Irene Khan, UN special rapporteur for freedom of expression: the local press is shutting down – Ossigeno’s observations on the disappointing results of MFFR.
OSSIGENO 21 March 2021 – We need to “guarantee the safety of journalists” and further European funding is needed to support their work, said Vera Jourova, vice president of the European Commission, responsible for “Values and Transparency”. Irene Khan, Bengali lawyer, UN special rapporteur for freedom of expression and opinion, the first woman to hold this mandate at the UN, spoke of the repression implemented in many countries even in times of pandemics and of the laws “that in many countries shut the mouths of journalists seeking the truth”.
These interventions opened, on March 17th 2021, the activities of the four-day online seminar promoted by ECPMF (European Centre for Freedom of the Press and Media) based in Leipzig (Germany) to present the first results of the first year of work of MFFR (Media Freedom Rapid Response), the new rapid alert system funded by the European Commission, which in one year detected 378 threats against journalists in 29 European countries. During the seminar, Ossigeno per l’Informazione defined this result as disappointing, comparing it to the hundreds of similar episodes documented in the same period in Italy alone by the Ossigeno Observatory (which receives no European Union funding) and by the Italian Ministry of the Interior itself. (Read here in detail the observations of Ossigeno).
In her speech, Vera Jourova (who had worked for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality in the previous European Commission) promised further European funding to support the European rapid alert system.
Irene Khan, a former journalist, former secretary general of Amnesty International and even earlier engaged with the UNHCR (the UN High Commissioner for Refugees), said that in many parts of the world “journalism is treated as a profession to be criminalized “. For example, the Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, founder of “The Rappler”, and under special surveillance by the political authorities of her country, said that, “she has so many complaints against her that, if convicted, she risks spending a hundred years in prison”.
She then recalled the shock caused in Europe by the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta (2017) and in Slovakia by Jan Kuciak (2018), the restrictive press freedom laws recently approved in Poland and Hungary and the prohibitions placed in Spain on taking and publishing photographs of police officers in action and other measures that have undermined freedom of expression. Khan then spoke of the use of “fake news” against journalists, of fake news published to discredit their work. “A false story repeated several times eventually becomes a fact,” she said, quoting words from Maria Ressa. She added that there are journalists who are victims of disinformation all over the world. Meanwhile, due also to economic pressures, the voice of the local press is dying out.
She concluded by calling on the European Union to do more “to protect the right to know”, to combat the language of hatred, to defeat all forms of censorship, and to defend the rights especially of women who are doubly at risk.
Yannis Kotsifos, president of ECPMA, said European journalists should help more their colleagues from other parts of the world.