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Europe Fails to Live Up as 'Global Authority' on Press Freedom

© Flickr / BlondieISFCGCHQ threat to journalism
GCHQ threat to journalism - Sputnik International
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While the European Union is declared to be one of the world’s strongholds of democracy, it appears that the freedom of press - an indefeasible principle of democratic practice - is being widely violated across the EU, with 20 of the bloc’s 28 countries imposing strict criminal defamation laws and several states practicing mass surveillance.

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Despite the fact that Brussels has made press freedom an essential qualification for EU membership, criminal defamation and blasphemy laws that threaten free speech rights remain in effect in many eurozone countries, a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) revealed.

Defamation is still treated as a crime demanding strict punishment in most EU states. For instance, in countries like Slovakia, Italy, Austria and Germany you can be imprisoned for distribution of information that can be qualified as slander.

"Insults against the state, state symbols, or institutions, foreign heads of state, and even intergovernmental organizations are present in many EU members’ criminal laws," the NGO reported.

Researchers pointed out that covering the work of public officials in such states as Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands may be unsafe for reporters, as freedom there is restrained by strict media laws.

Repressive measures toward journalists in many European states are justified by counterterrorism measures, leading to ubiquitous Internet surveillance and censorship, according to the report.

"CPJ is concerned at the increasing number of press freedom violations by European countries traditionally viewed as examples of good democratic practice, and by the failure of the European Union to take resolute action to protect the rights of journalists," said Jean-Paul Marthoz, the author of report.

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Brussels officials don’t have effective instruments to force eurozone states to uphold the principles of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights that, in theory, provides a wide range of freedoms to all citizens within the EU. In practice, some states violate that law.

A recent instance of abuse of journalistic rights was cited in Hungary, where many reporters were obstructed for covering the refugee crisis, the report reads, noting infringement of basic freedom of press laws was common in Europe.

"No member state should be permitted to behave with such impunity. If those values still matter to the EU, Brussels must demonstrate that such actions have consequences."

If the EU doesn’t find the tools to prevent attacks against journalists within the bloc, Europe will lose a ground as a “global authority on press freedom,” the researchers concluded.

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