Magazine article Editor & Publisher

European Rules Turned against Press Freedom

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

European Rules Turned against Press Freedom

Article excerpt

The continent that gave birth to the concept of a free press has become a laboratory for creation of a modern form of press control

Turkey desperately wants to enter the European Union. So how does the Turkish government justify imprisoning scores of journalists on such vague charges as "insulting the judiciary" or threatening "the interests of public safety?"

It says it is only following European press and human rights laws. That's what Turkish government officials told Toronto Globe and Mail publisher Roger Parkinson and other free press advocates when they asked for the release of 77 Turkish journalists.

"They cited Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights," Parkinson recalled during the World Press Freedom Committee's biennial meeting in Dallas April 19.

Indeed, WPFC and other free press organizations say that increasing numbers of oppressive governments are using the European Convention as a tool to bludgeon the press.

PERVERSE RESULT

In "Perverse Result," a report prepared for the WPFC, Dana Bullen and Rosalind Stark document nearly 1,200 instances in 109 countries from 1992-96 in which the ideas in Article 10 were used to justify prosecuting or jailing journalists. Section 2 of the article says that free expression can be regulated for eight reasons ranging from "national security" to "territorial integrity."

"When Europeans say it's OK to restrict the press, it's not surprising that somebody in Tanzania says, `Well, if the Europeans say it's all right, it must be,'" Bullen said.

Europe, the continent that gave birth to the free press, is becoming a sort of intellectual author for press oppression in much the same way authoritarian Asian governments such as Singapore or Malaysia justify muzzling journalists, the WPFC says. "We have all heard of `Asian values' and seen how they have become a danger to ... press freedom," said Ronald Koven, WPFC's European representative. "We now see emerging a justification based ... on what could be called `European values.'"

Just as in Asia, some Europeans in and out of government are arguing that America's view of press freedom is too broad, too chaotic. For instance, Albania's new press law -- as sweeping and terse as the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment -- is criticized even by some local journalists as "too American," Koven said. …

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