The state of the media in the European Union is under intense pressure, facing threats such as fake news and physical risk to journalists, according to experts at The Diplomatic Academy Students Initiative Conference (DASICON).

The conference welcomed a panel of five journalists, policymakers, and civil society leaders to the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna on March 3 to discuss media perceptions and challenges in a panel titled, “The European Narrative: EU & the Media.” During the discussion, statements from panellists reflected the growing chasm of distrust between politicians, the public and the media. Recent violence against journalists in the European Union raised further questions about the fundamental freedoms of the media and the rule of law.

“The media are under pressure – at least the mainstream media are,” said moderator Katrin Auel, head of the research group “European Governance and Public Finance” at the Institute for Advanced Studies. “And in some cases, as we have certainly had to experience during these last few weeks, they are even under threat.” She then referenced the recent murders of journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia and Jan Kuciak, her voice breaking as she read their names aloud to the audience.

In Oct. 2017, Galizia was killed in a car bomb explosion in Malta while working on an anti-corruption case. In Feb., Slovakian journalist Kuciak was shot dead with his fiancée in their home after conducting an investigation into political corruption linked to an Italian mafia group.

“This is a very very tangible threat, much more tangible as for example the threat of fake news,” Auel said.

Rubina Möhring, executive president of Reporters Without Borders Austria, agreed that the murders of Kuciak and Galizia were most concerning, in particular, because of the fact that they took place within the European Union. “He was murdered because he was a very good, very responsible investigative journalist,” Möhring said referring to Kuciak.  “She (Galizia) was murdered as well. That was not far away, in China or Russia or Mexico. It was in the EU.”

Eugen Freund, member of the European Parliament and former news anchor, does not believe the murders point toward larger implications regarding fundamental European values. “It’s a tragedy,” Freund said. “It’s something that is inexcusable. There is actually no word for what has happened in Malta and in the Slovak Republic.” But, he reminded the audience members “there is also condemnation” for these murders within the European Union.

Josef Lusser, deputy director at the department of law and international relations for ORF agreed that the situation in the EU for journalists is still much better than in other parts of the world, including nearby Turkey with approximately 73 journalists behind bars in 2017. In the European Union, “there are no journalists in jail, there are no journalists forced out of public broadcasting,” Lesser said.

Still, despite the freedoms, most panellists argued that European journalists enjoy, attitudes toward the media were critical and at times bordered on pessimistic.

“By in large [the media] are in terrible shape right now,” Freund said. “This commercial enterprise media is threatened on so many sides. So what they have to do to survive is exaggerate in almost every respect.” He read aloud several past headlines from Der Spiegel which stressed an alleged crumbling of the Euro. “Unless you have a headline that bleeds, nobody reads,” Freund said, shaking his head.

Möhring, however, disagreed that media outlets are to blame, alleging instead that the media is under intense political pressure. “Some politicians are trying to discredit the media, and then the journalists. If the politicians really want good media, they have to support and not try to buy them.”

Despite the pressure and criticism mounting against western news outlets, Auel reminded the panel that the media plays a vital role in the political process of the European Union. “Most people experience politics, and in particular European politics, if at all through the media,” she said. “In order to have an informed dialogue, the role of the media is indispensable.”

Anton Pelinka Professor at the Central European University

Rubina Möhring Executive President of Reporters Without Borders Austria

Eugen Freund Member of the European Parliament

Josef Lusser Deputy Director Department of Law and International Relations at the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF)

Moderation: Katrin Auel Head of the Research Group ‘European Governance and Public Finance’ at the Institute for Advanced Studies