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Strasbourg, 15 November 2011

Media freedom high on European agenda

Media freedom and freedom of expression in the enlargement countries were topics of joint discussion between the Vice-President of the European Commission Neelie Kroes responsible for the Digital Agenda including media policy and Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle with President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek on Tuesday in Strasbourg. They focused on how to best foster Freedom of Expression in the existing legal framework.

"There is no democracy without free press. Freedom of expression and media pluralism are at the heart of EU values: the same must be true for candidate and potential candidate countries. I made this clear during my recent visit to Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I will repeat it clearly in my visit to Turkey next week. The Commission can count on the support of all EP relevant committees and delegations in raising standards and awareness on this issue both within the EU and in its neighbourhood," President Buzek said today.

Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes said: "The Commission is working systematically to defend media freedoms and pluralism. We take it seriously not only within EU borders but in all our partner countries. Today's meeting is another sign of the strong partnership between the Commission and European Parliament to defend media freedom and pluralism. In 2011 the Commission has used its existing competences to defend media freedom in Hungary. On a quite different scale, the EU has supported the fight for such freedoms in North Africa and beyond. We support this in law, through debate and through research. We support it online and offline and we will not waver in that support."

In addition to working to ensure EU law is upheld in its member states, the Commission has this year established a High Level Committee chaired by the former President of Latvia, Prof. Dr. Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, and an academic centre based in Florence, to reflect on how best to continue promoting media freedoms and pluralism.

"The European Commission considers freedom of expression to be one of the pillars of democracy and is convinced that high standards to protect media freedom need to be in place in all countries," Mr Füle stated during the meeting. He also outlined the EU actions in promoting freedom of expression in the enlargement countries. One of the steps is the new approach in the accession negotiations with candidate countries.

The Commission wants to apply it in relation to the Chapter 23, dealing with basic values of the EU Justice, Freedom and Security, which should be opened early in negotiations to provide ample time for developing positive track records also in the field of freely functioning media. Issues of media freedom are also listed among the 5 key challenges in the Annual Strategy document on enlargement and the situation in the individual countries receives profound coverage in the Progress reports.

During their meeting with Mr Buzek, Vice-President Kroes and Commissioner Füle expressed gratitude of the Commission to the European Parliament for the increased political attention to Freedom of Expression in the Enlargement zone. The framework of their meeting with President Buzek was follow-up to the Speak Up! conference which took place in May 2011 in Brussels with representatives of the media from enlargement countries and which served as important political signal to the governments of these countries that issues related to the freedom of expression are of utmost relevance in the enlargement context. It was also signal to the media community that in the absence of a generally applicable EU regulation in the field, the media should assume a more proactive position in shaping national conditions for free media.

Also present at the meeting were Fernando López Aguilar, Chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, and Barbara Lochbihler, Chair of the EP subcommittee on Human Rights.

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