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AEJ ’Appel de Paris’ criticises EU inaction to protect journalists’ safety and media freedom

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Paris, 6 December 2019

Association of European Journalists
Reporters Without Borders
European Federation of Journalists
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom
South East Europe Media Organisation

Meeting in Paris, this 6 December, We note that, while European journalists enjoy a generally privileged situation
compared to many other regions of the world, Europe is no longer a completely safe
place for the profession and for press freedom. Indeed we observe that Europe is the
part of the world where press freedom has deteriorated the most in recent years.
With the erosion of the “European model”, as mentioned by Reporters Without
Borders (RSF) in its latest report on press freedom around the world, journalists have
become the target of increasingly virulent, even violent, attacks by political leaders.
Using social networks to bypass the sometimes critical mediation of professional
journalists, politicians no longer hesitate to designate the press as an outright
adversary. They call on their supporters to attack news organisations reputed to be
hostile, and obstruct the work of journalists through judicial harassment. This
phenomenon is all the more obvious given the current trend of societies towards
polarization, which is making public debate increasingly fraught.

Over the past five years, the AEJ, the EFJ, RSF and the eleven other partner
organisations of the Council of Europe Platform for the Protection of Journalism have
reported over 640 serious violations of press freedom in the 47 Council of Europe member states. That number includes 60 acts of violence against journalists inside member states of the European Union (including 14 murders of journalists in France, Poland, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Malta). Of these press freedom violations in the EU, public
authorities were the direct source of the threat in 57% of cases. In addition, there have been numerous very serious allegations about breaches of the rule of law in  member states of the European Union and the Council of Europe. These weaken the democratic framework essential for the existence of a free and independent press and, by also attacking public
broadcasting, prevent it from playing its essential role fully, particularly during
elections. If the rule of law is not respected, the press and the judiciary are at the mercy
of politicians.

To this can be added the growing mistrust of elites, supposedly including journalists, as
well as measures restricting individual freedoms and press freedom adopted by
governments under the guise of combating terrorism, and economic difficulties linked
to the crisis in the media sector. Against this background, with the press under attack, the credibility of journalists is
undermined, public support falters, and a sense of impunity sets in among those who
are the subject of investigative journalism.

In addition to the threats and insults of political leaders, we see interference by state
authorities and attacks by criminal organisations operating in Europe, which target
investigative journalists in particular. In addition to the high-profile cases of Daphne
Caruana Galizia and Jan Kuciak, physical attacks and death threats by mafia groups
against journalists are frequent in several countries. While we welcome the efforts made so far by the European Union and the Council of Europe to respect the rule of law and freedom of the press, we believe that this is not
enough to guarantee a healthy and safe environment for this freedom to be fully
exercised. For this reason we ask Europe’s political leaders, and the institutions of the
European Union:

? To address judicial harassment and “gag procedures” (SLAPPs, strategic
lawsuits against public participation) by adopting legislative measures that
afford effective protection to journalists against such practices, whose sole
purpose is to limit journalists’ freedom of expression, and by ensuring a
favourable and safe environment in which journalists can work;
? To put an end to the application of exorbitant criminal sanctions, including
prison sentences, in defamation proceedings in all European states;
? To ensure that measures to protect press freedom and pluralism are
implemented effectively by the European Union, by expressly assigning this
competency to a member of the European Commission;
? To ensure the pluralism and independence of public-service broadcasting so
that it can fully play its public-service role of informing citizens in an inclusive
and pluralistic manner, by putting in place effective safeguards against political
interference, in particular with regard to appointments to editorial posts;
? To create an effective early warning mechanism against any violation of press
freedom along the lines of the Council of Europe’s “Platform to strengthen the
protection of journalism and the safety of journalists”;
? To guarantee the integrity of the public space against the spread of false news,
while fully preserving freedom of information and freedom of speech;
? Impose democratic guarantees in the digital space so as to guarantee freedom
of opinion and expression, as promoted by the “Information & Democracy”
initiative launched by Reporters Without Borders;
? To support the Journalism Trust Initiative, also launched by RSF, which aims to
promote freedom, independence, pluralism and reliability of information, as
well as other similar initiatives and projects from other organisations
recognised by the journalism community;
? To set up educational programmes on media and news in late primary, and
secondary, education;
? That the European Parliament periodically assess respect for press freedom in
all EU member states and candidates for membership, particularly during
election campaigns;
? To extend the powers of the European Ombudsman so that this office may
verify compliance with the European Charter of Fundamental Rights not only by
the European institutions but also by all its member states;
? That the member countries of the European Union and the Council of Europe
implement without delay Recommendation 2016/4 of the Committee of
Ministers of the Council of Europe “on the protection of journalism and the
safety of journalists and other media actors”;
? That the member countries of the European Union and the Council of Europe
ensure that the United Nations: 1. adopt the “International Convention on the
Safety and Independence of Journalists and Other Media Professionals”
proposed by the International Federation of Journalists, so that crimes and
attacks against journalists worldwide no longer go unpunished, and 2. create
the mandate of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the
Safety of Journalists, called for by a coalition of more than 100 organisations
and media.
A free and independent press is the best guarantee for the proper functioning of
democratic institutions, and a bulwark against authoritarian abuses and manipulation
of public opinion. It is in everyone’s interest that the press remains this way, and the
duty of public authorities to ensure it.

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