European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, July 14, 2021. (Reuters/Yves Herman)

EU progress on press freedom mired in contradictions, CPJ report finds

European Union media reforms hang in the balance ahead of critical 2024 elections

New York, April 25—The European Union (EU) is inconsistent in delivering on its own commitments to press freedom, according to a special report published Tuesday by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “Fragile Progress: The struggle for press freedom in the European Union”finds a gap between the democratic ideals that the EU espouses and the reality of how it and its member states pursue their interests. 

“The European Union has sought to establish and advance a robust framework to protect press freedom against a tide of rising authoritarianism and attacks meant to hollow out trust in the media,” said CPJ President Jodie Ginsberg. “At this critical juncture, all EU institutions must make measurable commitments to bolster the important progress they have made. The rampant war of disinformation and recent spate of brutal journalist murders within EU borders demand no less.”

The EU has a strong reputation as one of the world’s safest places to be a journalist, but journalist killings and other attacks on the press in recent years have forced its institutions to reconsider their media freedom policies. After the 2019 European elections, the EU pursued weighty reforms to enhance journalist safety, tackle the gutting of independent journalism by governments and oligarchs, and rein in the spiraling use of abusive lawsuits to silence critical media.

Yet despite these meaningful advances, CPJ’s report finds that the EU often contradicts itself on its own commitments, restricting access to information that is of public interest. Globally, the EU’s strategy for standing up to autocrats who violate journalists’ rights can be undermined by trade or political interests.

Next year’s elections for the European Parliament offer the EU an opportunity to overcome these inconsistencies, challenge double standards, and set an ambitious vision for keeping journalists safe and defending media freedom—a cornerstone of democracy.

Much of the EU’s progress on press freedom is predicated on the political goodwill of its 27 member states. Overall, Brussels has pushed to positively shape the media landscape in Europe, but it needs the support of member states to enact actual change.

“Independent media is under attack. For EU reforms to work, they’ll need buy-in from the member states, but most importantly, they need to earn the trust of journalists,” said Tom Gibson, CPJ’s EU representative. “Only meaningful political will can stem the tide of attacks to vilify the press and erode public trust in the kind of independent reporting that provides factual, timely information.”

Chief among CPJ’s recommendations to the EU include:

  • Remedying problematic EU legislation, policy, or practice that restricts the work of journalists or threatens press freedom.
  • Ensuring that positive press freedom reforms taken by the EU—including the Rule of Law Mechanism, the draft European Media Freedom Act, and the draft anti-SLAPP Directive—are robust enough to become effective tools in the defense of press freedom.
  • Continuing to demonstrate international leadership by strengthening its full range of available political, diplomatic, and emergency assistance to all journalists at risk and in need of help, safe shelter, and support.


The Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide.

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