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To what extent are the media independent from government?

EUOECD
 
Public and private media are independent from government influence; their independence is institutionally protected and fully respected by the incumbent government.
10
Estonia
Estonia follows a liberal approach to media policy, with minimal legal restrictions. The Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR) company is constituted under the Estonian Public Broadcasting Act and governed by a ten-member council. Based on the principle of political balance, five of these members are specialists in the fields of culture, while the other five represent different political parties that hold seats in the national parliament. Members of the ERR Council are elected for five years (members of parliament until the next parliamentary elections).

Globally, Estonia has been ranked high on the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders for several years. In 2019, Estonia ranked 11 out of 180 countries, which is one rank higher compared to the previous year.
Finland
Media independence is a matter of course in Finland. Media independence is guaranteed by the Act on the Exercise of Freedom of Expression in Mass Media from 2003, and supported by public and political discourse. A free and pluralist media is considered an important contributor to debate among citizens and the formation of public opinion. Finland has been ranked at or near the top of the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index since 2009. In 2016, Finland ranked first for the sixth consecutive year. Though the country was ranked third in 2017 and fourth in 2018, it climbed to second place in 2019, trailing behind Norway. Several factors have contributed to this success. Media consumption rates are fairly high in Finland. The rate of media consumption guarantees a strong market and healthy competition, promoting high-quality journalism. In addition, the Council for Mass Media in Finland has successfully managed a system of self-regulation among media outlets. Furthermore, as Finland is one of the least corrupt societies in the world, the government has in general avoided interfering with press freedoms, although a few exceptions to this rule have occurred in recent years. At the end of 2016, prominent journalists at YLE, the national broadcaster, resigned following a dispute over Prime Minister Sipilä’s email complaints about the broadcaster’s coverage of a mining company in which Sipilä’s relatives were stakeholders. In December 2017, the home of a journalist was searched and material confiscated after she published an article concerning a Finnish military intelligence agency in the Helsingin Sanomat. In August 2019, Finland’s Supreme Court upheld a previous verdict stating that the police acted appropriately when carrying out the search.
Citations:
“Reporters without Borders, Finland,” https://rsf.org/en/finland
https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/supreme_court_upholds_legality_of_hs_journalists_home_search/10920367
Sweden
Media freedom in Sweden is valued and well-protected. The Swedish constitution’s Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression guarantee freedom of the press.

The media in Sweden operate independently from government. This is not to say that government is not present in the media sector, however. Government institutions offer financial support to newspapers (typically smaller newspapers) and also to magazines.

Furthermore, government is a leading owner of the public service companies Sverige Radio (SR) and Sveriges Television (SVT). In November 2017, a royal commission (SOU 2017:79) proposed that public service radio and television should henceforth be financed not via license fees but through a tax. This reform comes into effect in 2019.

The media market in Sweden has opened up considerably over the past couple of decades. Today, the SR and SVT face significant competition from privately owned and managed radio and television channels. It is noteworthy that trust is especially high in public media (television and radio), whereas trust in private media (especially television) is low in Swedish society. Private media ownership is concentrated in a small number of major corporate actors inside and outside Sweden.

A precondition for the media to scrutinize government and hold elected officials to account is that the government provides access to public documents. During the last couple of years there appears to be growing frustration among the media against government departments for failing to provide public documents to the media or individual citizens. Government departments increasingly use information as a strategic means of communication. Nevertheless, Swedish government and administration still meet high requirements regarding transparency and publicity.
Citations:
Andersson, U. et al. (eds.) (2017), Larmar och gör sig till (Gothenburg: The SOM Institute).

Andersson, U., A. Carlander, E. Lindgren, M. Oskarson (eds.) (2018), Sprickor i fasaden (Gothenburg: The SOM Institute).

Olsson, J., H. E. Oscarsson and M. Solevid (eds.) (2016), Eqvilibrium (Gothenburg: The SOM Institute).

SOU 2017:79 Finansiering av public service – för ökad stabilitet, legitimitet och stärkt oberoende (https://www.regeringen.se/4a9767/contentassets/c557ad42ef7245daa0b9f60a8fe54769/finansiering-av-public-service–for-okad-stabilitet-legitimitet-och-starkt-oberoende-sou-201779).
Switzerland
Public- and private sector media corporations are free from government influence. This is enshrined in the Swiss constitution. Although the federal government chooses the chairperson and some board members of the quasi-public non-profit radio and television organization, it exercises no influence over the organization’s daily reporting or journalistic work.
9
Canada
The only publicly owned media organization in Canada at the national level is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), which runs radio and television stations. Its independence from government control is ensured by statute. However, this independence has limits. For example, it is unlikely that Radio-Canada, the French-language division of the CBC, would be permitted to advocate the breakup of the country. Privately owned media organizations can of course take any political position they wish. In theory, if a government does not like the viewpoint of a particular media outlet, it can use the retraction of government advertising as a punishment. This is seldom done by the federal government or provincial governments, but is more common on the part of municipal governments. Electronic media are subject to licensing requirements, but this regulation is performed by an independent body, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC), without overt political influence. The federal government does appoint the members of the CRTC, as well as the head of the CBC. The federal government has put forward measures, including financial assistance, to support traditional media outlets that are struggling to survive the loss of advertising revenue to Google and Facebook.
Citations:
CBC/Radio-Canada, Ottawa. Press Release February 2017, CBC/Radio-Canada shares its Accountability Plan, http://www.cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/media-centre/2017/02/01/
Denmark
Press freedom is protected by section 77 of the Danish constitution, with certain restrictions concerning libel, blasphemy and racism. Denmark’s radio and privately run TV2 are governed by independent boards appointed by the minister of culture, the parliament (Folketinget) and employees. No members of parliament are allowed to be board members and legislation endeavors to assure that programs are impartial and diverse. There have been a few incidents in which board members have tried to influence specific programs or decisions taken by the management board of Denmark’s Radio. State-run media have so far been financed by an annual license fee. The budget has recently been cut by 20% and the financing model is being changed to tax-based funding. Emphasis is on public service: providing a diverse supply of Danish, trustworthy quality content, which supports Danish democracy, language and culture. At a time when immigration is a sensitive political issue, it is worth noting that the agreement also mentions Denmark’s Christian cultural heritage. Some of the provisions in the agreement are rather specific, leading some critics to suggest that politicians are interfering too much with a politically independent institution. The same government also announced that TV2 should be fully privatized. Licenses for radio stations have been contested and the recent closure of the channel 24/7 has increased debate.

Private media, especially newspapers, used to have party affiliations, but such affiliations have lessened in recent years. The print media is VAT exempt and also receives other forms of government support. Freedom House describes private media in Denmark as “vibrant.” Though Denmark’s score has been affected by various events, such as a Danish newspaper’s publication of a cartoon depiction of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in 2005, and the murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall by the inventor Peter Madsen in 2017.
Citations:
Reporters Without Borders, “Press Freedom Index 2018.” https://rsf.org/en/denmark (Accessed 24 September 2018).

Zahle, Dansk forfatningsret 3: Menneskerettigheder. Copenhagen: Christian Ejlers’ Forlag, 2007.

“Mediaaftale for 2019-2023,” https://kum.dk/fileadmin/KUM/Documents/Nyheder%20og%20Presse/Pressemeddelelser/2018/Medieaftale_2019-2023.pdf (Accessed 25 September 2018)
Ireland
In Ireland, public and private media are independent of government. RTÉ, the state-owned broadcasting company, is supported by fees from a mandatory license. It is obliged to give balanced coverage of political events and to guarantee access to a variety of political views. Access by political parties for electioneering purposes must also be balanced. The state broadcaster faces competition from private TV and radio stations and does not enjoy a monopoly in any area.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) was established on 1 October 2009. It has to “ensure that the democratic values enshrined in the constitution, especially those relating to rightful liberty of expression, are upheld, and to provide for open and pluralistic broadcasting services.” All broadcasters are legally obliged to report news in an objective and impartial manner, without any expression of the broadcaster’s own views.

All newspapers (whether they be “Irish owned” or “Irish editions of British newspapers”) are privately owned and dependent on commercial revenue; none receive public funding.

The Press Council of Ireland and the Office of the Press Ombudsman were established on 1 January 2008. Through it, citizens have access to an independent press complaints mechanism that aims to be “quick, fair and free” and to “defend the freedom of the press and the freedom of the public to be informed.”

Press and government keep one another at arm’s length. Preferences and biases arising from the views of journalists and broadcasters undoubtedly exist in editorial matters, but there is sufficient variety of editorial opinion and adequate complaints procedures to prevent this from undermining the democratic process.

Controversy has surrounded the issue of the right of a newspaper to protect its sources, for example by destroying relevant documents. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that The Irish Times had to pay its own costs in a case on this issue filed against it by the state. The court commented that the costs ruling could have “no impact on public-interest journalists who vehemently protect their sources yet recognize and respect the rule of law.”
Citations:
Kevin Rafter (2018), ‘The Media and Politics,’ in Politics in the Republic of Ireland (6th edition, Routledge).
Lithuania
Lithuania’s media are not subject to government influence. Private newspapers and independent broadcasters express a wide variety of views and freely criticize the government. Though the media’s independence is generally respected by the incumbent government, there have been a few recent attempts to restrict media freedom.

In Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 Press Freedom Index, Lithuania was ranked 30th out of 180 countries on the issue of press freedom, a rise of six positions compared to 2018. Despite this generally positive situation, court decisions and prosecutors’ orders are sometimes a threat to media independence. The parliament (Seimas) is alleged to have meddled in the operations of the public broadcasting service, Lithuanian Radio and Television, by setting up a special parliamentary inquiry commission to investigate the activities of the broadcaster. The commission found ineffective and opaque operations and suggested changes to the governance of the state-funded Lithuanian Radio and Television that could politicize appointments to its Council and a new Board whose establishment was proposed in the recommendations. The conclusions of the committee were not approved by the parliament during its plenary vote in November 2018, but new legislative proposals were later introduced to implement them. In September 2018, Lithuanian authorities discontinued the practice of providing free data from the Center of Registers for requests from journalists, but this decision was later reversed after reporters appealed to government officials. In addition, media independence could be compromised as the government remains a key advertiser, and that a large proportion of media outlets are owned by a small number of domestic and foreign companies. Similarly, regional media is dependent on local government for advertising and other types of support, which might restrict their ability to criticize local government.

With the aim of combating hostile propaganda and disinformation, the Lithuanian authorities introduced modifications to the Public Information Law that impose a penalty of up to 3% of a broadcaster’s annual income for spreading information that is deemed war propaganda, encouragement to change the country’s constitutional order, or an encroachment on the country’s sovereignty. This national-security decision restricted the broadcasts and rebroadcasts of some Russian TV channels in Lithuania. In March 2015, the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court issued a three-month ban on broadcasts by two Russian television channels that violated Lithuanian broadcasting regulations. The European Commission backed the Lithuanian authorities.
Citations:
2019 WORLD PRESS FREEDOM INDEX, see https://rsf.org/en/lithuania
New Zealand
New Zealand performs well in terms of media independence. In the 2019 World Press Freedom Index – published by Reporters Without Borders – New Zealand is ranked seventh, up one place on 2019. The report highlights that “its independence and pluralism are often undermined by the profit imperatives of media groups trying to cut costs.” However, the media is considered to be free from political pressure and intervention. This assessment also applies to state-owned broadcast networks: Television New Zealand (TVNZ) and Radio New Zealand (RNZ). Despite being identified as a public broadcaster, TVNZ is fully commercially funded. The question of whether to make TVNZ non-commercial or steer it toward a more public service-oriented role keeps coming up in the political debate. The two major print and online media providers sought to merge but this was twice denied by the Commerce Commission, with concerns about democracy cited as one of the reasons.
Citations:
Anthony, Government working to “strengthen public media,” but will TVNZ remove ads?, Stuff (https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/115127719/government-working-to-strengthen-public-media-but-will-tvnz-remove-ads)
Reporters Without Borders, New Zealand: Press freedom threatened by business imperatives (https://rsf.org/en/new-zealand)
Norway
The media market and media consumption behaviors are rapidly changing in a country that has a very high digital penetration.

Norway’s dominant TV and radio corporation is state-owned, but the media market is also populated by significant private TV and radio stations. Newspapers are entirely in private hands but receive state support.

The state-owned broadcaster (NRK) is organized in a way that ensures considerable autonomy. The NRK is independent in its editorial policy, and the government does not intervene in the organization’s daily practices or editorial decisions. However, since NRK is a non-commercial actor, it is largely financed by a fee that is compulsory for all citizens who have a television. The fee is set by parliament. The head of NRK reports to a board of directors. Board members are appointed by the government. An institution called the Broadcasting Council (Kringkastingsrådet) plays an oversight role, monitoring, debating and expressing views about the management and activities of the state-funded broadcast media. It can also provide advice on administrative and economic issues. The issues debated by the council can originate with the chairman of the state broadcasting organization or from the public (often in the form of criticism and complaints). The opinions expressed by the Kringkastingsrådet carry substantial weight, and recommendations from this council are usually implemented. Eight council members are appointed by the parliament, and an additional six by the government.

Newspapers are free from any government interference. The freedom of the press is explicitly guaranteed in the constitution; the constitutional article addressing press freedoms was amended and strengthened with a constitutional amendment in 2004.

All TV channels and media outlets have developed digital platforms. Increased numbers of digital publications and other changes in the media world have burdened many of the media houses. Some major media houses have experimented with new combinations of marketing and journalism that might challenge consumers’ faith in the independence of journalism. New technology is rapidly changing the media landscape, drawing audiences away from TV and newspapers to digital media platforms. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Google increasingly draw advertisement revenues away from traditional media in Norway and elsewhere. In addition, the media landscape is becoming more pluralistic and national media increasingly competes with international digital news sources.

Concerns about the long-term impact of this shift have increased. In addition, there are pressures to reduce state aid to media (pressestøtte). In sum, these factors might, over time, undermine the quality of the media and undermine its ability to engage in high-quality reporting while fostering and building informed public debate.
 
The incumbent government largely respects the independence of media. However, there are occasional attempts to exert influence.
8
Belgium
Some of the main public television and radio stations are managed by representatives of the main political parties; the head of the main French-speaking public-media organization actually is appointed by the government and claims an official post comparable to that of a civil servant. Nevertheless, the media organization’s journalists work largely free from direct control or political influence, even if some reporting may at times be a bit too uncritical of the government position.

The country’s main private television and radio stations in general operate independently of political parties, even though some interpersonal connections exist at the levels of upper management. Privately held press organizations are largely independent, and they do their best to scrutinize public activities despite increasing financial pressures.
Chile
In general, rules and practice of media supervision guarantee sufficient independence for public media. Privately owned media organizations are subject to licensing and regulatory regimes that ensure independence from the government. In its last edition (2017), the Freedom House index evaluated Chile’s freedom of press as “free” whereas in 2015 it was still evaluated as “partly free.” The report’s authors stated that the level of violence and harassment faced by journalists covering protests had significantly decreased in recent years. However, this might have changed in the context of the October 2019 demonstrations. The index takes into account “the legal environment in which media operate, political influences on reporting and access to information, and economic pressures on content and the dissemination of news.” The latest Press Freedom Index 2019, published by the international NGO Reporters Without Borders, ranked Chile at 46th place out of 180 countries, a significant drop of eight places compared to the previous year. The report states that covering demonstrations still remains difficult. Given Chile’s media landscape and its ideological and economic concentration, the degree of government influence over the media depends largely on which coalition is leading the government and clearly limits democratic debate. The presidency of Piñera, a successful entrepreneur, is more market friendly, and is consequently closer to business and media interests.
Citations:
Freedom House Index (freedom of the press):
https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/freedom-press-2017

Reporters without borders press freedom index:
https://rsf.org/en/chile
Germany
Germany’s Basic Law guarantees freedom of expression, press and broadcasting (Art. 5 sec. 1) and prohibits censorship, with exceptions delineated by the standards of mutual respect, personal dignity and the protection of young people. Strong constitutional guarantees and an independent judiciary provide for strong media freedom. A new anti-whistleblower provision penalizes the handling of leaked data without ensuring adequate protection for investigative journalists as well as their sources. Since 2016, the law governing the work of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency (BND) has allowed the surveillance of foreign journalists, thus legalizing potential infringements of media freedom rather than preventing them. A constitutional complaint against this regulation was still pending at the Federal Constitutional Court during the period of observation.

Print media, which are largely self-regulated, are broadly independent of political interference. The German Press Council is tasked with protecting press freedom. However, the latent economic crisis of newspapers and publishing houses may slowly but steadily undermine media pluralism. In the World Press Freedom Index published in 2019, Germany was ranked 13th out of 180 countries, a slight improvement from previous years, but representing a slight decline since its best ranking of 12th place in 2015.

The Interstate Treaty on Broadcasting and Telemedia (Rundfunkstaatsvertrag) provides a general nationwide framework for the operation of public and private broadcast media. In the private broadcasting sector, governmental influence is limited to the general provisions, regulations and guidelines stated in the interstate treaty that ban discrimination or other abuses. While the relationship between public authorities and private media can be seen as unproblematic, one can observe dependencies between authorities and the public media organizations (ARD and ZDF) that are at least questionable.
Citations:
World Press Freedom Index 2019. Available online: https://rsf.org/en/ranking
South Korea
In the 2019 World Press Freedom Index compiled by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, Korea gained two places relative to the previous year, reaching rank 41. However, some issues remain problematic. For example, Reporters without Borders criticizes the system by which managers are appointed at public broadcasters. Editorial independence is also underdeveloped at many outlets. Public broadcaster KBS was accused of preventing journalists from reporting critically on President Moon’s appointment of Cho Kuk as justice minister. Furthermore, Korea has very problematic anti-defamation laws that can result in harsh prison terms for those convicted of defamation – even if the statements are true – if the statements are seen as being contrary to “the public interest.” Defamation suits are frequently filed as a means of preventing critical reporting. Reporting on North Korea remains censored by the National Security Law. All North Korean media are jammed, and North Korean websites are not accessible from South Korea. In general, internet censorship remains widespread, with “indecent” internet sites blocked. Consequently, Freedom House ranks South Korea among the countries in which the internet is only “partly free.” A potentially problematic new development is the government’s declaration of a “war against fake news,” with stricter legislation on the issue promised.
Citations:
Freedom on the Net 2018, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2018/south-korea
Cho, Sang-hun. 2018. “South Korea Declares War on “Fake News,” Worrying Government Critics.” The New York Times, October 2. Retrieved October 13, 2018 (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/02/world/asia/south-korea-fake-news.html).
Yonhap News. 2019. “S. Korea climbs again in press-freedom index.” Retrieved from https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20190418006000315.
Reporters Without Borders. 2019. “South Korea: Distinct Improvement after a bad decade.” Retrieved from https://rsf.org/en/south-korea.
UK
In the United Kingdom, television channels both in the public and the private sector are required by law to be politically neutral. The public regulator, Ofcom, oversees the sector. No such requirement exists for print media. The BBC, the main public-service broadcaster, is financed by a television license fee, which is effectively a poll tax. It is overseen by a board of governors and enjoys almost complete political independence. However, recent scandals may have weakened the BBC’s standing, although there is as yet little evidence of that in its behavior, and it remains the case that TV and radio journalists often subject government and opposition politicians to very tough interviews. Politicians of all persuasions frequently accuse the BBC of bias, arguably highlighting the fact that it is outside political control. The aftermath of the News of the World scandal in 2011 (which led to the Leveson Inquiry and its 2013 report) exposed the overly close relations between politicians and the press. After a lively debate on whether stricter press regulation should be adopted to prevent excessively intrusive journalism, a new consensus seemed to emerge that formal regulation should not be introduced and the government has proved to be uneasy about acceding to demands for tougher statutory regulation.

Security reasons are sometimes given for restricting press freedom and, as in the case of government attempts to clamp down on disclosures by Edward Snowden, tend to cause considerable political and public backlash. Such incidents can tarnish the relationship between the UK media and the government. The journalists’ resistance to intimidation and their reporting of government surveillance practices are a shining example for civil journalism. Several media actors expressed concerns about the libel laws in the aftermath of the 2013 Defamation Act, which was meant to protect freedom of speech, but there have been no more recent cases in which the underlying freedom of the press has been questioned. However, a recent assessment by the Paris-based NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) is critical of the UK record. As in many other countries, the unfettered freedoms of social media are being challenged.
Citations:
https://rsf.org/en/united-kingdom
7
Austria
Media freedom is guaranteed by the constitution. There is no censorship in Austria, and new electronic or print-media organizations can be freely established. Limits to the freedom of expression in the media are defined by law, and the courts ensure that these limits are enforced.

The federal and regional governments use public money to promote specific policies in various print publications. This tradition has been criticized by the Austrian Court of Audit and by media organizations but has not stopped. Due to the pluralistic structure of Austria’s political system (no single party has ever simultaneously controlled the federal government and all state governments), the impact of this practice is typically diffused, but this financial relationship necessarily reduces the credibility and the freedom of the media. A mutual dependence has developed, in which political parties try to influence the media and media try to influence political parties. A clear separation needs to be established, in which media organizations do less to start or support political campaigns or otherwise put pressure on politicians, and political parties do not use means such as financial incentives to have an impact within the media.

The Austrian Public Broadcasting (Österreichischer Rundfunk Fernsehen, ORF) company dominates both the TV and radio markets. The ORF is independent by law and is required to submit comprehensive reports on its operations. All parties in parliament are represented on the ORF’s oversight body (the Stiftungsrat). A number of (real or imagined) cases of political influence over the ORF by various political parties have been alleged. However, the ORF in general fulfills its mandate quite well, particularly in international comparison.

There is an imbalance between the ORF and TV and radio stations beyond the ORF. The ORF is financed mainly by public fees, which everyone who owns a TV or radio device has to pay. Other TV and radio broadcasters have to finance their structures and activities through advertisements. The ORF and the government justify this imbalance by referring to the ORF’s specific educational task, which private companies do not have to fulfill.

The impact of social media has not yet been fully analyzed in Austria. It can be seen as a counterweight to the highly concentrated traditional media market, in which a single daily newspaper (Die Krone) is read by more than one-third of newspaper consumers, and in which the ORF is still the dominant force in TV and radio. Social media use is highly skewed toward the younger generations, but are also responsible for a new means of access to information.

One particular aspect of new social media has been under discussion recently: how to deal with hate speech. Anonymous radical online postings, which violate the law and have been more or less under control in the traditional media, have widened the discourse. During the two most electoral campaigns on the federal level (the 2016 election of the federal president and the 2017 election of the National Council), another impact of the new social media became visible (and discussed): the possibility to influence electoral behavior by disseminating lies about rival candidates. In the traditional media, the instruments to fight such lies are clear, as there are people responsible for a newspaper or a broadcasting company. However, accountability in social media is not so clear. The debate in Austria concerning this rather new phenomenon and its consequences for the fairness of the political process will become more intense. During the 2019 election campaign, the role of the media and media independence was fiercely debated.

Given Austria’s small size and its shared language with Germany, the country is particularly dependent on German media (print and electronic), which is not subject to oversight by Austrian policymakers.

A comparatively high degree of freedom of information still exists, which is based on the constitution and the basic law (“Staatsgrundgesetz”). However, the government has accepted the necessity of dealing with the phenomenon of “social media.” On the government’s side, there have been attempts to deal with “hate speech,” for example, from Neo-Nazis. An especially sensitive issue is the independence of the ORF, Austria’s public broadcasting system, which is still the dominant media actor. The question concerns the extent to which the ORF’s possible future structure will reflect the special interests of the governing parties.

Under the 2017 – 2019 coalition government, the FPÖ adopted an openly confrontational, even hostile, approach to some media outlets, especially vis-á-vis the public broadcaster ORF. FPÖ politicians accused the ORF of not being “objective.” In contrast, most other parties (especially opposition parties) and most media outlets perceived this hostile attitude as a threat to the independence of the ORF in particular and of the media in general.

The openness of that hostile attitude came into the open due to the “Ibiza scandal” when the then FPÖ chairman, Heinz-Christian Strache, tried to convince a (fake) Russian “oligarch” to buy the leading daily newspaper “Krone” – a change of ownership which would have immediately resulted in an editorial policy shift in the interest of the FPÖ. Strache referred to journalists, in this secretly filmed video, as “prostitutes.” The “Ibiza scandal” reflected an attitude incompatible with the written and unwritten rules of a democracy based on media freedom and plurality. However, the “Ibiza video” resulted in the collapse of the coalition, and in the following elections the FPÖ lost a significant (but not dramatic) number of votes and seats in parliament.
Citations:
Ingrid Thurnher: “Politik und Medien – eine unheilige Allianz?” In: Andreas Khol et al. (eds.): “Österreichisches Jahrbuch für Politik 2011.” Wien 2012, pp. 339 – 348.

Frederik Obermaier, Bastian Obermayer: “Die Ibiza-Affäre. Innensicht eines Skandals. Wie wir die geheimen Pläne von Rechtspopzulisten enttanrnten und dadrüber die österreichische Regierung stürzte.” Köln 2019 (Kiepeneheuer&Witsch)
France
In principle, media independence is guaranteed by a complete set of constitutional, legislative and administrative rules. There is not much more that can be done to improve the legal status of the press. This being said, media independence is multifaceted. One must distinguish between public and private media, as well as between legal independence and financial dependence or influence. Public authorities have in principle no direct capacity to intervene in public media decision-making as the power of control and supervision is delegated to an independent media authority. However, the situation is not clear-cut for many reasons. Public media are mostly dependent upon a special tax paid by every television owner, while their access to the advertising market was strongly curtailed by the former Sarkozy government. Most funding is now under government control.

In the private sector, public influence can be felt through the generous subsidies paid to all daily and weekly newspapers. However, it is paid as a kind of entitlement based on general rules and principles, and as such does not provide any real political leverage to the government. Much more serious is the porous nature of the barrier between the media and political worlds, as well as the fact that most daily and weekly newspapers are owned by large business interests. As an exception, the daily Le Monde newspaper was in September 2019 able to agree with its main stakeholders that the publication’s journalists’ organization would wield veto power if a single investor were to attempt to take a majority share in the company.
Iceland
Until privatization in 1986, the state had a monopoly over radio and TV broadcasting. Private stations now have a significant role in the media market.

Owners of private media sometimes try to exercise influence over news coverage. The largest daily newspaper has faced accusations that its owners, a former business magnate and his wife, have unduly influenced content. They sold the paper in 2019. Meanwhile, Iceland’s second largest daily newspaper is partly owned by fishing magnates. Its chief editor is a former Icelandic prime minister and discredited governor of Iceland’s central bank. The newspaper regularly publishes content critical of fisheries policy reforms as well as Iceland’s application for EU membership. Some politicians in government have repeatedly accused state-run radio and TV (RÚV) of bias against the government in their news reporting, partly because RÚV played an important role in exposing political scandals. Despite criticism that Iceland lacks a strong, independent media, the position of those seeking to dominate the media has been considerably weakened by the advent of online social media platforms.
Citations:
Karlsson, Ragnar (2010): Íslenskur fjölmiðlamarkaður. Framboð, fjölbreytni, samkeppni og samþjöppun. (The Icelandic Media Market. Supply, diversity, competition and concern). An overview prepared for the Ministry of Education and Culture.

Statistics Iceland (Hagstofa Íslands) www.statice.is
Italy
Until recently, successive governments exercised political influence over the public broadcaster and largest media organization, Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI). Governing parties interfered in its personnel policies, and controlled its organizational frameworks and resources. Some space was, however, always guaranteed to opposition parties. RAI has enjoyed abundant funding combining a mandatory subscription from every person that owns a TV set and advertising revenue.

The Renzi government’s reform of RAI increased the powers of the CEO while reducing the powers of the board, which has typically comprised representatives of the main political parties. This somewhat reduced political parties’ direct influence over RAI, but can result in increased government influence. The Conte governments have not differed substantially from previous governments, continuing to exercise a significant influence over nominations.

While the privately owned Mediaset channels continue to be subject to the political influence of their owner, Berlusconi, the increasing importance of other channels has balanced things out.

As for the print media, newspapers and magazines are in general much more independent of government influence and able to ensure a broad spectrum of opinions.

The role of other digital and social media (e.g., Twitter and Facebook) is growing rapidly as a generation of younger politicians makes increasingly heavy use of them. But television still maintains its central role for a large part of the Italian public, which often is not reached by new media.
Luxembourg
The media is independent of the government, though almost all newspapers and a number of online media organizations receive subsidies. Without this funding, the pluralistic media landscape in Luxembourg would cease to exist.

The country’s media audience is small; the pluralistic media landscape is maintained mostly through generous direct and indirect press subsidies which primarily benefit the country’s two big newspapers.

However, the Luxembourg Press Council says journalists critical of the government sometimes have to fear “legal proceedings and intimidation.” Furthermore, Raphael Kies of the University of Luxembourg speaks of a “high risk of political influence” in Luxembourg, particularly in the print media. In terms of ownership transparency, Luxembourg’s media receives a poor rating. According to the law, all press organs are once a year obliged to publish the names of any shareholders that hold more than 25% of their total shares. However, there are no statutory provisions against possible conflicts of interest between the media and politics. Thus, Raphael Kies criticizes a lack of real transparency.

In spring 2018, there was a debate over whether the public service broadcaster (Radio 100.7) in Luxembourg was independent. A study published by the European Broadcasting Union called the broadcaster’s independence partially into doubt, arguing that there is a risk that the government could influence the broadcaster’s reporting. The structure of the radio station therefore needs to be changed. A further public debate in Luxembourg followed, in which the prime minister was criticized for appointing a confidant to an important position within the broadcaster. The prime minister replied that the appointed person would fulfill all necessary requirements for the office.
Citations:
Kies, Raphaël/Nommesch, Kim/ Schall, Céline: “Media Pluralism Monitor 2016 – Monitoring Risks for Media Pluralism in the EU and Beyond.” http://orbilu.uni.lu/bitstream/10993/31320/1/Luxembourg_EN-pdf-final.pdf. Accessed 20 Oct. 2019.

Bumb, Christoph: “Parteien und Presse in Luxemburg – Der politisch-mediale Komplex.” https://www.reporter.lu/der-politisch-mediale-komplex/ Accessed 20 Oct. 2019.
Portugal
Public and private media are independent of the government’s influence, as mandated by the constitution of 1976. The media are regulated by the Entidade Reguladora da Comunicação Social (ERC). Four of the five members of the ERC board are appointed by a qualified majority of two-thirds of parliament, and the fifth member – who normally becomes the ERC’s head – is selected by the other four members.
Spain
Spain has a diverse and free media. Though the approval of new laws, which can constrain media freedom, combined with Spain’s struggling economy have created difficulties for journalists in recent years. Moreover, there is a high degree of public concern about the dissemination of false information.

The public TV and radio network (RTVE) have been criticized for its lack of impartiality and credibility. Under the new multiparty scenario, all parties agreed to appoint the next RTVE president on the basis of consensus. A legal change introduced in 2017 established an open and public competition for seats on the public media organization’s governing board and for its president, with the need for a two-thirds (rather than simple) parliamentary majority to approve these positions. However, after difficulties in selecting a new president, on 19 July 2018, the PSOE government appointed a “sole administrator,” a provisional figure that would be granted powers to direct the public broadcasting group until the approval of a new president by public tender. At the time of writing, no president has been appointed by public tender.

The situation with regard to regional public-broadcast groups is probably worse, with incumbent governments openly promoting their partisan political objectives. This has long been the case in Andalusia, in Madrid and particularly in Catalonia, where the public media has openly supported the nationalist regional government’s pro-secession view, while limiting access for those holding opposing perspectives or pluralistic positions.

With regard to private-broadcasting operations, media groups are of course formally independent, but the parties in office (at both the national and regional levels) have traditionally sought to support the newspapers, radio and television stations that are ideologically closest to them (through regulation of the audiovisual sector or with generous subsidies).
Citations:
Freedom House (2018), Press 2017 report. - https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/freedom-press-2017
Netherlands
The freedoms of the press/media and of expression are formally guaranteed by the constitution (Article 7). The Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index 2018 ranked the Netherlands at fourth place out of 180 countries, one rank down from the previous year, and below Norway, Finland and Sweden. The somewhat lower ranking results from the way that right-wing populist parties treat journalists (e.g., questioning the legitimacy of the traditional media and restricting targeted journalists’ access to political meetings), as well as from internet-based smear campaigns against reporters, particularly women who are not native-born Dutch. As a consequence, the report argues, Dutch journalists practice self-censorship on sensitive issues such as immigration, race, Islam and the ostensible national character. However, by international standards, journalists in the Netherlands are free from governmental interference. For example, their right to protect their sources even when called upon as witnesses in criminal cases is usually formally upheld.

Public-broadcast programming is produced by a variety of civil organizations, some reflecting political and/or religious denominations, others representing interest groups. These independent organizations get allocated TV and radio time that is relative to their membership numbers. However, broadcasting corporations are required to comply with government regulations laid down in the new Media Law. This new law abolished the monopoly of the incumbent public-broadcasting corporations and aims to boost competition by giving access to program providers from outside the official broadcasting corporations. A directing (not just coordinating) National Public Broadcasting Organization (NPO) was established, with a two-member government-nominated supervisory board, which tests and allocates broadcasting time. At the time of writing, this board was not yet functioning due to as yet unresolved internal disagreements. The new law states that public broadcasting should concern information, culture and education, while pure entertainment should be left to private broadcasters. In practice this has led to controversy around television celebrities’ salaries in public broadcasting, and blurred boundaries between “information” and “infotainment.” The bill has been criticized for failing to take broadcasters’ financial needs into account, and critics have argued that younger people and non-Dutch population groups will no longer be served by the public broadcasting system. Currently, broadcasting is both privately funded through advertisements and publicly funded. Regional broadcasters have been subject to budget cuts that have left them in fragile health, and will need to collaborate to survive. Politically, the existence of a public broadcasting system is becoming an increasingly contested issue. At least four different scenarios for the future of the public broadcasting system are under discussion.
Citations:
Freedom of the Press 2019, Dutch Country Report, Freedom House (rsf.org, accessed 3 November 2019)

NRC-Handelsblad, 27 November 2018. Vier publieke omroepen: welke wordt het?
USA
The United States has long upheld an unusually rigorous version of media freedom, based on the categorical language of the First Amendment to the constitution. In general, government interference in the media sector has been nearly nonexistent. News organizations are rarely subject to damage suits, even for false accusations against government officials. The United States does not have a national “shield law,” barring punishment for a journalist’s refusal to reveal sources to law-enforcement officials, but most states offer such protection.

Both in his presidential campaign and as president, Trump has threatened news organizations in various ways for their critical coverage of him, which he dismisses, nearly always falsely, as “fake news.” Throughout 2018, there were no apparent cases of substantial punishment or censorship of news organizations, but the president’s contempt for press freedom has been widely regarded as a significant threat. He has persistently attacked the mainstream media, falsely accusing them of corruption and dishonesty, referring to them as “enemies of people.” In 2019, the Trump administration withheld a $10 billion military contract for cloud services from Amazon in an apparent attempt to retaliate against owner Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post and which has published several reports critical of the president.

The vast majority of the news media have not been intimidated by Trump’s attacks or threats, which have become more or less ceaseless at this writing.
6
Australia
Media organizations – both public and private – are largely independent from government, although the main public broadcaster is accountable to a board of directors appointed by the government. Censorship has mainly been restricted to material of a violent or sexual nature. However, there are several potentially significant threats to media independence. For one, regulation of ownership of media is politicized and some owners are regarded as favorable to the incumbent government. Various pieces of recently passed legislation also impinge on media freedom. The Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 allows for control orders to restrict freedom of speech by individuals and the freedom of the media to publish their views. The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 restricts the ability of journalists to report on secret intelligence operations, with up to 10 years in jail imposed for exposing errors made by security agencies. Further, the Data Retention Act makes it almost impossible for journalists to protect government sources; the Foreign Fighters Act potentially criminalizes stories covering militant extremists; and the most recently passed measure, the Foreign Interference and Espionage Act, significantly broadens the scope of information defined as “classified.” The implications of these pieces of legislation for media freedom have not yet been tested in court, although two cases are pending that will most certainly shed further light on this issue.

Recent events have shown that the government is prepared to use these laws to restrict media freedom. Federal police raids on journalists’ homes and media offices have clearly been driven by political motives rather than by national-security concerns. This has given rise to a concerted campaign by journalists and media organizations for changes to legislation that would protect the media and whistleblowers, with proponents arguing that the country’s democratic functioning is at stake. In response to raids on a journalist’s home and the offices of the ABC, Australian newspapers appeared with blackened front pages in October 2019.
Citations:
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/media/call-to-scrap-security-laws-that-could-jail-journos/news-story/0b7b4d888751c0b11dc093ccb11c07bd

http://www.pressfreedom.org.au/press-media-alliance-freedom-report/introduction/foreword
https://pressfreedom.org.au/the-publics-right-to-know-3aee204f9036

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2015/australia

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-14/china-backlash-australia-questions-of-political-interference/9258462

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-50119559
Cyprus
Efforts by the government to influence the media appear to have intensified since 2017. This is visible in the treatment of third party reports or statements critical of the president and government. Formal and informal relations between the government, journalists and media owners have intensified through appointments to political positions or in the governing boards of semi-state organizations. NGOs have noted a tendency of some media to be indulgent to the government, a phenomenon they consider as a threat to democracy.

Legal requirements for launching a publication are minimal. Provisions in the Press Law 145/1989 for the establishment of a Press Council and Press Authority have been inoperative since 1990. Media owners, publishers, and the Union of Journalists collectively signed a code of journalistic ethics in 1997 and established a complaints commission composed mostly of media professionals.

RIK, the public broadcaster, is a public entity governed by a board appointed by the Council of Ministers. Appointments to this body are often politically motivated and very often include party officials. Disagreement from political parties with a government decision to ban advertising on RIK increased budgetary pressures for RIK in 2019. Interference and public statements by parties arguing for “more equitable” access continue to hold the public broadcaster hostage to politicians. Despite this competition for influence, pluralism generally prevails.

A law incorporating the provisions of EU media directives governs private audiovisual media services. Oversight is carried out by the Cyprus Radio Television Authority (CRTA), which also oversees RIK’s compliance with its public-service mandate. The CRTA has extensive powers and a broadly independent status. Though no high-level party official can be a member or chairperson of the CRTA, appointments by the Council of Ministers are often politically motivated rather than based on expertise or competence. The regulatory role of the CRTA has been very limited over the years.

At a different level, the Attorney General’s constitutional powers to seize newspapers or printed matter constitutes a threat to freedom of expression.
Citations:
1. OPEK: A blow to democracy the control of media by the executive (in Greek), Politis, 12 July 2019, https://politis.com.cy/politis-news/kypros/opek-pligma-gia-ti-dimokratia-o-elegchos-ton-mme-apo-tin-ektelestiki-exoysia/
2. Reporters without borders, Cyprus https://rsf.org/en/cyprus
3. Auditor-general has abused his position yet again in attack on Cyprus Mail, Cyprus Mail, 2 July 2019, https://cyprus-mail.com/2019/07/02/our-view-auditor-general-has-abused-his-position-yet-again-in-attack-on-cyprus-mail/
Czechia
Czechia was long characterized by a high degree of media freedom, partially due to the independence of the public media, but also because foreign media owners did not exercise any visible influence over the content and coverage of the private media. However, the replacement of foreign owners by domestic oligarchs and the capture of much of the Czech media market by Andrej Babiš, who has served as prime minister since 2018, have reduced media freedom. Babiš has used his media power to support his political position and to denigrate opponents.

Prime Minister Babiš and President Zeman have repeatedly criticized the public media for their alleged bias. Concerns about the independence of the public media have also been raised by controversial nominations and appointments to the council supervising the Czech news agency (ČTK). Since 2016, members of parliament from the right-wing SPD and the Communist Party have sought to block parliamentary debate on the annual reports of Czech Public TV (Česká televize, ČT), with a view to opening the way to dismissal of the ČT Council, the oversight body that has the power to elect and dismiss the ČT director.
Citations:
Jirák, J., B. Köpplová (2020): Advantages and Problems of a Liberal Democratic Media Model: Media and Politics in the Czech Republic, in: A. Lorenz, H. Formánková (eds), Czech Democracy in Crisis. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 157-178.
Greece
The financial crisis, and the continuing decline in circulation and advertising has strained Greece’s media sector. Numerous media outlets have shut down, reduced staff and salaries, scaled down or eliminated news departments, or failed to pay wages. These developments have made media outlets more susceptible to government influence.

In the period under review, especially during the electoral campaigns leading to the European Parliament elections of May 2019 and the national parliamentary elections of July 2019, the public broadcaster’s (ERT TV) television channels adopted a clearly pro-government bias across all news programming, openly supporting the two government coalition partners, Syriza and ANEL. News presenters toed the government line on almost all issues, with invited commentators often following a solid government line. This trend was disquieting in view of the government’s earlier attempt to control the private television sector as well, though this attempt was ultimately aborted between September and December 2016. In late 2018 an auction of nationwide TV licenses was conducted under the auspices of the independent National Council for Radio and Television, and five such private licenses were handed out.

The public broadcaster’s performance improved after the government turnover of July 2019, even though the journalist appointed as head of the broadcaster in August 2019 was a close associate of the new prime minister (the leader of the New Democracy party, Kyriakos Mitsotakis). As a consequence of the Syriza-ANEL coalition’s intense meddling in the television sector and with the press more generally for most of the period under review, Greece was ranked 65th out of 180 countries in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, although there was some improvement compared to the 2018 ranking (78/180).

The targeted purchase of advertisements from specific media outlets, a typical means by Greek governments of influencing reporting, was also seen in the period under review. In July 2018, following deadly wildfires in Mati, Syriza and ANEL announced that members of their parties would not participate in any programs on Skai TV and Radio, accusing the broadcasters of systematic anti-government reporting surrounding the disaster. In response, the opposition New Democracy party announced that its members would not make appearances on public television.
Citations:
The information on Greece’s ranking on the Word Press Freedom index is available at https://rsf.org/en/ranking
Israel
Israel’s media environment is considered lively and pluralistic, and the media is able to criticize the government. Even though the country’s basic laws do not offer direct protection and censorship, agreements accord the military wide discretion over issues of national security, legal protections for the press are robust: The Supreme Court has ruled that freedom of expression is an essential component of human dignity and has continuously defended it, soundly assimilating this principle in the Israeli political culture.

However, in recent years, Israeli media has been downgraded to partially free by Freedom House. Furthermore, the 2019 Reporters without Borders report stated that Israeli media is free but constrained by military censorship, with Israel ranked 88 out of 180 countries. When examining the extent to which the media in Israel is independent, one should also notice the immense power for censorship that the law facilitates. Under a 1996 Censorship Agreement between the media and the military, the censor has the power – on the grounds of national security – to penalize, shut down or stop the printing of a newspaper, or to confiscate its printing machines. In practice, however, the censor’s role is quite limited, and journalists often evade restrictions by leaking a story to a foreign outlet and then republishing.

Recent affairs also seem to call into question several important aspects of media independence. For example, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was investigated following allegations that his staff offered regulatory favors to the telecommunication company Bezeq in return for positive coverage by Walla, an Israeli web portal. As mentioned in Freedom House’s Freedom and the Media 2019: A Downward Spiral report (p.3), “although Netanyahu has resisted efforts to formally indict and try him on these charges, the evidence suggests that the prime minister was willing to sacrifice press freedom in order to maintain political power.” In light of the investigations, Netanyahu was forced to resign his position as communications minister.
Citations:
Caspi, Dan, “Media and politics in Israel,” Van Leer and the Kibutz Hameuhad, 2007 (Hebrew).

“Freedom of the Press: Israel 2017,” Freedom House, 2017
https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2017/israel

Grosman, Nurit, “Freedom of Press in Israel 2016: Overview” in Rafi Mann and Azi Lev-On (eds.), Annual Report: The Israeli Media in 2016 (54-76), New Media, Society and Politics Research Institute, Ariel University, 2016 (Hebrew): http://newsite.aunmedia.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/2016_P5.pdf

Freedom House. “Freedom and the Media 2019: A Downward Spiral” (June 2019): https://freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/FINAL07162019_Freedom_And_The_Media_2019_Report.pdf

Freedom House. “Israel” (2019): https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2019/israel

Harkov, Lahav, “Knesset Passes Law that Free Media Market,” The Jerusalem Post, 30/05/2017: http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Knesset-passes-laws-that-free-media-market-494283

“Israeli Media Is Another Example of Crony Capitalism,” Haaretz 2.11.2015:
 http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.683677


“Israel Freedom of the Press Country Report 2016,” Freedom House website: 
https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2016/israel (English)

“Map of Media Ownership of the Israeli Media“, The seventh eye website 2.12.2014: http://www.the7eye.org.il/50534 (Hebrew)

Persico, Oren. “Control Through Prevision,” The seventh eye website, 4.10.16 (Hebrew) http://www.the7eye.org.il/191753

Ravid, Barak. “Miri Regev: Why Set Up New Broadcasting Corporation if We Don’t Control It? read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.734527,” Haaretz, 31/07/2016: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.734527

Ravid, Barak and Chaim Levinson, “Netanyahu Appoints Ayoub Kara as Communications Minister,” Haaretz, 28/05/2017: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.792289

Reporters without Borders. “Israel,” 2019: https://rsf.org/en/barometer,
https://rsf.org/en/israel
Latvia
Private media are generally free from direct government influence. Licensing and regulatory regimes are politically neutral and do not create a risk of inappropriate political interference. However, the opaque ownership structure of private media and the media working environment does enable actors associated with the government to have an influence over editorial decisions. Research shows that media editors agree with the opinion that editorial policy is biased, because of the commercial interests of owners or prominent clients, or for political reasons. In 2011, a leaked chain of e-mails between the mayor of Riga and a Russian-language broadcaster showed the mayor to be engaged in daily editorial decisions affecting the news desk. In 2017, leaked transcripts of conversations between Latvia’s three “oligarchs” document political influence in the major daily newspaper “Diena” and in public television. These conversations observed that public radio remains impervious to outside political influence.

Public broadcasting has been subject to political influence. The oversight body, the National Broadcasting Council (Nacionālā elektronisko plašsaziņas līdzekļu padome, NEPLP), is politically appointed, and this has had an impact on personnel choices and in some cases content. In 2015, the parliament dismissed the chairperson of the NEPLP. This unprecedented move was considered by some to violate the measures built into the Law on Public Broadcasting meant to safeguard the independence of the public-broadcasting system. The parliamentary decision was successfully challenged in the courts and the dismissed council member was reinstated. However, he is no longer chairperson of the council. In 2017, the Supreme Court rejected his appeal. The current council has been repeatedly criticized for violating the independence of public broadcasting after making swift, poorly substantiated changes in the leadership of public radio and television. In 2019, the chairwoman of the National Electronic Mass Media Council resigned as a result.

Independent local print media is under increasing competitive pressures from local government-owned media outlets. The latter not only offers a low, subsidized purchase price to readers but also a low advertising rate, pulling advertising revenue away from independent publications. A local independent media outlet has successfully contested in the courts the legitimacy of local government-owned publications taking paid advertisements.

Finally, Reporters Without Borders ranked Latvia 24 out of 180 countries in the 2018 and 2019 World Press Freedom Index. Latvia’s score has continued to worsen due to the spread of “fake news” from suspected Russian origins. Other problems for the media include economic difficulties, inadequate and poorly distributed state aid, legislation that does not favor the media or media sources, and lawsuits brought against several journalists. In 2018, Re:Baltica, an investigative journalism outlet, was sued for criminal defamation on two occasions – once by the then-mayor of Riga Nils Usakovs and the other by Aldis Gobzems, a member of parliament – both claims have been rejected by the courts.
Citations:
1. Rožukalne, A. (2016) Monitoring Risks for Media Pluralism in the EU and Beyond: Latvia, Available at: https://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/46802/Latvia_EN.pdf?sequence=1&isAll owed=y, Last assessed: 04.11.2019.

2. Rožukalne, A. (2010), Research Paper on Hidden Advertising Issues in the Media, Available at (in Latvian): http://politika.lv/article_files/2117/original/slepta_reklama_mediju_prakse.pdf?1343212009, Last assessed: 04.11.2019.

2. RSF (2019), World Press Freedom Index, Available at: https://rsf.org/en/ranking, Last assessed: 04.11.2019
Malta
Private media operates free from government interference. Mechanisms exist to ensure that state media operate independently from government interference; since 2014, we have witnessed further progress on this issue. While the prime minister appoints all the directors of the State Media Board, as well as all the members of its editorial board, complaints of bias against the state broadcaster have dwindled. In Malta, media independence more generally is influenced by who owns a given media outlet, as well as the source of its revenues. In many cases, media organizations depend on commercial and public expenditures for these revenues. Furthermore, journalists in all media often display a clear party preference close to that of the media organization’s owner, whether the outlet is owned by a party or not. This, rather than government interference, is the primary reason that Malta’s media suffers from a lack of public trust. In a 2016 European Commission report on media pluralism, 76% of respondents stated that the media provides a diversity of views and opinions, but only 28% thought that the media provided information free from political or commercial pressure. In the same survey, 44% believed that the media provided trustworthy information, with the lowest scores assigned to newspapers and social media. Only 39% viewed the national regulator as being free and independent. Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press report 2017 gave Malta a score of 23/100 (with zero indicating the maximum amount of freedom). The 2017 Media Monitor ranked Malta as a medium-risk country with regard to political-independence indicators and regulatory safeguards, with three indicators assigned a high level of risk: the political independence of the media, editorial autonomy, and independence of public sector media governance and funding. Malta’s ranking in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index fell to 77th place due to the government’s failure to launch a public inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the failure to withdraw approximately 30 pending posthumous civil defamation cases against the Caruana Galizia family, and the incidence of local strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) laws, which can be used to muzzle the media. In the time since the ranking, the Caruana Galizia inquiry has been set up, although the government has argued that its first priority was to ensure that the judicial process against three persons accused of her murder would not be tainted by the inquiry.

Recent amendments to the press laws have abolished criminal libel, introduced the concept of mediation, and banned the filing of multiple libel lawsuits based on the same journalistic report. Other proposed reforms include the elimination of defamation of the president as a sanctionable offense, a cap on libel damages (including a clause stating that courts need to take into account the impact that financial damages may have on a media outlet) and a voluntary registration process for media outlets. The OSCE welcomed the changes, but offered additional recommendations, noting that a more balanced approach is needed with regard to the defense of truth.

Although state and party-related activities dominate the media, the reality of media diversity and a recent increase in competition ensure that the system is essentially pluralist, and that a range of opinions remain available. Online news outlets have added to this pluralism.
Citations:
Journalists’ institute calls for reform of libel laws. Times of Malta 18/07/2015
Cabinet mulls brave new defamation law. Malta Today 11/11/2015
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20161001/local/institute-of-maltese-journalists-calls-for-decriminalization-of-libel.626631
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160713/local/justice-minister.618702
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160714/local/repealing-blasphemy-law-a-victory-for-freedom-of-speech-says-humanist.618859
https://rsf.org/en/ranking
Standard Eurobarometre 84 Autumn 2015
Malta Today 29/11/17 OSCE analysis of Malta’s upcoming media law
Legal analysis of the draft law of the Republic of Malta to provide for the updating of the regulation of media and defamation matters and for matters consequential or ancilliary thereto, Commissioned by the office of the OSCE Representative on freedom of the media from Dr. Joan Barata November 2017
Draft law of the Republic of Malta to provide for the updating of the regulation of media and defamation matters and for matters consequential or ancilliary thereto 2017
Special Eurobarometer 452.Media Pluralism and Democracy November 2017
World press freedom index of reporters without borers 2018
 
The incumbent government seeks to ensure its political objectives indirectly by influencing the personnel policies, organizational framework or financial resources of public media, and/or the licensing regime/market access for private media.
5
Slovenia
Slovenia’s constitution and legal system guarantee freedom of the press, and the media, for the most part, operate without direct political interference. The laws regulating public television and radio broadcasting reflect the strong corporatist element of Slovenian political culture. The Council of Radio-Television of Slovenia (Radiotelevizija Slovenija, RTVS) has 29 members, who are appointed by the National Assembly, but proposed by a broad variety of political and social actors. Changes to the rules and procedures in the previous years strengthened the independence of the public media by reducing the scope for discretionary cuts in public funding, and by requiring an absolute rather than relative majority for the election of the director-general of the Council of Radio-Television of Slovenia. An amendment of Article 260 of the Slovenian Criminal Code, which entered into force on October 2015, strengthened media freedom by making clear that an individual disclosing classified information no longer incurs a criminal liability. In the period under review, however, there have been some reports of political pressure being placed on public media journalists covering sensitive political issues, such as the corporate governance of state-owned companies or write-off of tax debts to the family of the Ljubljana mayor Jankovic. Media freedom has also suffered as owners of private media exert their influence. Some private media outlets are owned by companies from other economic sectors (e.g., construction), and reporting sometimes seems to be biased toward the ruling coalition, which helps these outlet owners secure public sector procurement contracts. Growing political polarization has fueled a debate over whether or not to ban acts of hate-speech, though it is unclear whether doing so would actually strengthen a culture of public discourse or serve instead to be used as a ruse by authorities and other centers of power and influence in persecuting otherwise-minded people.
4
Croatia
Media freedom in Croatia is limited. Political influence on public media is still fairly strong, as is the influence of private owners on private media. After the change in the governing coalition in May 2017, the HDZ intensified its control over the public media. In some cases, controversial journalists have been fired and critical programs discontinued. Media freedom has also suffered from the large number of defamation lawsuits against journalists and media. In January 2019, there were more over 1,000 ongoing trials against Croatian journalists or media outlets. Some of them have been brought to the courts by the public broadcaster HRT, which has been unique in suing its own journalists, other media outlets and professional journalist associations. As a result, many Croatian journalists who investigate corruption, organized crime or war crimes are often subject to harassment campaigns. The government has weakened independent media by delaying the allocation of EU funding for non-profit media. Even after the fall of Balkan tycoon Ivica Todorić in 2017, there are still many cases of powerful businesspeople using advertising to hinder media freedom. In 2019, however, a new generation of investigative journalists have brought a series of scandals involving public officials to the fore, which have resulted in several high-profile resignations.
Japan
Japanese media are largely free to report the news without significant official interference. While the courts have ruled on a few cases dealing with perceived censorship, there is no formal government mechanism that infringes on the independence of the media. The NHK, the primary public broadcasting service, has long enjoyed substantial freedom. However, the Abe-led government has pursued a more heavy-handed approach since 2013, highlighted by a number of controversial appointments of conservatives to senior management and supervisory positions.

In practice, many media actors are hesitant to take a strong stance against the government or expose political scandals. Membership in government-associated journalist clubs has long offered exclusive contacts. Fearful of losing this advantage, representatives of the established media have frequently avoided adversarial positions.

Apparently bowing to government pressure, Japan’s largest English-language newspaper, The Japan Times, announced in November 2018 that it would no longer refer to “forced laborers,” but would instead use the term “wartime laborers.” It also said it would revise its definition of “comfort women,” no longer defining these as women “forced” to provide sex to the Japanese army during the war effort, but rather as “women who worked in brothels, including women who did so against their will.” Some major Japanese-language newspapers including the Asahi shimbun, the Mainichi shimbun and the Tokyo shimbun have to date withstood pressure to engage in this form of “language revisionism.” Japan’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index has plummeted in recent years, from 22nd place in 2013 to 67th in 2019, the lowest rank among G-7 members.

As a result of the passage of the State Secrets Act, which came into effect in 2014, journalists and others charged with leaking relevant information now face jail sentences of up to five years. What exactly constitutes “state secrets” is left very much up to the discretion of the government agencies in question.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) formed a Platform Services Study Group in 2018 to discuss measures combating misinformation (“fake news”) on social and possibly other forms of media.
Citations:
Arielle Busetto, Press Freedom in Japan: When A Discussion Isn’t A Discussion, Japan Forward, 10 January 2019, https://japan-forward.com/press-freedom-in-japan-when-a-discussion-isnt-a-discussion/

Daisuke Nakai, The Japanese Media in flux: Watchdog or Fake News?, Forum Report 013, Suntory Foundation, April 2018, download from https://www.suntory.com/sfnd/jgc/forum/013/index.html

Umeda, Sayuri, Initiatives to Counter Fake News: Japan, Library of Congress (United States) Legal Reports, April 2019, https://www.loc.gov/law/help/fake-news/japan.php

Human Rights Now, HRN gives an Oral Statement at the 41st Human Rights Council Session on Freedom of the Press in Japan, 1 July 2019, http://hrn.or.jp/eng/news/2019/07/01/press-freedom-japan-hrc41-oral-statement/
Mexico
Officially, freedom of expression is protected and the media is independent from the government.

While media freedom is not severely restricted by the government, substantial restrictions exist on what news outlets can cover without fear of reprisal. Topics such as corruption or collusion between organized crime and public officials are particularly dangerous territory. According to data from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mexico is one of the most deadly countries for journalists, surpassed only by Iraq and Syria. Between January and August 2019, 10 journalists were killed. Since 2000, 138 journalists have been killed, 24 have disappeared. These dangers particularly affect journalists working for subnational news outlets as well as those who report critically on corruption and linkages between politicians and organized crime. The federal government fails to act decisively to protect journalists. When journalists are murdered, there is broad impunity for their killers. Thus, even though press freedom is codified in national laws, in practice there are substantial restrictions on press freedom. Mexico ranked 144 out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index 2019.
Citations:
Reporter ohne Grenzen: https://www.reporter-ohne-grenzen.de/mexiko/

Articulo 19: https://articulo19.org/periodistasasesinados/
Slovakia
The murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová in February 2018 has highlighted the limits to media freedom in Slovakia. Even after the murder, prominent persons in the government coalition continued to criticize and intimidate journalists. Media freedom has also suffered from the new law on the right to reply for politicians, passed in September 2019. The law has given politicians the right to receive a reply or have a correction published. If a media outlet fails to fulfill this right, it could be fined up to €5,000. A right to reply was originally introduced by the first government of Robert Fico in 2008, but then abolished by the Radičová government in 2011 following widespread domestic and international criticism of the resulting intimidation of journalists.
Citations:
German Sirotnikova, M. (2019): Never-Ending Story: The Fight for Media Freedom in Slovakia, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, August 8 (https://balkaninsight.com/2019/08/08/never-ending-story-the-fight-for-media-freedom-in-slovakia/).
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Bulgaria
In legal terms, media in Bulgaria are independent of the government. All electronic media – public or private – are subject to licensing by two independent state agencies: the Council for Electronic Media (issuing programming licenses) and the Commission for Regulation of Communications (for radio frequencies and other technological aspects of electronic media). The Council for Electronic Media also appoints the management of the Bulgarian National Television and the Bulgarian National Radio organizations. No specific regulation exists for print media.

In practice, however, media independence is limited in Bulgaria, and the situation further worsened in 2019. After a series of well-known investigative electronic-media journalists lost their positions and on-air exposure over the last two years, the public radio’s leading station was pressured into actually shutting down for several hours with the sole purpose of keeping a particular investigative journalist off the air. This journalist had been asking inconvenient questions about the selection procedure for the new prosecutor general in September 2019. This caused a major crisis, and forced the Council for Electronic Media to fire the recently elected executive director of the radio service. In the process, it became clear that the decision to shut down the broadcast was a result of outside pressure by unrevealed persons.

During the municipal election campaign in Sofia, one of the mayoral candidates, who is also a leader of one of the three parties forming the junior partner in the ruling coalition, created a scandal during a live broadcast of a candidate debate on public TV. While the show was on the air, he directly threatened that if his behavior was not tolerated, he would cut the funding of the public TV service, which is voted on every year by parliament as part of the state budget.

Media outlets’ dependence on advertising and other revenues from the government or government-owned enterprises continues to be a problem. Similarly, some outlets or their owners are involved in business deals with the government. Transparency regarding the ultimate ownership of private media organizations is very low, especially for the print media.

A major development in the media space has been the growth of non-traditional outlets. On the one hand, it is much more difficult for the powerful of the day to suppress these non-traditional media. On the other hand, they are more susceptible to specific manipulations.
Poland
The PiS government does not respect the independence of the media. The Council of National Media was established in June 2016, and appoints the management boards of public TV and radio, and the Polish Press Agency (PAP). The council is dominated by the PiS and takes instructions directly from Jarosław Kaczyński. The National Broadcasting Board (KRRiT), a constitutional body that oversees public media, has been staffed exclusively with PiS personnel. Cases of politically motivated appointments and dismissals at TVP, Poland’s public TV broadcaster, and the public Polskie Radio are numerous. According to estimates, at least 250 journalists either lost their jobs or stepped down from their positions for political reasons in 2016. TVPs selectivity in framing and priming has gone so far as to manipulate the news in social, cultural and artistic matters. Unbelievable as it may sound, the Polish public TV broadcaster decided not to broadcast the official speech given in Stockholm of the Nobel Prize winner in literature, Olga Tokarczuk, who has been critical of the current Polish government. In response to the takeover of the public media by the PiS government, up to a million previous viewers have declined to watch the main news program of TVP (now often dubbed TV-PiS).

The two major private TV channels, TVN and POLSAT, as well as part of the print media, have sought to counter the biased message of the (once) public TV. Following pressure from abroad, most notably from the United States, the PiS government dropped its original plans to “re-Polonize” the media by limiting the maximum foreign ownership stake allowed in Polish media companies to between 15% and 20%. However, it has continued its attempts to weaken independent media by limiting advertisements bought by public organizations in media perceived as hostile to the government, and by exercising pressure on critical media and journalists. A case in point is the scandal at the Polish Financial Supervision Authority (KNF) in November 2018, which ultimately forced its chairman, Marek Chrzanowski, to resign amid allegations of corruption. When the media discussed the role of Adam Glapiński, Chrzanowski’s tutor and confidant, the president of the National Bank of Poland (NBP), the NBP tried to force Gazeta Wyborcza and Newsweek Poland to remove several articles.
Citations:
Chapman, A. (2017): Pluralism Under Attack: The Assault on Press Freedom in Poland. Washington, D.C.: Freedom House (https://freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/FH_Poland_Report_Final_2017.pdf).
Romania
In Romania, the independence of the media is limited. The government exerts strong control over the public media, and most private media are owned by shady oligarchs that do not respect editorial independence. Many have strong ties to national or local politicians and some of them have been charged with corruption. Harassment of journalists remains a key concern, with journalists routinely subjected to physical and verbal abuse by police.
Citations:
Prysiazhniuk, M. (2019): Threatened from the Inside: Why State Disinformation Is the Main Concern in Romania. Visegrad Insight, October 22 (https://visegradinsight.eu/threatened-from-the-inside/).

Reporters without Borders (2018): Romania’s press freedom in free fall as its takes over EU presidency, December 29 (https://rsf.org/en/news/romanias-press-freedom-free-fall-its-takes-over-eu-presidency).
 
Major media outlets are frequently influenced by the incumbent government promoting its partisan political objectives. To ensure pro-government media reporting, governmental actors exert direct political pressure and violate existing rules of media regulation or change them to benefit their interests.
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Hungary
In Hungary, media freedom exists only on paper, since more than 90% of media are controlled by the government, either directly, as in the case of the public media, or indirectly, as in the case of private media owned by Fidesz oligarchs. The highly controversial media laws in 2010/11 have effectively involved a “media capture” by the state since they have strengthened government control over the media by vesting a Media Council (staffed entirely by Fidesz associates) with media-content oversight powers and the right to grant broadcasting licenses. Since then, media freedom has been further restricted by the takeover of formerly independent media by oligarchs close to Fidesz, supported through the strategic allocation of government advertisements. Fidesz oligarchs now control all regional dailies, which still have a large readership, and almost all local radio stations. The situation with weeklies is not as bad, but their readership is limited to the elite of the country. Moreover, society is vulnerable to disinformation campaigns and fake news. In recent years, the Hungarian media has been penetrated by around 100 locally operated, Russia-linked disinformation sites, which have supported the Fidesz agenda. Since the 2018 elections, Fidesz has completed its media capture and the government has also brought about radical changes in pro-government media, which includes a reorganization of media outlets that are close to or owned by Fidesz. In late 2019, the Fidesz media has been completely centralized in KESMA (the Central European Press and Media Foundation), with about 500 media outlets brought under the common leadership and financing of one big organization.
Citations:
Brogi, E. et al. (2019): Assessing certain recent developments in the Hungarian media market through the prism of the Media Pluralism Monitor. EUI, Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, Firenze (https://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/64284/Hungarian_media_market.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y).
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Turkey
The constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press and freedom of expression are rarely upheld in practice. The current legal framework and practice are restrictive and do not meet EU standards. The government appoints the general director of the country’s public broadcaster, Turkish Radio and Television (TRT). In doing so, it essentially exercises tutelage over the public-media organization’s administration. Several TRT channels regularly broadcast pro-government programs, and invite experts allied with the government party to appear on these programs. Transparency and accountability of the board meetings of TRT, the state-run audio-visual media, were eliminated by an amendment to the relevant regulation just before the early presidential and parliamentary elections in April 2018.

Journalists, who have reported on allegations of corruption in government and the judiciary, have become targets of judicial investigations (facing possible imprisonment) for “bringing the economy into disrepute.” In a three-month period during 2019, at least 40 journalists, columnists and editorial office personnel were fired or forced to resign. Many media organizations of various political tendencies have parted ways with long-time columnists who refused to “adapt to the new political period.” In November 2019, 45 journalist and media workers were dismissed from Hürriyet daily newspaper as a reaction to unionization.

Most concerning for many observers have been the unprecedented expansion in the range of reasons given for journalists’ arrests, the massive phone-tapping campaign and the contempt shown for source confidentiality. Intimidating statements by politicians and lawsuits launched against journalists critical of the government, combined with the media sector’s ownership structure, have led to widespread self-censorship by media owners and journalists. In some cases, journalists have simply been fired.

Journalists and media organizations critical of the government have faced threats, physical attacks and fines. TV and radio channels have been closed, and access to airtime has been restricted. As of November 2019, a total of 115 journalists and other media workers had been imprisoned. Some of the convicted journalists (e.g., Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak), many detained during the 2016 to 2018 state of emergency, were released from jail for various reasons, although several were immediately detained again.

The 2019 judicial reform package added a new provision to anti-terror law (Article 7), which states that “statements of opinion that do not exceed the limits of reporting or for the purpose of criticism shall not constitute a crime.” This is considered a mark of progress for freedom of expression.

According to an amendment to the Law No. 5651 on Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Combating Crimes Committed by Means of Such Publication (also known as the Internet Law), authorized access blocks should be imposed on a specific URL rather than an entire website. However, when placing an access block on a specific URL is technically impossible, an entire website can be blocked.

New regulations will enable the Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTÜK) to control online broadcasters, threatening the existence of online broadcasters through a costly and opaque licensing regime.

As of September 2019, RTÜK had started to monitor online broadcasting and online broadcasters must be licensed. In 2018, 2,950 online news reports, 77 Twitter posts, 22 Facebook posts, five Facebook videos and 10 websites were blocked; three broadcast bans (one temporary) were issued. Throughout 2018, eight newspapers, two TV channels, two letters, one report, one TV series and one interview were censored. During the first nine months of 2019, RTÜK banned 21 broadcasts, and fined 48 TV channels for the news reports, films or programs they had broadcast. In addition, Wikipedia continues to be censored; one newspaper was banned; and one website, one TV program, one advertising movie and one election propaganda video were censored. The RSF 2019 Index ranks Turkey 157 out of 180 countries, with a score of 52.81.

Under the existing political, regulatory and market conditions, Turkish media cannot act as an independent and critical force for democratic and sustainable societal development. Consequently, media remains the least trusted institution in public opinion polls.
Citations:
European Commission, Turkey 2019 Report, Brussels, 29.5.2019, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/20190529-turkey- report.pdf (accessed 1 November 2019)

Reporters Without Borders, 2019 World Press Freedom Index, https://rsf.org/en/ranking (accessed 1 November 2019)

2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report, https://www.edelman.com/sites/g/files/aatuss191/files/2019-03/2019_Edelman_Trust_Barometer_Global_Report.pdf (accessed 1 November 2019)

N. Newman and et al., Reuters Institute Digital News Reports 2019, https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2019-06/DNR_2019_FINAL_0.pdf (accessed 1 November 2019)

Freedom House, Freedom and the Media 2019: A Downward Spiral, https://freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/FINAL07162019_Freedom_And_The_Media _2019_Report.pdf (accessed 1 November 2019)

“4 soruda internete RTÜK denetimi düzenlemesi,” 22 March 2018, https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-turkiye-43494950 (accessed 1 November 2018)

BİA Media Monitoring Report 2018: One Year of Journalists, Media, https://bianet.org/english/media/205640-bia-media-monitoring-report-2018-one-year-of-the-journalist-and-the-media (accessed 1 November 2019)

Judicial Reform Package on Pretrial Detention, Freedom of Expression Passes in Parliament, BİANET, 17 October 2019, http://bianet.org/english/politics/214573-judicial-reform-package-on-pre-trial-detention-freedom-of-expression-passes-in-parliament (accessed 1 November 2019)

BİANET Media Monitoring reports 2019 (first three-quarters), http://bianet.org/english/media (accessed 1 November 2019)

“Resmi Gazete’de yayımlanan yargı reformu paketi neleri kapsıyor?” 26 October 2019, https://tr.euronews.com/2019/10/26/yarg-reformu-paketi-resmi-gazete-de-yayimlandi (accessed 1 November 2019)

“Türkiye’de internet yayınlarına RTÜK denetimi başladı,” 2 September 2019,https://www.dw.com/tr/t%C3%BCrkiyede-internet-yay%C4%B1nlar%C4%B1na-rt%C3%BCk-denetimi-ba%C5%9Flad%C4%B1/a-50261311 (accessed 1 November 2019)
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