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17th Oct 2021

EU urges member states to better protect journalists

  • Press freedom is a measure of EU states' democracy, Věra Jourová said (Photo: European Commission)
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The EU Commission, on Thursday (16 September), urged member states to better protect journalists amid a rise in physical and online attacks and threats against them across Europe.

In a set of legally non-binding recommendations to EU governments, the commission wants capitals to ensure fair and effective investigations and prosecutions against those attacking journalists, and to provide protection to those under threat.

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"No journalist should die or be harmed because of their job. We need to support and protect journalists, they are essential for democracy," Commission vice-president Věra Jourová told reporters.

In 2020, 908 journalists and media workers had been attacked in 23 member states, and 175 of them had been victims of attacks or incidents during protests in the EU.

Since 1992, 23 journalists were also killed in the EU, with the majority of killings happening in the past six years.

In recent years, journalists have been killed in Bulgaria, Greece, Malta, the Netherlands, and Slovakia, while there has been a crackdown on independent media in Poland and Hungary.

According to the latest report by the Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a Paris-based think-tank, EU countries have been backsliding on the organisation's press freedom index, with Bulgaria (112th), Hungary (92nd), Malta (81st), Greece (70th), and Poland (64th) receiving the worst rankings among EU countries.

According to the commission, 73 percent of female journalists have experienced online violence and the EU executive urges member states to establish helplines, shelters, and psychological support services for journalists under threat.

The recommendations come as the commission prepares a new Media Freedom Act, a package of binding and non-binding measures for member states to be adopted next year, which includes action against so-called 'SLAPP' lawsuits - Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation - designed to intimidate publications and journalists.

Taken seriously

However, RSF warned in a statement that Thursday's "recommendations will not help to bring about a concrete improvement in the situation of journalists unless member states implement them".

"Every effort must be made to ensure that these recommendations become a reality," Julie Majerczak, RSF's representative to the EU said.

"We urge the leaders of EU countries to act responsibly and we call on the EU to demonstrate a determination to ensure that these recommendations are not ignored," she added.

Jourová said the commission will put pressure on member states to do more, but without legal tools, there is little the commission can do to convince member states to adhere to the proposals.

"It's also my concern that recommendations will be taken more seriously by the states where we see fewer problems ... we will have to manage by proactive engagement with member states where we see a risky situation," she told reporters.

"We have already shown in the past that whenever we saw a problem in individual member states ... we engaged in dialogue with the government, it was the case in Slovenia," Jourová said.

Slovenia's prime minister, Janez Janša, who currently holds the rotating EU presidency, has repeatedly attacked the country's media outlets.

"The violence against individual journalists which is stemming from direct attacks from politicians is something that is unacceptable, it refers to all the politicians. We are here to stand criticism and respond with facts and figures, with our arguments, and not with violent or hateful comments directed at concrete journalists," Jourová noted.

The commission vice-president added that it not only concerns Slovenia and that "we see the very aggressive rhetoric in some other member states", but did not name others.

She warned member states that the protection of journalists was a measure of their level of democracy.

"If they [EU countries] want to be trusted that they are truly democratic countries, and democracy also means strong media sector, [then] they will do something to increase the protection of journalists," Jourová said.

"They [journalists] fight for democracy and society, it is time for democracy and society to fight for journalist too," she added.

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