Setting the scene, he spoke of the dangers journalists face in simply doing their jobs, as a FRA paper outlined last year. He referred to the brutal murder on 16 October of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana who led the investigation into corruption in Malta as unprecedented in the EU. He spoke of how attacks and pressure on journalists undermine freedom of the media, freedom of information and freedom of expression, and have a disproportionate impact on female journalists.
Pressure can also result from commercial influence over editorial content brought about by concentration of ownership in the media market. Although market consolidation may not necessarily reduce pluralism, recent studies from the Media Pluralism Monitor in Florence point to 12 at risk countries in Europe.
Then there is the issue of the changing nature of political discourse and media content which is becoming increasingly intolerant. As FRA has shown mounting hate speech, offline and online, is inciting discrimination, hatred and violence.
As the internet is often a primary source of information, thanks in part to the ease and speed with which content can be spread, digital equality needs addressing. Being able of participating and engaging online combined with being digital literate, are vital elements to building a world that includes not excludes all members of society.
To address the prevailing situation, the Director spoke about the need to boost media literacy. It must become part of school curricula to equip children with the skills they will need for the future. Already promising practices exist in many Member States which need to be better collected and built on.
Similarly, there is a need to reduce digital inequalities. Everyone should all have equal access to the internet so they can fully engage in the digital age independently whether they are old or young or whether they live in a town or in a rural area
Improving training for journalists is another area that could help. Here, FRA is currently revising its media toolkit to equip journalists with the necessary capacity and sensitivities related to fundamental rights to help maintain professional standards of quality journalism.
The Director also spoke about being more creative in how fundamental rights are communicated and how the core values of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Charter are promoted.
Another area that needs addressing he said was improving how law, especially criminal law, is implemented. Fundamental rights apply equally to the virtual as they do the real world, and need protecting in both worlds. That means the full force of the law must be brought to purveyors of hate speech and other criminal content online. In addition, the law must also be fully used to protect journalists and prosecute those who attack the media, otherwise media pluralism and the rule of law will remain under threat.