Commission Warns Balkan States on Freedom of Expression

All six countries in the Balkans aiming for EU membership made “no progress” in meeting the Freedom of Expression criteria for EU membership. Photo Illustration: UNclimatechange/Flickr

Brussels reports say six countries made ‘no progress’ last year in meeting freedom of expression criteria for EU membership – while Turkey was described as ‘backsliding’.

by Gjergj Erebara, BIRN, Tirana

All six countries in the Balkans aiming for EU membership made “no progress” in meeting the Freedom of Expression criteria for EU membership, according to country progress reports published by the Commission on Wednesday.

All were evaluated as having made “some level of preparation” on the issue of freedom of expression and were advised to make legal changes to assure a better verdict in future reports.

“The country has some level of preparation / is moderately prepared in the area of freedom of expression,” the Progress Report for Albania states, for example.

“However, there was no progress in this area over the past year,” it added, underlining that previous recommendations to enhance transparency on state advertising have yet to be implemented.

Albania faces problems in relation to lack of political independence in the regulatory authority and the public broadcaster, Brussels said.

It needs to implement clear rules on limitations on ownership of national audiovisual operators to allow for media diversity.

“Freedom of expression and the situation of the media remain a serious challenge in the current political climate,” the report warned.

Currently, Albania does not publish separate figures on expenditure on advertisements and on advertising undertaken by major public corporations.

“Balanced and diversified reporting by the mainstream media is still lacking, although there were some encouraging signs over the summer in terms of reporting by the public broadcaster and some private channels,” the report noted.

Serbia got the same rating, as having made no progress, and having only “some level of preparation” regarding freedom of expression.

“The overall environment is not conducive to the full exercise of this right,” the report stated.

“Privatisation of state media outlets has not led to greater transparency of ownership or funding sources, including state funding.

“Co-financing of media content to meet public interest obligations needs to be implemented in line with the legislative framework, using transparent and fair procedures, and without interference by the state administration, especially at local level.

“Threats, violence and intimidation against journalists remain an issue of concern,” the report added.

It criticised an environment of fear created in Serbia by the pro-government tabloid Informer when it last March exposed an ongoing journalistic investigation by the media portal KRIK.

The Commission urged Serbia to “create an enabling environment in which freedom of expression can be exercised without hindrance, while threats, physical assaults, instigation to violence and cases of invasion of privacy against journalists and bloggers are properly followed up by the judicial authorities and publicly condemned”.

It also urged implementation of media laws, independent regulatory body and adequate funding and editorial independence for the public broadcasting service.

Montenegro was criticised by the report because the past year’s recommendations were “only partially implemented” and because the country saw an increase of defamation cases that were already at a high level.

“There has been limited progress in the resolution of cases of attacks on journalists,” the report stated, calling for further efforts to solve cases of violence against journalists, including the 2004 case of the journalist Dusko Jovanovic.

Kosovo’s report underlined “increased threats and attacks” on journalists, political pressure on the public broadcaster and lack of transparency on media ownership and revenues.

The Commission urged Bosnia and Herzegovina to “ensure sufficient protection of journalists and an appropriate law enforcement response to cases of threats to journalists” while taking steps to ensure transparency on media ownership, including online media ownership.

While praising Macedonia’s legislative framework as broadly aligned with EU and international standards, the Commission warned: “Freedom of expression and the situation of the media remain a serious challenge in the current political climate.”

The report calls for more transparency on government advertising and for enhancement of the independence of the public broadcaster.

The European Commission had created a new methodology to evaluate progress in countries seeking membership. Changes over the previous year are marked as “Backsliding”, “No Progress”, “Some progress”, “Good Progress” and “Very Good Progress”.

The article was originally published by Balkan Insight. It is republished here with permission.