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  Press freedom

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It has emerged that the Ukrainian state security service, the SBU, spied on employees of the well-known whistleblowing platform Bihus.info - at their New Year's party and presumably elsewhere too. An SBU department head has been dismissed as a result of the scandal. The security service has defended its actions and accused individual members of the editorial team of illegally purchasing and consuming drugs. A lame explanation, commentators write.

Poland's new government has dismissed the entire management of the country's public television and radio broadcasters. The move follows a parliamentary resolution with the aim of restoring the impartiality of the public media which it stated had "clearly carried out propaganda tasks" under the national-conservative PiS government. PiS supporters and MPs have gathered in protest outside the headquarters of public television broadcaster TVP to "protect" it.

Swiss media group Ringier has sacked several senior journalists at the Romanian daily Libertatea. The newspaper has uncovered numerous corruption scandals in recent years and is the most widely read in the country. Ringier justified the decision pointing to a decline in revenues. Commentators voice concern about press freedom and bemoan the predominance of profit-driven interests.

The Dutch company Pluralis, owned by US investor George Soros's Soros Economic Development Fund, has acquired a majority stake in Gremi Media, which publishes the second largest Polish daily, Rzeczpospolita. There had been growing speculation about a sale in recent years, with a Polish state-owned company among the interested parties. The news elicits a divided reaction in the press.

Russian journalist Yelena Milashina and lawyer Alexander Nemov have been attacked and beaten by unknown assailants in Chechnya. They were on their way to the sentencing of Zarema Musayeva, the mother of two Chechen human rights activists, who was abducted from Nizhny Novgorod and taken to Grozny in early 2022. Musayeva was sentenced to five and a half years in prison. Commentators see the events as significant from several perspectives.

In an appeal trial on the murder of the Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak, the prosecution had demanded life imprisonment for business tycoon Marian Kočner, the alleged mastermind behind the killing, but he has been acquitted for the second time. Co-defendant and Kočner's confidant Alena Zsuzsová, on the other hand, was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The prosecution intends to challenge the verdict.

As part of an austerity package the Czech government has more than doubled the VAT on printed newspapers, bringing it up to 21 percent from the previous 10 percent. Publishers fear that this will mean the end for these newspapers. Commentators criticise the measure as a declaration of defeat in the fight against misinformation.

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day but not necessarily a day of good news: according to Reporters Without Borders, the suppression of unwelcome reporting has increased worldwide. Crises, wars and growing authoritarianism are combining to smother critical voices. Commentators are concerned.

In February 2018 the contract killing of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová shook Slovakia and led to massive protests, ushering in the fall of the government under populist Robert Fico, who was suspected of corruption, and a spirit of optimism. But five years on disillusionment has set in, commentators note.

A special commission In the Republic of Moldova has suspended the licenses of six television stations, initially until February, citing false reports on events in the country and the war in Ukraine. Moldova must be "protected from propaganda and lies", Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spinu said. Commentators in neighbouring Romania take different views of the decision.

A new media law was approved by a large majority in the Ukrainian parliament last week. The European Union had recommended that as an EU candidate Ukraine reform its media legislation. Among other things, the draft seeks to restrict the influence of oligarchs on Ukrainian media. Some commentators fear that the new law gives authorities too much power, also vis-à-vis editorial teams.

A new media law in Turkey foresees up to three years in jail for those convicted of spreading "disinformation". Not only journalists but also users of social media can be punished. Commentators accuse the government of restricting freedom of expression and criticise the law also against the backdrop of the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in June 2023.

On Monday, Ukrainian entrepreneur Rinat Akhmetov announced that all the TV and print licences of Media Group Ukraine will be transferred to the state and that the company's online media operations will be discontinued. Media Group Ukraine owns eleven TV stations, the news site Segodnya.ua and the online TV service OLL.TV. The move was provoked by the threat of Akhmetov being included in the oligarch register. Ukrainian commentators voice concern.

NGO Reporters Without Borders published its 20th World Press Freedom Index to mark World Press Freedom Day yesterday. The ranking takes into account factors such as media legislation, violence against media professionals and monopolisation. Europe's press seizes the opportunity for a good look in the mirror.

As a result of tighter government regulations, almost all critical media in Russia have been blocked from the internet by the media supervisory authority Roskomnadzor and are now only accessible via VPN servers. At the same time new media projects launched by exiled journalists and news channels on Telegram and Youtube are being launched. Europe's press takes stock on International Press Freedom Day.

In Russia, anyone who reports independently on the war in Ukraine faces prison. In several Western countries, channels that broadcast Kremlin propaganda have been banned. At the same time, misinformation is on the rise, spread via websites and social networks. Europe's press comments on the war over public opinion.

In Russia, within just a few days the already very one-sided media landscape has been brought completely under the Kremlin's control. Any reports or commentaries on the armed forces and the operations in Ukraine that deviate from the official version are banned. The few critical outlets that remained such as Echo of Moscow and TV Dozhd were first blocked and then shut down. Other media are partly bowing to the pressure in order to survive.

War is also a battle for public opinion. To prevent Russian propaganda in the West, the EU wants to ban Russian state media outlets RT and Sputnik from broadcasting. For its part, the Kremlin is banning independent broadcasters in Russia and tightening its media laws. Without equating the scope of censorship, media in eastern and western Europe appeal for freedom of opinion.

Law enforcement authorities in Greece have dropped investigations against another two politicians suspected of illegal practices in connection with the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis. Last month, journalists Kostas Vaxevanis and Ioanna Papadakou, who uncovered the scandal, were accused of involvement and summoned before a special investigator. The national press reflects the diametrically opposed perspectives on the case.

Deutsche Welle (DW) has been banned from broadcasting in Russia. Its offices in the country are also to be closed and accreditations withdrawn. The ban is widely seen as a countermeasure after Germany's Commission on Licensing and Supervision (ZAK) of media institutions said this week that the Russian television station RT DE could no longer broadcast in Germany using a Serbian broadcasting licence.

A glimmer of hope for Julian Assange: the Wikileaks founder has won the right to appeal the decision to extradite him to the US before the UK's Supreme Court. The High Court in London paved the way for the appeal on Monday after a hearing with Assange's lawyers. European commentators call for Assange to be defended in the name of press freedom.

The High Court in London has overturned the extradition ban on Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Whether the whistleblower will really be extradited to the US has not yet been decided, however, as his lawyers have announced their intention to appeal. While some media fear that such action against a journalist could set a negative precedent, others insist that the ruling must be accepted.

Several journalists covering the far right are facing intimidation attempts in France. A StreetPress writer received death threats after writing about armed supporters of Eric Zemmour and a Mediapart journalist was attacked several times by far-right Youtubers after reporting on Zemmour's links to the far right. Does Paris need to do more to stop attacks against press freedom?

A fiery exchange took place during a press conference in Athens on Tuesday: Journalist Ingeborg Beugel started a question she was putting to Prime Minister Mitsotakis by accusing him of lying about illegal pushbacks of refugees by the Greek authorities. Mitsotakis responded angrily that he would not allow the Greek people to be insulted with unproven accusations.

The Finnish prosecutor's office filed charges on Friday against three journalists from the daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat who published an article about military intelligence in 2017 based on classified documents. Finnish newspapers see the trial as a threat to their work.

Two journalists who are critical of the regimes in their countries have been awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize: Maria Ressa (the Philippines) and Dmitry Muratov (Russia). They stand for all those who stand up for the ideal of freedom of expression in a world in which "democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions," the Nobel Committee said in a statement. Europe's press is delighted, but there are those who would have liked to see a bolder choice.

The Russian authorities have classified the popular pay-TV channel Dozhd as a "foreign agent". It is the 18th Russian media outlet to receive this designation. Such an announcement usually means the death of a non-state media outlet because its advertising revenues plummet and official bodies refuse to cooperate with it. Russian journalists are pessimistic.

A global investigative journalism project has revealed that governments around the world have used the Israeli Pegasus spy software to spy on journalists, activists and opposition members. Hungarian media workers were also affected. Pegasus manufacturer NSO maintained that the software could only be used to fight crime and terrorism and was only sold to "vetted governments". Such reassurances are not enough for Europe's press.

Journalist and crime reporter Peter R. de Vries died of his injuries on Thursday after he was shot in Amsterdam last week. Members of organised crime are suspected of being behind the attack. Prime Minister Mark Rutte and many politicians and colleagues expressed their condolences and shock, while people flocked to the site of the shooting to lay down flowers.

In Amsterdam, the award-winning investigative journalist Peter R. de Vries was shot and critically injured on Tuesday. De Vries has uncovered numerous crimes and police corruption and had a popular TV show covering high-profile criminal cases. Most recently, he acted as an adviser to the chief witness in a major trial against members of a criminal gang. For commentators, the attempted assassination was not only directed against de Vries personally.

In Slovakia, the multimillionaire businessman Marián Kočner and an alleged accomplice are to be retried over the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová after the country's highest court overturned their acquittals from last September. Commentators express relief.

World Press Freedom Day has been celebrated on May 3 every year since 1994. This year several organisations and politicians have pointed out that the situation for media professionals and their recipients in Europe and across the globe has deteriorated in many places, also in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Europe's press takes stock.

The EU Commission has called on the governments in Hungary, Poland and Slovenia to stop undermining press and media freedom. There had been "further worrying developments" in these three countries in recent months, Vera Jourova, the European Commission's Vice President for Values and Transparency, told the EU Parliament on Wednesday. Commentators from Poland and Slovenia agree.

In Poland, dozens of media companies suspended publication on Wednesday. Newspapers left their front pages blank or published an open letter entitled "Media Without Choice". The protest actions were triggered by a new law that introduces taxes on media advertising and, according to the strikers, aims to stifle the independent press. Most commentators are also alarmed by the legislation.

Hungarian radio station Klubrádió's broadcasting licence will not be renewed. Hungary's Media Council cited minor regulatory offences as the reason for the decision. An appeal against the ruling failed. Since Klubrádió is the last radio station in the country that is critical of the government, commentators see this as a politically motivated decision and call on Brussels to intervene.

A year after the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Crown Prince Bin Salman has assumed responsibility for the crime in an interview. He rejected accusations that he commissioned the murder, however. Commentators take stock of the reactions from the international community.

A new study by the government-affiliated Turkish think tank Seta accuses international media of reporting that is 'hostile to the government'. It focuses particularly on the Turkish-language websites of Deutsche Welle, the BBC, Sputnik and Voice of America. The report includes biographies and tweets of journalists. Is the criticism justified?

The entire political department of the Russian business newspaper Kommersant has handed in its resignation after two journalists were sacked. The latter had reported that Russia's Federal Council leader would be demoted to head of the state pension fund. What does the case say about this paper owned by Kremlin-friendly oligarch Alisher Usmanov, and about press freedom in Russia?

Reporters Without Borders' lastest Press Freedom Index and World Press Freedom Day on May 3 prompt commentators to take a closer look at freedom of expression and the media around the world. This year they express concern over developments in Austria and the demoralising effect of a spiteful discussion culture.

Ján Kuciak was murdered in Slovakia and fellow journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. In Turkey many journalists are in prison, in Hungary critical media are being bullied and not only Trump but also politicians in European countries are stirring up anger against the media. Commentators concur that 2018 was not a good year for press freedom.

As further gruesome details about journalist Jamal Khashoggi's death come to light pressure is mounting on the Saudi royal family. In addition to the tensions between Turkey, the US, the EU and Saudi Arabia European commentators discuss certain aspects of the affair which they say have been neglected so far.

In the case of the raped and murdered Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova, a suspect has apparently been detained in Germany. According to Bulgaria's chief prosecutor investigations have not revealed any connection between the crime and Marinova's work so far. Europe's commentators refuse to let the case drop.

In Lithuania a row has broken out between the political class and the media. Plans have been announced under which media would have to pay in future for access to the national register, which among other things contains all the data on companies. Until now only companies and private users had to pay. Commentators complain that the move will impede their research, and criticise the plans as an attack on press freedom.

Seven months after the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuckiak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová, the Slovakian police have arrested eight suspects including the presumed murderer, the daily Dennik N reports. Commentators are relieved and express renewed faith in the triumph of justice.

Austria's minister of the interior Herbert Kickl, of the right-wing nationalist Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), has urged Austrian police in an email to restrict the access to information of media that are critical of the government to a minimum. The minister said in addition that police press releases should cite both the nationality and the residency status of criminal suspects. The Austrian press is appalled.

Two Turkish Cypriot journalists - the publisher of the daily Afrika, Şener Levent, and his colleague Ali Osman - have been charged in Turkey with criticising Ankara's military operations in Syria. They had called the intervention in Afrin a 'second Turkish invasion' - after the first invasion in Cyprus in 1974. Greek Cypriot media are incensed.

Political pressure, self-censorship and murders of journalists even in Europe: on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, commentators examine the growing threats journalists face in their work and warn that now more than ever, courage is imperative.

The editor-in-chief, its chief executive and 13 other staff at the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet were handed prison sentences ranging from two to seven years on Wednesday. They were convicted of spreading terrorist propaganda for the Gülen movement and the PKK. For some commentators the ruling does not bode well for the future of Cumhuriyet and Turkey. Others refuse to give up hope.

Nowhere in the world has press freedom deteriorated as drastically in the last year as in Europe, according to the index published by Reporters Without Borders. As the key causes for this negative trend the organisation cites attacks against the media by politicians, murders of journalists and stringent libel laws. Europe's media take stock of the rankings list.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has condemned Turkey over the jailing of two journalists. The plaintiffs Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay hope that this will pave the way for their permanent release because as a member of the Council of Europe Turkey is obliged to comply with the verdict. Commentators also hope that the ruling from Strasbourg marks a turning point.

First Slovakia's minister of culture and now its Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák have handed in their resignations. The government has been under pressure since the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak two weeks ago. At mass rallies tens of thousands of Slovakians accused their leaders of being openly hostile towards journalists and tainted by corruption. Can Kaliňák's resignation calm the tensions?

The editorial offices of the Ukrainian daily newspaper Vesti have been raided because the owner of its holding company, ex-finance minister Oleksandr Klymenko, is under investigation for corruption. The building has been transferred to a managing company whose employees have destroyed the inventory, witnesses claim. Ukrainian journalists write that the state is waging war on critical media.

Following the murder of popular Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia several MEPs have called the EU Commission to account, accusing Brussels of doing nothing to stop corruption and crime on Malta. Europe's papers also insist that the journalist's death must have political consequences.

The trial of 17 employees of the daily paper Cumhuriyet begins today, Monday, in Istanbul. Among other charges they are accused of supporting the PKK and the Gülen movement, which are viewed as terrorist organisations in Turkey. Commentators in Europe see the charges as absurd and explain why the judiciary in Turkey has resorted to such accusations.

The Italian journalist Gabriele Del Grande has been in jail in Turkey since April 9. According to reports in the media he was arrested as he was interviewing refugees on the border between Syria and Turkey. Rome has called on Ankara to release the 34-year-old. So far Del Grande hasn't been formally charged with anything. The Italian press explains what it sees as the reasons for his arrest.

In reaction to the arrest of Deniz Yücel, Turkey correspondent for Die Welt newspaper, several German politicians have demanded an entry ban for Turkish President Erdoğan, who wants to campaign for his referendum in Germany in March. The 43-year-old reporter is accused of spreading propaganda for a terrorist association. What are Ankara's motives and how should Berlin react?

The editor-in-chief and other staff at Turkey's leading opposition paper Cumhuriyet were arrested at the start of this week. The prosecution has charged them with supporting the Kurdish PKK and the movement led by Turkish preacher Fetullah Gülen. Commentators across Europe are alarmed by the developments.

EU representatives have criticised the takeover of the Turkish opposition paper Zaman. The daily was raided by the police and put under state control on Friday. But criticism of Ankara has been far too mild, most commentators concur.

The trial against two Turkish journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül of Cumhuriyet newspaper will start on Friday. They have been charged for writing a report that claims to show that the Turkish secret service supplied weapons to Syria. The Turkish press for the most part supports the journalists.