Maastricht Debate & fears over potential crackdown on freedom of the press

By Benedetta Zimone

On 29 April 2024, AEJ Belgium went to Maastricht to attend the Maastricht Debate, a political event co-organised by Politico and Studio Europa Maastricht which takes place every four years concurrently with the European Elections.

The event consisted of lively discussions between the candidates for the next presidency of the European Commission. 

Among the several candidates, there was the current president Ursula von der Leyen, alongside the leaders of the largest political groups such as the European Green Party, the Identity and Democracy Party, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, the Party of European Socialists, the European Free Alliance, and the European Christian Political movement.

The candidates answered questions on three main topics selected by Maastricht University students via a survey. These themes included climate change, foreign and security policy, and EU democracy. 

The discussion was moderated by the two journalists: Barbara Moens, chief EU correspondent at Politico and Marcia Luyten, a Dutch writer, presenter, and publicist, with whom we had the pleasure of talking and discussing the salient topic of press freedom in Europe today.

AEJ Belgium questioned Luyten on censorship issues relating to Italian Public Television (RAI). Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni recently censored an antifascist speech that the journalist Antonio Scurati was supposed to read live on a RAI television program on 25 April, the anniversary of Italy’sliberation from Nazi occupation and fascism, a symbol of Italy’s resistance to totalitarianism. 

Luyten explained that also in the Netherlands, “journalists are afraid of a possible crackdown on the freedom of the press.” Luyten suggested that “public space needs to be safeguarded.” The public space that now is tendentially social media for so many people,” she noted. Younger people get news from TikTok, and it is not a free open space because it’s a commercial space.” 

In this regard, the Dutch journalist claimed that the European Union should start regulating more social platforms, “like the USA is trying to do”, since “freedom of the press is an anchor stone of our Democracy which must be protected”. 

However, Luyten said that “we are at an important point”, thanks to the recent Media Freedom Act approved by the EU. 

Concerning social media, particularly TikTok, also European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen spent a few words on the subject during the debate. 

“We do not exclude the total ban of TikTok in the EU if the Chinese company ByteDance will not accept to sell it by nine months”, she said. 

In addition, the EU Commission President explained that “the Commission has been the first institution in the world to ban TikTok on our corporate phones.”

“We know exactly the danger of TikTok”, she concluded.

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