journalist Kostas Vaxevanis. The EU and its executive Commission (EC) frequently steps up to defend free media in Europe and in the neigbourhood states — Middle East and East European nations with EU commitments, or membership aspirations.
So Index on Censorship and nine other freedom of expression rights defenders across Europe & the region, all members of the IFEX network, wrote on 5 November to remind the Union that under the Lisbon Treaty, compliance with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is legally binding on EU members. This includes the right “to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers,” and the obligation that that “the freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected”.
Even the EU itself says it must be “exemplary” in enabling its citizens “to enjoy the rights enshrined in the Charter” and build mutual trust, public confidence and “improve credibility of EU external action on human rights.” In fact the EC had been relatively forthright when member state Hungary introduced new and restrictive media legislation last year. The EC’s reluctance in this case — when the Union has more at stake — will surprise few and disappoint many.
Vaxevanis walked free from an Athens court last week after naming alleged account holders in an offshore bank that had been protected from tax investigation for two years. He walked free from an Athens court last week after but another journalist, Spiros Karatzaferis, still faces trial on an old, unrelated criminal libel charge after claiming he would publish classified files on Greece’s financial bailout.