The European Union is an economic and political union of 28 European countries with an estimated population of over 510 million people.
One of the EU's main goals is to promote human rights both internally and around the world. The EU’s core values are human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
Freedom of expression and the pluralism of the media are important components of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. Article 11 of the charter states:
“1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.
2. The freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected.”
These rights are supported through several programs run by the European Commission (EC), the executive arm of the EU. Headquartered in Brussels, the EC adopts EU laws and coordinates EU policies. The EC has nearly three dozen directorates, many of which have their own funding programs.
In the international cooperation context, the EU action on freedom of expression is guided primarily by the 2014 EU Guidelines on Freedom of Expression Online and Offline.
The EC responded to the CIMA donor survey primarily with information related to its Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) and the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR). DG DEVCO is responsible for designing European international cooperation and development policy and delivering aid throughout the world. DG NEAR implements the EU’s enlargement policies and coordinates relations with potential member states and European Neighborhood Countries (both to the South and East).
Not only does the EU support media development/freedom of expression programs but, in addition, so do most of the 28 individual EU member states through their own bilateral media development programs.
In the CIMA survey, each donor was asked to rate from high to low in terms of priority the types of media interventions it supports.
In media development, the EU’s priorities are broad and range from media capacity building, legal environment, cyber security, media reporting and monitoring during elections, access of information, safety of journalists, and media literacy, to name just a few.
“With the global trend of shrinking space for free expression and pluralistic media, the protection and promotion of freedom of expression and human rights, media pluralisms, security of journalists and access to information have become ever more relevant,” an EC staff member told CIMA.
New policies guide the EU commitment to freedom of expression. One is the EU 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Goal 16, which encompasses measures to ensure the safety of journalists, the protection of freedom of expression and the universal access to information. While protection of journalists and freedom of expression has been and continues to be a focus of the EU, access to information has recently gained in prominence, according to the EC staff member.
The EU Guidelines on Freedom of Expression Online and Offline, which were adopted in 2014, received a boost recently with $5.2 million (4.36 million EUR) for a Media4Democracy program targeting the implementation of the guidelines.
Two EU Human Rights Defenders programs – ProtectDefenders.eu and the EIDHR Emergency Fund for Human Rights Defenders at Risk – now explicitly include online and offline journalists as a group of human rights defenders in need of assistance and protection.
The EU funds both grants and contracts. In 2016, EU international cooperation assistance in the field of freedom of expression totaled more than $80 million (67 million Euros). This was in addition to the approximately $815,000 (680,000 Euros) given to protect individual journalists and their families through the human rights defenders programs.
Since 2011, the EIDHR Emergency Fund for Human Rights Defenders at Risk has supported over 40 cases of human rights defenders put in danger by their activities related to freedom of expression. And under the ProtectDefenders.eu program, between October 2015 and June 2017, nearly 250 persons working in the field of freedom of expression received grants.
The EU is also a core funder of the European Endowment for Democracy (EED), which in turn provides grants to media (please see CIMA profile of the EED). An EC staff member told CIMA the EED gives the added value of delivering support more rapidly and with more flexibility than is possible through regular EU programs.
The regional breakdown of EU media support is:
Africa – 22 percent
Asia – 25 percent
South/Eastern Europe (including Russia) – 22 percent
Latin America – 23 percent
Eurasia – 8 percent
International Cooperation Assistance for Freedom of Expression
Given to Protect Individual Journalists and their Families
Through its $850,000 EIDHR Emergency Fund for Human Rights Defenders at Risk, the EU provides emergency grants up to almost $12,000 (10,000 EUR) to human rights defenders, including journalists. The increasing frequency of requests has confirmed the relevance of the program, which started in 2010, an EC staff member said.
The emergency fund can cover journalists’ legal representation, medical emergency expenses and rehabilitation from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. It can also cover purchase of security equipment; temporary relocation for security reasons; and temporary support to families of imprisoned or deceased journalists. In assessing cases, priority is given to the gravity of a situation, the emergency and the expected effectiveness of a desired action.
Another Human Rights Defenders program, ProtectDefenders.eu, with a budget of $18 million (15 million EUR) over three years, supports a collaboration of 12 civil society organizations specialized in supporting human rights defenders, including journalists. It offers three levels of support:
Urgent, including physical and digital protection, legal and medical support, trial and prison monitoring, urgent advocacy, relocation, monitoring and reporting, support to families and a 24/7 permanent helpline for journalists.
Medium-term, including monitoring of journalists’ situations, early warning, reinforcement of capacities, trainings on risk prevention and security (including digital), international, regional and national advocacy on both individual cases and legislative frameworks, and the temporary relocation and legal support for lengthy judicial procedures.
Long-term, including support to national networks, advocacy, lobbying and development of strategies to counter restrictions and sanctions imposed on journalists by states. This includes defamation, laws on foreign funding and criminalization of journalists.
In addition, the program can temporarily relocate journalists, and it is encouraged that the journalists continue their work, even if temporarily relocated. All stakeholders, including cities and universities, involved in relocating journalists, whether in the EU or outside, are eligible for funding.
The Media Support Programme for Tunisia (PAMT) is a comprehensive $12 million (10 million EUR) media program focusing on independent and pluralistic media. The program’s goal is strengthening Tunisia’s professional media sector with the goal of disseminating independent and pluralistic information in an environment supportive of freedom of information.
The 30-month project, launched in March 2017, includes consultations on public media policies, strengthening the capacity for structural and editorial reform of public media and enhancing the economic viability of the media.
PAMT has several objectives, among them strengthening:
In addition, PAMT aims to decentralize public media training, improve the image of women in the media, and support community radio.
The program will encompass more than 200 training modules for 2,500 participants in Tunis and the country’s regions.
As the EU defines it, “Media literacy refers to all the technical, cognitive, social, civic and creative capacities that allow us to access and have a critical understanding of and interact with the media. These capacities allow us to exercise critical thinking, while participating in the economic, social and cultural aspects of society and playing an active role in the democratic process.”
In 2016, the EU called for proposals for a pilot project “to develop actions aimed at increasing the critical thinking towards the media among citizens of all ages and to test the feasibility and usefulness of such actions. Critical thinking includes, among other skills, the ability to distinguish information from propaganda, to deconstruct media communication and to interact with social media in a mindful way.”
All media was to be covered in the project. While citizens of all age groups were to be part, particularly targeted were “minorities, low-skilled people and people at risk of being socially marginalized.”
Report Author: Marguerite Sullivan
Last Updated: March 2018