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European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR)

Freedom of expression and media

Freedom of expression and media

Freedom of expression is a key indicator of a country's readiness to become part of the EU. It implies a commitment to democracy, good governance and political accountability. No country can join the EU without guaranteeing freedom of expression as a basic human right (Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty)

A complex challenge

Ensuring freedom of expression and of the media is one of the main challenges facing enlargement countries. Political interference in the media, economic concerns such as media concentration and various forms of harassment, including violence against journalists, are topical issues in societies of the Western Balkans and Turkey. Improving this situation inevitably goes beyond a simple transposition of EU rules: it calls for behavioural and cultural change in politics, judiciary and media.

The EU supports this process by

  • providing legal assistance and guidance in drafting media legislation
  • thoroughly monitoring the policies of candidate countries and potential candidates in this field
  • providing financial support through IPA programmes

Guidelines for EU support to media freedom and media integrity

The Guidelines build on the policy vision as set out in the Conclusions of the Speak-up!2 conference and the EU Enlargement Strategy 2013-2014. The document translates the political objectives into a tangible "Results Framework" which identifies the outcomes to be achieved as well as the indicators to monitor them.

The Guidelines, which have been largely consulted with relevant groups, aim to provide consistency between policy support and assistance at both multi-country and national level.

To this end, three main groups need to be mobilised and targeted by support:

  • state institutions in charge of setting up an enabling environment for free expression in media
  • media professional organisations which are key drivers of awaited change
  • individual media outlets expected to improve their internal governance and performance.

In 2017, the EU funded projectTechnical Assistance for Civil Society Organisations (TACSO), in coordination with other stakeholders, established a monitoring system to draw up a systematic, comprehensive and efficient assessment of the situation in the candidates countries and potential candidates by applying the same methodology and approach across the region. The 2017 monitoring report (cf. also the PowerPoint presentation) offers a brief overview of common issues in the region, as well findings from the general population survey conducted in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia regarding selected aspects of the Results Framework.

EU financial support

EU financial support for freedom of the media is granted through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA). The most recent EU funded initiatives include:

  • Network of journalist associations building the capacity of journalist professional organisations and a regional early warning platform reporting cases of attacks against journalists
  • Building Trust in Media - a project reinforcing media accountability mechanisms – supporting press councils and ethical journalism, increasing media governance through ethical audits and good governance seminars, strengthening media and information literacy through training and awareness raising campaigns.
  • Reinforcing Judicial Expertise  - support to the judiciary in applying the case law of the European Court of Human Rights in the field of freedom of expression and training on ethical rules to the media regulatory authorities and media outlets.
  • EU award scheme for investigative journalism – prizes for the best investigative stories covering a wide range of topics from the misuse of power to social injustice.

EU - Western Balkans Media Conferences

Launched in 2017 by the European Commission, the EU – Western Balkans Media Days aimed to ensure that media freedom remains a priority while tackling the complexity of pressing political, economic and social issues the region experience at present. Moreover, the forum has reached out to the professional challenges of journalists and media: their need to adapt to a rapidly changing media environment. The conference aimed at having result-oriented discussions that could afterwards be reflected in adjusted assistance approaches to media related issues within the European enlargement policy.

The 2022 edition of the EU-Western Balkans Media Conference, organised in collaboration with the External Action Service, intends to focus on: the key challenges related to media freedom; protection of journalists and issues related to contamination of the information environment, including information manipulation;  foreign interference and disinformation, especially important in the context of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

EU-Western Balkans Media Conference 2022 – useful documents and links

Key documents