Report Warns of Serious Threats to Media Freedom in Europe

Secretary General of the 47-nation Council of Europe (COE), Marija Pejčinović Burić. Photo: COE
Secretary General of the 47-nation Council of Europe (COE), Marija Pejčinović Burić. Photo: COE

A report issued by 15 media freedom organisations partners to the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists shows that the number of alerts reported on the platform concerning serious threats to media freedom in Council of Europe member states in 2021 increased by 41%, from 200 in 2020 to 282.

Expressing her concern about the findings of the report, the Council of Europe’s Secretary General, Marija Pejčinović Burić, condemned attacks on journalists in Europe.  

In addition, she highlighted recent targeting of journalists by the Russian army during the ongoing aggression in Ukraine, which has resulted in the death of several reporters, and reminded governments of their positive obligations to protect journalists, including in times of war.

The Secretary General also paid tribute to the journalists who are reporting on the ground about the war, often putting their safety at risk, in order to provide the public with first-hand information about the conflict and its dramatic consequences for the people of Ukraine.

“Freedom of expression and media freedom face many challenges in Europe today. While there are improvements in certain areas in some countries, there is a general trend towards erosion of these freedoms. In these times of crisis – with the Covid-19 pandemic still present and the violence in Ukraine still raging – we must redouble our efforts to defend the core principles of freedom of expression and media independence that are essential to our democracies,” she said.

Six journalists died in 2021 in Europe in the exercise of their profession, four of whom were deliberately targeted. The number of alerts concerning attacks on the physical safety and integrity of journalists rose by 51% (82 cases), many of which occurred during public protests against Covid-19 measures. A total of 110 alerts concerned cases of harassment and intimidation.

By the end of 2021, 26 cases of impunity for attacks against journalists remained unresolved, and 56 journalists were in prison.

The report – released on April 27 – expresses particular concern about increasing judicial intimidation, the abuse of defamation lawsuits to silence media, and the adoption of restrictive legislation under the pretext of fighting “fake news”, foreign interference and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Other worrying trends are the erosion of the independence of public service media and the capture of private media by governments in several countries to consolidate a government-friendly media environment, as well as restrictions on reporting, particularly on migration, threats to media by organised crime and the electronic surveillance of journalists.

The platform partners regret that Council of Europe member states only replied to one third of the alerts published on the platform during 2021.

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Rakesh Raman