Index on Censorship continues to have serious concerns about the EU plans for political advertising rules and the chilling effect on freedom of expression. Our CEO, Ruth Anderson, has written to the Presidents of the Council of the European Union, the European Commission and the European Parliament to urge a pause and a rethink ahead of the 2024 Elections.
Senor Pedro Sanchez MP, President, Council of the European Union
Ursula von der Leyen, President, European Commission
Roberta Metsola MEP, President of the European Parliament
Monday, 30th October 2023
A free and fair election is the cornerstone of a vibrant and functioning democracy. It is a right we all defend and it is what sets us apart from tyrants and demagogues.
With the continuing advancement of digital campaigning and with more citizens consuming their news via digital platforms, it is entirely understandable that the European Union would seek to safeguard future elections with new protections.
However any changes have to be considered through the prism of the shared fundamental right of freedom of expression. More than half of the citizens of the world now live in regimes where that freedom is constantly under threat. Like free and fair elections, the right to freedom of expression is something we must all cherish and defend.
Index on Censorship, as a leading global advocate group for freedom of expression, continues to have serious concerns about the chilling effect that the proposed European Political Advertising regulations could have on freedom of expression.
Whether it is journalists, civil society campaigners or politicians – it remains our position that each will see their freedom of expression curtailed as a result of your proposals.
Our analysis is still that the system of flagging is open to abuse, the scope of the proposals would capture and silence too many voices seeking to share their lawful opinions and the requirements placed on large digital platforms to examine and remove content places too great a responsibility in the hands of unaccountable organisations and opaque algorithms.
I do not doubt for one second the sincerity with which the European Union has approached the task of safeguarding elections from foreign interference. However, it is clear from the continuing tone of the debate and the stalemate that exists during the trialogues that consensus is still far away.
The worst decision that the European Union could now make is to rush through contentious rules ahead of the June elections. The European Union elections are the second biggest exercise of democratic rights in the world – it would be a disaster to impose new rules so close to these elections when those rules do not command a broad consent from participants.
The complex nature of current events rightly commands attention from the EU and represents a more immediate demand on time and resources.
Index on Censorship would urge the EU to take a moment and pause, in order to consider how best to safeguard both the right to a free and fair election alongside the right to freedom of expression. Do not be forced by time to rush into force, rules which have yet been agreed or tested. To do so now would be a dereliction of our collective duty to protect our basic rights.
Index on Censorship remains ready to help the European Union navigate the complex nature of freedom of expression and I hope we can continue to work together to safeguard our hard-won – but fragile – freedoms.
CEO, Index on Censorship.