EU countries urged to protect journalists as attacks rise | Safety of journalists
EU governments have been urged by Brussels to take action to protect journalists, after an increase in physical and online attacks against members of the press.
In issuing its very first recommendation on the safety of journalists, the European Commission called on EU governments to set up free contact points for media professionals facing physical or online threats, to ensure rapid response from police and prosecutors. He also wants to ensure that journalists who are victims of crime have guaranteed access to advice, legal advice and shelters.
According to the commission, 908 journalists and media workers were assaulted in 23 EU member states in 2020, resulting in physical and mental injuries, as well as property damage. The intervention follows a string of high-profile murders that have shocked Europe, including the murders of Daphne Caruana Galizia of Malta and JÃ¡n Kuciak of Slovakia, both of whom investigated corruption in their home countries. This year, Dutch criminal journalist Peter de Vries was murdered on a busy Amsterdam street and Greek investigative journalist Giorgos Karaivaz was gunned down on his way home from work.
Reporters Without Borders (RWB) recorded the murder of four journalists in the 10 years preceding the murder of Caruana Galizia in 2017. EU officials have expressed alarm at the growing number of attacks.
Committee Vice-Chair VÄra JourovÃ¡ said talking to the families of Caruana Galizia and Kuciak had been the most difficult times of his previous job as EU Justice Commissioner, which ended in 2019. “I promised them that I would work to make a difference. Today’s recommendations are a first step in fulfilling that promise.
In her annual State of the Union address on Wednesday, committee chair Ursula von der Leyen pledged to introduce a media freedom law in 2022 to protect the independence of the press and media. broadcasters, amid growing concerns over some member states.
In Hungary, many independent media have closed or have been bought by pro-government figures. Poland debates media bill that would ban companies outside the European Economic Area from controlling majority ownership of any TV channel, widely seen as an attempt to silence the country’s largest independent broadcaster , TVN.
EU authorities have already crossed swords with Slovenian Prime Minister Janez JanÅ¡a, who called journalists liars and “presstitutes” in frequent diatribes against the media.
“It is unacceptable when violence comes out of the mouths of political leaders,” said JourovÃ¡, who added that the aggressive rhetoric did not come only from Slovenia.
The commission has limited power in this area, but JourovÃ¡ has promised to keep up the pressure.
âOf course, this is not legally binding legislation, but we will really monitor the situation,â she told reporters. âWe will keep the pressure on Member States to do more because the recommendationâ¦ is a very strong appeal to Member States: do not underestimate the threats and warning signs that journalists face.
Governments that have not respected the safety of journalists have damaged their reputation, she added. âIt is in the interests of member states if they want to be trusted that they are a truly democratic country.
The committee urges national authorities to ensure vigorous prosecution of all offenders, working across borders with other member states or with the EU police agency Europol, if necessary. Other recommendations include training police officers to ensure better protection for journalists covering protests.
The recommendations are addressed to the 27 EU governments, but the committee hopes that the EU candidate countries in the Western Balkans will adopt them.
Observers fear that the EU has limited tools to change the behavior of politicians who revel in aggressive tirades against the media.
Bulgaria is ranked as the worst EU member state for press freedom, according to RSF. The group’s World Press Freedom Index also reveals the dire media situation in Hungary (92nd), Malta (81), Greece (70) and Poland (64).
The RSF called the EU recommendations a step in the right direction, but warned of the inability or reluctance of authorities in some countries to protect journalists.
âEvery effort must be made to make these recommendations a reality,â said Julie Majerczak, RSF representative to the EU. “We urge the leaders of EU countries to act responsibly and we call on the European Union to show determination to ensure that these recommendations are not ignored.”