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Statement by the EU Special Representative for Human Rights Mr. Eamon Gilmore on Behalf of the EU at the Global Conference for Media Freedom

11 July 2019, London

I am delighted to be here on behalf of the EU High Representative Frederica Mogherini at this first ever Global Conference for Media Freedom. On behalf of the HRVP, I want to sincerely thank the United Kingdom and Canada for launching such a global initiative which is needed now more than ever to defend media freedom and to stop the alarming rising trend of attacks on journalists and media workers.

There is no doubt that we are witnessing a deterioration of human rights protections globally and a shrinking space for civil society including the media in many parts of the world. There are reports of almost 100 journalists and media workers being killed in 2018 alone. This is of deep concern to the European Union and its member states and we remain committed to use our extensive resources to help address this. We must all work together to provide a safe global environment for journalists and to stop the global decline in media freedom.

It is clear to all of us that democracy cannot thrive without free, diverse and independent media. Journalists and media actors across the globe must hold states, government officials, corporations and societies at large accountable for their actions. But far too many of them face threats and attacks simply for carrying out their work, while the perpetrators of these attacks often act with total impunity.

I would like to pay tribute to all those journalists around the world who have lost their lives and suffered attacks in the exercise of their profession. We must channel our outrage at their suffering into concrete deliverables which will make a real difference on the ground.

The European Union is founded on the key values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. Within the EU the Charter of Human Rights[1] (Article 11) guarantees the right to freedom of expression and affirms that “The freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected”. We must ensure that these rights are fully protected within the EU and in our support to others we will support the development of similar protections.

 The EU has a firm political commitment to integrate human rights principles into EU operational activities for development. The (new) European Consensus on Development[2] commits the EU and its Member States to implementing a rights-based approach (RBA) to development cooperation, encompassing all human rights, including the key rights of Freedom of Expression.

The current EU Action Plan for Democracy and Human Rights (2015-2019) and the EU Guidelines on Freedom of Expression[3] (adopted by the Council in May 2014) provide the political and operational framework for EU Institutions and EU Member States on freedom of expression for external action in third countries and at multilateral fora.

One of the key financial instruments for the implementation of actions to support the media is the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), which includes an emergency funding facility for human rights defenders (including journalists) at risk. It also included a programme called Media4Democracy to provide technical assistance to EU Delegations for the implementation of EU guidelines.

The EU is also supporting the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. All this is complementary to bilateral national and regional programmes that focus on media freedom.

A new EU Action Plan for Democracy and Human Rights for the next five years is currently in preparation and it will also address the changing media ecosystem and new challenges brought about by the wide use of digital technologies such as disinformation, data security, and privacy issues. Negotiations about the next Multi-annual Financial Framework 2021-2027 are ongoing and I hope that the EU will be in a position to make a contribution to the Global Media Fund under the next EU budget.

Disinformation is also an important factor which undermines citizens’ trust in the media and can negatively influence democratic processes and societal debates. The EU has taken forceful measures to counter the risks of foreign interference in the European Parliament elections in May this year by adopting an EU Action Plan against Disinformation. Amongst other measures, this action plan focuses on a coordinated European response by establishing a dedicated Rapid Alert System to facilitate the sharing of data and assessments of disinformation campaigns and to provide alerts on disinformation threats in real time between EU institutions and Member States.

We should not forget, however, that disinformation is a phenomenon faced not only in Europe or the western world and it is not only the result of foreign interference. The methods of Cambridge Analytica were first tried and tested in Africa. So in addition to protecting ourselves from these threats, we need to make it a priority to help others around the world detect and respond to it effectively and ensure that the level-playing field so essential to democratic politics cannot be disrupted by malign online activities.

The EU firmly believes that the multilateral approach is the most efficient way to serve our collective interests and, therefore, very much welcomes the initiative to engage in this global initiative that links up with the ongoing UN Plan of Action in the framework of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which we fully support.

On behalf of the EU, I can commit to actively collaborate in the Media Freedom Coalition and Global Media Campaign we have been discussing today. We are also very supportive of National Action Plans and welcome that a number of countries are already engaged in this new initiative. Only by joining forces and combining national and multilateral efforts we can be truly effective.

Finally, to thank again United Kingdom and Canadian Government for spearheading this global campaign to defend media freedom and counter dangerous trends which undermine our democracies. The EU stands ready to support these efforts.

[1] The Charter was solemnly proclaimed by the European Parliament, the Council and Commission in Nice in December 2000.

[2] http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2017/05/19/european-consensus-on-development
[3] https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/eeas/files/eu_human_rights_guidelines_on_freedom_of_expression_online_and_offline_en.pdf