‘Press Freedom Also Has Its Limits’ – EU Boss Says UK Journalists Must Respect ‘Human Rights’ of Politicians

JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker has said that press freedom should “have limits” and expressed regret that the EU did not “intervene” in the Brexit referendum to make sure “the right questions” entered the debate.

As head of the European Commission — a wholly unelected body which serves as the EU’s executive as well as the sole initiator of EU-level legislation — Juncker is one of the continent’s most powerful men, enjoying a far more influential position than he could have enjoyed in a Europe of nation-states where he could not have risen above his former position as Prime Minister of Luxembourg.

The controversial eurocrat has appeared increasingly rancorous as his term has drawn to a close in the wake of the Brexit referendum, with pro-sovereignty populist parties on the rise across Europe — expressing bitterness over his treatment by the British press and the fact that he has been blamed for Britains decision to walk away from Brussels.

“The British press is such that I will not miss it… they do not respect the human rights of political actors at all,” he told a group of Austrian journalists during a visit to Vienna.

“Press freedom also has its limits,” he added darkly, suggesting journalists should be able to “feel what you are allowed to do, what you need to do” and not shine a light on politicians’ personal issues.

President Juncker has, famously, been subject to a great deal of press commentary on the subject of his alleged alcoholism and occasionally erratic behaviour at international summits, as well as his family links to the Nazi regime.

On the subject of the EU referendum in particular, Juncker expressed his regret that the European Commission had granted former prime minister David Cameron’s request not to “interfere” in the referendum, which he went on to lose.

“If the Commission intervened [in the referendum], perhaps the right questions would have entered the debate,” the 63-year-old complained.

“Now you discover new problems almost daily, on both sides. At that time, it was already clear to us what trials and tribulations this pitiful vote of the British would lead to,” he sneered.

He seemed particularly annoyed at the suggestion his name would be associated with the first exit from the EU of a full member-state, and was vehemently denied that he should take a portion of the blame: “I am always amazed about what I am always blamed for.”

Juncker’s comments on the “limits” of press freedom may be part of an emerging narrative, with his Justice Commissioner having also suggested “smart regulation” to curb the increasing popularity of what she described as the “bad version of nationalism” recently, and complaining about a number of EU-critical articles in the British press.

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