Media freedom and disinformation campaigns in Western Balkans discussed in Brussels
According to the Press Freedom Index, the situation of media freedoms in the Western Balkans is concerning. In 2022, only Montenegro and North Macedonia made some slight progress and, even though they are performing better than some of the neighbouring EU Member States, they still have not converged with the EU average. By contrast, the situation in Kosovo but especially in Serbia, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina notably deteriorated since last year.
Therefore, we met with media professionals, civil society organisations and members of European Parliament, in order to discuss the current state of media and other pressing issues during a conference “Western Balkans Media Lost in Disinformation?”, which took place on 8 March in the European Parliament in Brussels. The event was organised by Civil Rights Defenders in cooperation with three MEPs: Viola von Cramon (Greens/EFA – Germany), Irena Joveva (Renew – Slovenia) and Andreas Schieder (Socialists and Democrats – Austria). The speakers mostly came from civil society in the region.
The conference addressed the pressing issue of media freedom in the Western Balkans, where journalists face a lot of difficulties, among which are (self-)censorship, undue government influence and pressure on media outlets, attacks and threats against journalists, a lack of protection of media workers and, an increase in Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), among others. It has also provided an opportunity for participants to exchange ideas and best practices on how to combat disinformation campaigns and promote media freedom.
Participants have highlighted the challenges that media in the region are experiencing, including the limited access to information, political interference, and economic pressure, and highlighted the importance of international support, including the need for the European Union to prioritize this issue in its accession process and funding decisions. Several experts shared their experiences and insights and highlighted the ways in which disinformation campaigns can undermine democracy and human rights and called for greater transparency and accountability in the media sector.
As the Western Balkan countries are all either candidates or potential candidates for EU accession, as well as recipients of significant amounts of EU funding, progress in media freedom is key in their EU membership bid.
“It is crucial for the democratic development in the region that media can work freely and independently. The development right now is concerning so it is important to keep addressing these issues. We are very happy with the outcome of the meetings and the discussions held”, said Tommaso Nodari, Civil Rights Defenders’ Programme Officer in Brussels.
Civil Rights Defenders remain committed to supporting the media and civil society organisations in the region and will continue to work towards the promotion of human rights and democracy in the Western Balkans.