By Marietje Schaake - 12th April 2013
The fight and political infighting around the future of the internet governance has already begun
Marietje Schaake tells Kayleigh Lewis why Europe has an important role to play in ensuring media freedom
Media freedom is a topic which has increasingly found itself in the limelight. In Europe we have seen attempts to restrict media freedom in Hungary, while the Leveson inquiry in the UK has been forced to consider the culture, practice and ethics of the British press. Egypt, our southern Mediterranean neighbour, has made headlines due to its media censorship and restrictions to freedom of expression. With the vast digitisation of the press and media, access to a free and open internet is becoming more important. Regrettably, around the world countries such as China and Russia attempt to control and restrict their citizens’ access to the internet and information.
European digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes recently announced two consultations on media freedom and pluralism, a move which was widely welcomed by policymakers and stakeholders. Speaking at a conference in Dublin last month the commission vice-president said, “We know Europe is a home of democracy, transparency and fundamental rights; we know that a free and pluralistic media is an essential part of that. However, she continued, “But that does not mean there are no problems; whether of media concentration and lack of diversity, of restrictions on online and offline media or of state control, pressure and interference.”
She did, of course, refer to the case of Hungary, which is also of concern to Marietje Schaake, parliament’s rapporteur on freedom of the press and media in the world. In an interview with the Parliament Magazine, Schaake underlined the importance of press and media freedom and the role that the EU can play, both at home and abroad, saying, “The EU is much more than the worlds largest trading bloc, we are a community of values, so when it comes to the defence of fundamental rights and freedoms it has a responsibility. To be a global defender of rights and freedoms we need to have our own house in order.”
Hungary’s media laws have been widely criticised for undermining freedom of expression, a result of what she referred to as a “power grab” due to Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party having a “majority in parliament” and the ALDE group, she said, are “seeking the strongest measures to revoke the authoritarian laws that Orbán has imposed”.
“All kinds of rules are [being] changed and all kinds of government bodies that ought to be independent are becoming politicised, especially when it comes to the media. We all know from history where that kind of authoritarian tendency leads, and we’re very worried. I think that the Hungarian government needs to get in line with European values or otherwise face the strictest consequences.”
The Dutch MEP said that the EU needs to “step up its effort” and speak out “clearly and strongly” when fundamental rights are compromised, “especially when it comes to censorship, whether it’s traditional media or the internet”, she added.
Schaake said, “The EU should show its leadership in the world and reach out to a young generation that looks towards us for recognition of their universal rights, including the right to freely express, press freedom, access to information, and this should also apply online”.
She told this magazine, “Slowly but surely we see governments getting increasingly nervous about the power that is leaking away from them to companies, but also to individuals, and we see an increased ambition and effort to clamp down and to bring internet back under a country’s territorial control.” Adding, “The fight and political infighting around the future of the internet and internet governance has really begun.”
Kayleigh Lewis is a journalist at the Parliament Magazine