Freedom of the Press is the “sine qua non” of democracy. Transparency and a diverse media landscape are prerequisites for a country’s EU perspective, and only a pluralism of opinion and tolerance towards opposing views can ultimately provide an open and free society. Unfortunately over the last years we have witnessed a more restrictive – and in some cases even authoritarian – turn in some countries with EU membership aspirations, especially in the Balkans and Turkey.
In order to address those problems and try to better understand the situation in the region, the Greek Liberties Monitor (GLM) and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) organized an international conference in Sounio, Greece, from 26 to 28 May, entitled “Free Media 2017: Balkans and Turkey”.
The conference gathered politicians, journalists and academics from the respective countries who presented their situation with regard to the freedom of the press and at the same time proposed measures on how to change it. Significant input came from Turkey, as participants explained in detail how the environment changed for the worse after the 2016 coup attempt and the restrictions imposed by President Erdogan. The participants from the Balkan countries presented their own experience from turbulent countries with high political tensions such as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The debate was completed with input from the Greek political world. Kostas Zachariadis, Secretary of SYRIZA parliamentary group, and Sofia Zacharaki, Deputy Spokesperson of the main opposition party Nea Dimokratia (ND), highlighted some of the political initiatives to safeguard pluralism in Greece. Both stressed that the press has to remain independent in order to work efficiently and productively for the common good.
Last, participants from the academic world noted that it is the citizens who have to be careful while reading news and consuming other information. Fake news and “post-truth” can be dangerous and shape completely misguided opinions. Unfortunately it is difficult to control the spread of false information as technology advances. However, democratic education of citizens can help sorting out the wheat from the chaff and avoid malicious news.