Sixteen journalists have been killed for their work in Europe since mid-2012 , the safety of journalists is more at risk than at any time in recent memory, and serious weaknesses in the rule of law and judicial independence have brought widespread impunity for crimes against journalists.
Those are among the conclusions of AEJ Media Freedom Representative William Horsley’s latest Report on Protection of Media Freedom in Europe , prepared for the 4 December Conference on Media Freedom and the Security of Journalists in the French Senate in Paris. The meeting is hosted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the Committee on Culture, Education and Communication of the French Senate. Prominent European politicians and the Council of Europe Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland are attending to debate with leading journalists from across Europe how to respond to the ‘unacceptable’ scale of attacks against journalists and journalism. Those attacks and abuses include scores of abductions of journalists by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, and oppressive measures limiting free speech in Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and other countries.
The new AEJ Report outlines the most significant attacks on journalists and independent media in the six months since the previous Report of June 2014 , which chronicled and assessed developments since 2012. This Report points to the urgent need for states to remove oppressive legislation and administrative harassment related to defamation, anti-terrorism and security in Council of Europe member states.
And it suggests that the Council of Europe’s initiative to start up an online platform in early 2015 as an Early Warning System against attacks on journalists and media can only succeed in improving the security of journalists if the online alerts and warnings are followed up by strong and visible interventions to persuade member states to end abuses of power, harassment of journalists and impunity (failures to investigate and punish those responsible for attacks).
At the Paris meeting the AEJ is one of five journalists’ and media monitoring organisations which are making an agreement with the Council of Europe to provide verified information about attacks on the press to the proposed website, due to be operational early in 2015. The other signatories are the International Federation of Journalists and European Federation of Journalists; Reporters Without Borders; and Article 19. The effectiveness of the online platform is to be reviewed after its first year of operation.
This AEJ Report, commissioned by the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Rapporteur on Media Freedom, Gvozden Flego, calls for strong and effective actions in response to acts and threats of violence and abuses of state powers. It highlights the urgent need for an end to state controls and manipulation of media content and to repression of independent civil society organisations such as election monitoring bodies and whistle-blowers; for credible safeguards against arbitrary and intrusive surveillance of journalists; for oversight mechanisms to prevent unprovoked and excessive violence by police and other public officials; and for determined and sustained actions by governments to eradicate the scourge of impunity.