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Media freedom: Even Europe is no comfort place for journalists

by editor

The Council of Europe published on 21 April the results of the first large-scale survey of journalists across Europe. More than two-thirds of the 940 journalists who took part said they experienced physical assaults, intimidation or harassment on account of their work in the past three years. As the Association of European Journalists’ Representative for Media Freedom, I described the survey as a ‘wake-up call’ to national governments in Europe to review their laws and practices to better protect press freedom. And added that ‘This survey demonstrates how the increasingly hostile working conditions for journalists reflect dangerously repressive tendencies in states across east and west Europe, and a shrinking of the space for free speech and the proper scrutiny of state power’.

The Council of Europe study Journalists under pressure: unwarranted interference, fear and self-censorship in Europe, provides first-hand evidence that violence and threats, intimidation by police, online harassment and fear of unlawful or secret surveillance have all become commonplace risks to journalists who report on matters of public interest. Improper pressures from employers as well as from political or other powerful groups often lead journalists to practice self-censorship.

The AEJ was one of five organisations which supported the conduct of the survey by experts from the University of Malta. The others were the European Federation of Journalists, Index on Censorship, International News Safety Institute and Reporters Without Borders.

The same day was also marked by the release of the annual Report by the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe on the State of Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Europe . The report highlights a dangerous tendency towards ‘legislative nationalism’ . It also provides data showing that close to half of the Council of Europe’s 47 member states fail to satisfactorily guarantee the safety of journalists, with an increase in violence against journalists, criminalisation of the media’s news gathering work, and growing threats to whistle-blowers and the ability of journalists to protect their confidential sources.

Cartoon by Silvano Mello / Cartoon Movement

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