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Media4Democracy and EU Global Staff Discuss Confronting Threats to Independent Media and Freedom of Expression

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Brussels, 12 – 13 February – Media4Democracy and EU staff responsible for strengthening human rights and democracy met in Brussels to discuss how EU Delegations can confront threats to independent media and freedom of expression, particularly in the context of digitalisation.

At the annual week-long meetings of EIDHR Focal Points, Media4Democracy led two sessions to build the awareness of EU Delegation and Headquarter staff of the significant and evolving threats to the safety and security of journalists and internet freedom, which significantly increase threats to freedom of expression as a fundamental human right and as an enabling right for democracy and sustainable development.

The first session on 12 February focused on EU Delegation roles in defending digital rights defenders as human rights defenders and the need to protect the technologists who do essential work to ensure the digital security of journalists and citizens exercising their rights to freedom of expression in the digital domain. Yet, they are increasingly targeted by governments and at risk for criminal persecution, online harassment, and other actions to curtail their activity – silencing them, placing them in jeopardy and putting their lives at risk.

This session was joined by Susanne Fischer, Regional Direct of Internews MENA Program, who presented the work of Internews on protecting journalists, media platforms and citizens active in even the most closed and authoritarian states – while discussing the type of work that EU Delegation can undertake in a range of contexts.  Adrian Shahbaz of Freedom House and author of the Freedom House Freedom on the Net 2019 report reviewed the significant trends of decline of freedom online and the significant issues associated to social media and disinformation.

On 13 February, at a formal training – A Crisis in Freedom of Expression: Safety and Security of Journalists and the Rise of Disinformation on Social Media Platforms — attended by more than 50 EU representatives, Media4Democracy Expert Ian Noble led a broader review of the role of EU Delegations in confronting these regressive trends.  He discussed the importance of the policy and operational guidance in the EU Human Rights Guidelines on Freedom of Expression Online and Offline, noting distinct priorities for action for EU Delegations in protecting the safety and security of journalists and other media actors, as well as in resisting regressive government laws that restrict media pluralism.

Tom Gibson of the Committee to Protect Journalists joined the training to review the recent data compiled by CPJ on killings and attacks on media and to highlight the declining safety for journalists as well as recent trends in the risks they face both online and offline.  This session was also joined by Mr. Shahbaz who reviewed the findings from the Freedom on the Net report as well as regional trends relevant to areas where the EU Delegation staff work.  Participants and experts discussed the significance of EU Delegation engagement in third countries and reviewed good practice as models for action.