"Alarming developments" in media across region

The South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO) has expressed alarm at a number of recent media-related developments across southern and eastern Europe.

Source: SEEMO

Pointing to reports from Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, Moldova and Greece, SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic urged authorities across the region to do more to create a safer working environment for journalists.

In Romania, SEEMO noted, a new Penal Code due to enter into force on1 February includes an article that establishes penalties for statements that criticize courts’ actions. Article 276 states: “Any person who, during a judicial proceeding, made false public statements relating to the commission, the judge or the criminal investigation of a crime or serious misconduct related to the investigation of that case, in order to influence or intimidate them, shall be punished with imprisonment from three months to one year or a fine.”

SEEMO said the provision could affect the reporting of investigative journalists and lead to self-censorship by making it impossible for journalists to reveal to the public key information regarding court decisions.

The group also expressed concern about the reaction by President Traian Basescu to a question posed by a reporter from Romanian TV channel Antena 3 during a press conference on 16 January. When asked whether he was aware of a particular business deal, Antena 3 reported, Basescu attacked the channel as “a TV station for propaganda, disinformation and misleading Romanians”.

In Ukraine, SEEMO said it was alarmed by reports of beatings and arrests of media representatives, and by reports that at least 35 journalists have been injured while covering recent demonstrations, many of them by stun grenades and rubber bullets used by police. The group also sharply criticised a new package of laws – identified as Kolesnichenko-Oleynik, after the two deputies who co-authored the package – which entered into force on 22 January following approval by Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, on 16 January.

Vujovic said the new laws, which include provisions recriminalizing defamation, could make it extremely difficult for journalists, especially investigative journalists, to conduct their work.

“The new regulations are a clear attack on freedom of expression and the right of civil society to work freely and independently,” he commented.

On a positive note, SEEMO welcomed the arrests in Serbia in individuals allegedly involved in the April 1999 murder of journalist Slavko Ćuruvija, and reports of progress in the investigation into the 2001 murder of reporter Milan Pantic. SEEMO urged Serbian authorities to look into all details connected with both killings and to make them public, to apprehend any perpetrators who remain free, and – in addition to determining who ordered the killings of Ćuruvija and Pantić – to identify those involved in organising and ordering the 1994 killing of journalist Dada Vujasinović.

In Moldova, SEEMO said reports that three TV channels were excluded from several cable networks around the close of 2013 without prior notification or explanation represented a dangerous development for media freedom and pluralism in the country. Cable network operators added the channels back to basic packages following an outcry, but the reasons for their exclusion remain unclear.

SEEMO also said it is monitoring activities connected to the creation of the New Hellenic Radio, Internet and Television (NERIT) in Greece, which is expected to start operating in March. SEEMO emphasized the importance that the new entity provide a real public service by operating as a true public broadcaster and in a transparent fashion. Key to that transparency, the group said, were answers on how the new broadcaster will use funds to be received from a monthly licence fee and the broadcaster’s plans for outside productions. SEEMO also expressed concern that it was still unclear how the broadcaster planned to produce high-quality TV and radio programs that would provide quality coverage to all parts of Greece.

Addressing the situation across the SEEMO region, Vujovic said: “I urge all authorities to create a safe environment for journalists, to investigate all forms of attacks and threats against journalists, to develop legal regulations in accordance with international standards and recommendations, and to cease any activities that may interfere with the work of journalists or make that work more difficult. I ask also all participants in demonstrations and all police forces to respect the work of journalists and their need to be allowed to report freely and professionally from such events.

“Finally, I appeal to all states to ensure that independent and professional public broadcasting services are established, which can work transparently and without political or other control. I similarly call on all state officials to respect the right of news media to engage in critical reporting.”

Region

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