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European Parliament fails to defend free journalism, says IFJ

(IFJ/IFEX) - 23 October 2009 - The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European group of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), today deplored the failure of the European Parliament to stand up for journalism and press freedom in Europe after it narrowly threw out a resolution calling for action to protect media pluralism.

The debate focused on the crisis for media freedom in Italy where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi - the country's leading private media owner - has used his political power to try to stifle independent journalism at home and abroad. The EFJ says silence over the crisis in Italy gives a green light to other governments to put undue pressure on media.

Commenting on the rejection of a resolution on freedom of information in Italy and in the European Union, the EFJ says that the Parliament has also wasted an opportunity to speak out over the "intolerable state of free press rights in Italy," which has undermined European democracy across the globe.

"It is deplorable that the European Parliament cannot bring itself to defend the principles of press freedom when they are under siege in one member state," said Aidan White, EFJ General Secretary. "Free journalism is a pillar of European democracy which needs to be affirmed, defended and cherished. Here was a unique opportunity to speak out for press freedom which has been wasted."

This week Members of the European Parliament voted down a proposal calling for EU legislation to protect media pluralism in Europe "without delay." The text was rejected by a tiny margin of 338 votes against and 335 in favour, with 13 abstentions.

The motion also called on the European Parliament to condemn political interference in media and to combat concentration of media ownership. But conservative politicians in the EPP block opposed the move, claiming it targeted the government of Italy and that, anyway, the EU should not regulate media.

"There have been two opportunities to combat interference in European media over the past ten years and they have been wasted," said White. "Now another has gone. It is no comfort that the argument is slowly being won. We need action now."

The EFJ says journalists are impatient for change. On 3 October, some 250,000 people gathered in the centre of Rome in an unprecedented demonstration against political interference in media by Berlusconi, whose long record of interference in media, including at the public broadcaster RAI, has made him notorious among European political leaders. He recently launched legal action against a number of Italian and European media for their reporting of his colourful private life.

Click here to read the text of the rejected resolution
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