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Europe media independence faces rising threats: watchdog

Countries with well-funded public service broadcasters experience less rightwing extremism and corruption according to human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks © AFP/File / Eleftherios Elis

STRASBOURG, France, May 3 – The Council of Europe added its voice Tuesday to global concern over press freedom, saying that European public broadcasters and their regulators face increasing threats to their independence.

“The situation on the ground gives rise to concerns,” the council’s human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks said in a report published on the eve of World Press Freedom Day.

The pan-European rights watchdog has received an increasing number of alerts about political interference and lack of funding for public broadcasters on the continent, indicating an “emerging trend of threats” to their independence, he added.

In his report, Muiznieks noted political appointments to the management of public television in Spain. He also cited reforms in Poland that put public television and radio in the grip of the country’s nationalist government, a move that has drawn criticism from the EU.

Sudden management changes in public service media in Croatia as well as pressure from a political party to replace one of the members of the Ukrainian public broadcaster’s supervisory board were also cause for concern, said Muiznieks.

In Greece, the government’s temporary cost-cutting move to shut down its public broadcaster ERT “dealt a heavy blow to media pluralism in the country,” he added.

He said strong and independent public service broadcasting is “all the more important,” given the proliferation of one-sided and false information on social media.

Countries with well-funded public service broadcasters experience less rightwing extremism and corruption, Muiznieks added.

Last week, US-based rights organisation Freedom House said that press freedom has hit a decade low, citing US President Donald Trump’s swipes at journalists and restrictions by both democratic and authoritarian governments.

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