According to the Press Freedom Index, the situation of media freedoms in the Western Balkans is worrying. In 2022, only Montenegro and North Macedonia have made slight progress and, although they perform better than some neighboring EU member states, they have still not converged to the EU average . On the other hand, the situation in Kosovo, but especially in Serbia, Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina, has deteriorated considerably since last year.
That’s why we met with media professionals, civil society organizations and members of the European Parliament to discuss the current state of media and other pressing issues at a conference “Balkan Media Westerners lost in disinformation? », which took place on March 8 at the European Parliament in Brussels. The event was organized 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 came mostly from civil society in the region.
The conference addressed the pressing issue of media freedom in the Western Balkans, where journalists face many challenges, including (self)censorship, undue government influence and pressure on the media, attacks and threats against journalists, lack of protection. media workers and an increase in Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), among others. It was also an opportunity for participants to exchange ideas and best practices on how to combat disinformation campaigns and promote media freedom.
Participants highlighted the challenges facing the region’s media, including limited access to information, political interference and economic pressure, and stressed the importance of international support, including the need for European Union to give priority to this issue in its accession process. and financing decisions. Several experts shared their experiences and views and highlighted how disinformation campaigns can undermine democracy and human rights and called for greater transparency and accountability in the media sector.
Given that the Western Balkan countries are all candidates or potential candidates for EU membership, as well as recipients of significant amounts of EU funding, progress on media freedom is essential in their bid for membership to the EU.
“It is crucial for democratic development in the region that the media can work freely and independently. Current developments are worrying, so it is important to continue to address these issues. We are very happy with the outcome of the meetings and discussions held,” said Tommaso Nodari, head of the civil rights defenders program in Brussels.
Civil rights advocates remain committed to supporting media and civil society organizations in the region and will continue to work to promote human rights and democracy in the Western Balkans.