European Committee backs proposals from MEP Walsh on protection of journalists outside the EU

MEP Maria Walsh authored report for Culture and Education Committee outlining five key priorities for media protection, freedom and pluralism

Midlands-North-West MEP Maria Walsh has, this morning, received unanimous support from the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education (CULT) for her proposals around the protection of journalists outside the EU, and freedom of expression across the media. The Fine Gael MEP was Rapporteur for the CULT Committee opinion report and was tasked with formulating the priorities and position of the group on the important topic. The vote came before the CULT Committee in Brussels this morning (Wednesday), with Walsh receiving broad support for her work. The CULT recommendations will now be brought before the Parliament’s sub-committee on Human Rights (DROI).

Speaking from Brussels, MEP Walsh said today’s vote is another vital step in the fight for the protection of journalists all across the world, and the establishment of a global free and pluralistic media. “First and foremost, our priority is to ensure the safety and protection of our journalists and media personnel both here in Ireland, across Europe, and indeed all over the world. Also, we want to protect and support a free press. Sadly, democratic values and freedom of speech are in retreat in many parts of the world and it is essential that we, as a European Union, defend media freedom globally, because this is a means of defending democracy itself,” she said.

Continuing, MEP Walsh drew on the devastating statistics from last year. “Shockingly, 67 journalists were killed in 2022, while 78 journalists were taken hostage, and 478 were imprisoned. In particular, I am deeply concerned about the position of female journalists. In 2021, major violations against female journalists across the globe increased by 12%. This included killing, physical assaults, detentions, organised troll campaigns, and legal harassment. These figures speak for themselves. We need change, and we need it now,” added Walsh.

The CULT Committee has long been at the forefront in defending independent media, media freedom and fighting disinformation, and MEP Walsh was adamant that her report would build on the previous opinions and legislative initiatives of the group. Having listened to the proposals, the Committee voted to support Walsh on the five key topics.

“The first priority centres around freedom of expression and the fundamental human right to hold opinions and to receive and impart information, as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is under threat in many countries through repressive measures by authoritarian governments. Secondly, freedom of media and media pluralism are other key priorities – again, under threat by the continued rise in disinformation, propaganda and the globalisation of media streams,” she reasoned.

Continuing, MEP Walsh said the Committee will also call on the Commission to include sanctions and suspension mechanisms in any bilateral or multilateral partnership agreements that it signs, in order to send a signal that restrictions on media freedom will not be tolerated. “For too long persistent violations have been tolerated and that has, in part, led us to the situation we are in today,” she opined. 

Information sources were also a hot topic in Walsh’s report, and this too forms part of the CULT proposal to the DROI Committee. “We must focus on media literacy and educating people on information sources. This can be done through supporting NGOs, creating educational programmes and building safe spaces for the sharing of information.”

Of course, disinformation is a major issue and it was no surprise that this also received the Committee backing. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine has demonstrated the pervasive nature of disinformation and Kremlin backed propaganda in spreading fake news. We must learn from this and ensure the proper implementation of reciprocity of openness requirements. This would mean that there is equal treatment for all audio visual outlets broadcasting within the EU and in return there would be openness of public space for EU broadcasters,” Walsh added. 

The safety and protection of our journalists and media personnel remains the fundamental focus for MEP Walsh, and this, together with a free and pluralistic media, is at the core of any functioning democracy. “One lesson that we can take from the Ukrainian war is that we should have listened to those who know Putin. The EU must be guided by its founding values of freedom of expression and ensure the safety of journalists around the world.”