Press freedom alerts rise by 41% in 2021, says Council of Europe – EURACTIV.com

The number of press freedom alerts among Council of Europe (CoE) member states soared 41% in 2021 and should be a wake-up call for Europe, according to their recently released annual report .

Two hundred and eighty-two alerts from 35 countries were recorded in 2021, an increase from 200 the previous year. Among the incidents were the deaths of six journalists, three of whom were directly targeted.

“On Europe’s media freedom wall maps, red lights are flashing,” the report says, noting the significant increase in cases in 2021 compared to 2020.

According to the Council of Europe, these alerts, which cover everything from physical attacks on media workers to the deployment of abusive litigation, reflect, in some cases, responses to temporary situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic and , in others, point to “recurring failings in so-called ‘imperfect democracies’.

However, notes the human rights organization, “it’s not just the numbers themselves. The type and severity of press violations should be a wake-up call to anyone who cares about the state of democracy in Europe.

The publication of the report comes in the shadow of the war in Ukraine, which has led to the death of many Ukrainian and foreign reporters and a crackdown on independent media in Russia, leading to the exodus of many journalists.

“The safety of journalists is seriously deteriorating in Europe”, Ricardo Gutiérrez, general secretary of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), one of the organizations involved in producing the report, told EURACTIV. “If states really want to guarantee freedom of the press, many concrete measures must be implemented.

Eighty-two alerts concerning attacks on the physical safety and integrity of journalists were registered by the Council of Europe last year, an increase of 51% compared to the previous year.

2021 also saw the targeted killing of three journalists in Greece, the Netherlands and Turkey; the killings reporters Giorgos Karaivaz and Peter R. de Vries in the first two countries, according to the Council of Europe, bore the marks of organized criminal activity. Two journalists were also killed during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and another while covering protests in Georgia.

No justice was served for any of the murders.

The safety of those reporting on the protests remains a major concern, the report’s authors added, noting that the vulnerability of journalists covering these events has been heightened by “a wave of media smear and an avalanche of hate speech on social networks. social issues”, which have hit women journalists particularly hard and which platforms and authorities have been slow to tackle.

A total of 110 harassment and intimidation alerts were recorded by the platform in 2021, with some of the online incidents being orchestrated by political movements.

Overall, state actors accounted for 47% of all alerts recorded throughout the year. In a growing number of countries, according to the Council of Europe, “these cases are not occasional upheavals” but rather “the result of a concerted and deliberate strategy aimed at imposing an ‘illiberal’ model, in complete violation of the ‘rule of law and fundamental principles of human rights’. .

The report also notes revelations from Project Pegasus, which discovered last year that spyware had been used to target government officials and journalists, among others. Last month, the European Parliament launched a committee to investigate the potential purchase and deployment of the technology by the governments of EU countries.

Structurally, notes the CoE, the media are also under threat. According to the report, the models of media capture long practiced in Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia are now being emulated by the leaders of other states, including Hungary and Poland, and tThe independence of public service media governance and funding is also increasingly under threat.

“We call on member states to implement the Council of Europe standards for public service media at national level, to refrain from any direct or indirect pressure on their independence and to protect journalists against violence and harassment,” Nicola Frank, head of Institutional and International Relations at the European Broadcasting Union, another of the report’s partner organisations, told EURACTIV.

The report also covers the abusive deployment of SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation), long and costly litigation brought by powerful officials or businessmen against journalists and activists to obstruct their work. On Wednesday, the Commission is set to issue its long-awaited anti-SLAPP directive to stem the tide of such cases.

The EU is expected to publish a media freedom law this summer, designed to put in place guarantees on media pluralism and independence.

In September, the Commission published a non-binding recommendation on the safety of journalists, setting out measures that EU countries could take to better protect their media workers, including by providing greater physical and legal protection and enhanced psychological and cyber support.

EFJ’s Gutiérrez told EURACTIV that the implementation continues to fail. “States cannot be complicit in this situation by remaining passive,” he said.

Commission launches recommendation on safety of journalists

European Commission Vice-President for Values ​​and Transparency Věra Jourová presented a recommendation on the safety of journalists on Thursday 16 September, urging EU countries to address safety concerns in an increasingly more hostile to the media.

[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Alice Taylor]

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