16 May, 2018 / By The Guardian
…thoughts from a conference on Media Freedom & Pluralism in Bulgaria…
As I sit here in a hotel conference room in Sofia, something occurs to me. I’ve been hearing the same thing for 3 years now. Independent media is dying out across Eastern Europe and the Balkans. There is no money, the political pressure is unbearable, quality media organisations and journalists are harassed, slandered and sometimes killed.
And every year it is getting worse. A story Reporters Sans Frontier’s excellent World Press Freedom Index shows. If this trend continues there is a very real chance there will be almost no quality, independent media left in a third of Europe soon. And let’s be honest, if all the media is controlled and manipulated by the state, there is only one word for that…. There is only one independent daily newspaper left in the whole of Bulgaria and its circulation is dwindling.
It is time we woke up and realised that Media Freedom is not just a good thing for society. It is vital, essential if democracy is to be maintained in Europe. As we in the UK know all too well, democratic processes like elections and referendums can only work when the public have access to accurate and balanced information.
Whose responsibility is it? Major media organisations around the world must show more solidarity. It’s time journalists got over their queasiness for writing about journalists. It is not indulgent, it is about a threat to democracy itself. The EU must show consistency, must stop turning a blind eye to countries where it is politically inconvenient, like here in Bulgaria. Journalists across the Balkans and Eastern Europe must organise and build robust networks. Finally, willing academics must ensure standards of journalism education are maintained and the latest digital innovations taught – even under these most challenging of circumstances.