21st Feb 2024

Violence stalks Europe's journalists

  • At least seven journalists have been killed in Ukraine, according to French figures (Photo: Serhii Myhalchuk)
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The internal EU gulf on press freedom has widened, as France prepares new measures to protect journalists.

Greece slid to 108th place in the world after the murder last year of crime journalist Giorgios Karaivaz, according to an index published Tuesday (3 May) by Paris-based civil organisation Reporters Without Borders.

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That made Greece bottom in the EU, and less free than previous lowest-ranking member state Bulgaria (91st place).

Malta stayed low (78th) and the Netherlands dropped out of the top ten, to 28th place after the killing of crime journalist Peter R. De Vries.

Norway and several EU states — Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, and Portugal — placed at the top of the global table.

But if the EU was home to some of the world's highest standards, then elsewhere in the same bloc, in Poland (66th) and Hungary (85th), "governments have intensified draconian laws against journalists," Reporters Without Borders warned.

Core EU countries Germany (16th), France (26th), and Italy (58th), were also seeing journalists "physically attacked", the NGO said.

The report came out amid raging warfare in Ukraine, where at least seven journalists have been killed, according to French EU presidency figures.

Russia (155th place) and Belarus (153th) were in any case among the world's worst press regimes, Reporters Without Borders said.

But the war had unleashed "a level of [Russian] censorship not seen since the Soviet period, massive disinformation", it said.

"The Russian military has deliberately targeted news sources in [Ukrainian] territories it occupies," the NGO said.

The French EU presidency also indicated that Russia was targeting journalists in the war in an internal EU memo dated 28 April and seen by EUobserver.

Journalists can be "especially exposed and can become targets themselves as the situation in Ukraine has shown", the French draft communiqué said.

The EU ought to "promote financial, legal and professional support and the reception of independent journalists and other exiled media professionals, particularly from Ukraine, Belarus and the Russian Federation, who have found refuge in the European Union," France said.

This could be done "by providing residencies, for example, and exploring how to extend these mechanisms for journalists fleeing [other] armed conflicts", it added.

The French ideas are to be fleshed out and turned into a public EU commitment by July.

But the concern about protection of free media in war time comes amid a parallel discussion on propaganda and free speech.

'European standards'

The French proposals speak of steering advertising revenue toward media which meet "European standards".

The EU should "encourage initiatives for online news media labelling based on European standards and independently-established criteria", France said.

"So that platforms and advertisers can demonstrate responsibility by prioritising news media which respect such standards", it said.

The EU recently drew red lines around those standards by banning Russian propaganda outlets such as RT and Sputnik.

And the EU Commission on Monday took Italian broadcasters to task for doing interviews with Russian journalists from those banned channels.

There was an "anti-circumvention" clause in the sanctions "which applies", a commission spokesman said.

But for Norway and for Reporters Without Borders, that kind of approach was going too far.

Norway, last week, decided that RT and Sputnik should be allowed to stay on the air because they "did not pose a threat to fundamental societal interests" culture minister Anette Trettebergstuen said.

EU states "have banned media that disseminate Russian propaganda in the context of the invasion of Ukraine ... without an appropriate legal framework," Reporters Without Borders said.

And this "risks being a pretext for retaliatory actions against the European media," it said.

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