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A report on European press freedom

Dramatic increase of imprisoned European journalists

European press freedom suffered continued degradation in 2022, is a summary of the annual report from Council of Europe’s Platform to protect journalism and safety of journalists. The number of imprisoned journalists has increased 60% since 2021, the Platform’s annual report shows.

Throughout 2022, the Platform documented 289 alerts concerning 37 countries, with journalists being murdered, imprisoned, physically attacked, legally harassed, and subjected to smear campaigns.

“The annual report has cast doubt on Member States’ commitment to upholding obligations on freedom of expression, the protection of journalism, and the safety of journalists under the Council of Europe’s statute and the European Convention on Human Rights”, International Press Institute, one of the member organisations, says in a statement. 

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“2022 was undoubtedly a year marked by war in Europe but also a range of new and established methods of silencing independent journalism, including surveillance and spyware, legal harassment, arrests and detention, media capture, restrictive legislation, and continued cases of impunity.” 

“The contents of the report illustrate a clear and urgent need for the Council of Europe, Member States, and other European institutions to address the threats facing journalism in Europe with swift and coordinated action.”

The Platform says “2022 was a year defined by war. And in parts of Europe, it was also a war on journalism. Since Russia launched its unprovoked aggression against Ukraine at least twelve journalists and media workers have been killed while performing their professional duties and 21 have been injured.”

Russian disinformation has flooded the media landscape in Ukraine and across Europe and Russian authorities have imposed draconian censorship rules to brutally silence independent voices at home, the report says. 

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As of 31 December 2022, 127 journalists were reported to be in detention by the Platform – 52 in Türkiye, 32 in Belarus, 22 in Russia, 14 in the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine, 4 in Azerbaijan, and one each in the United Kingdom, Georgia, and Poland. This represents an increase of 60% compared to 2021.

Key findings of the report: 

  • Apart from the journalists who died on active duty as a result of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the Platform recorded one journalist killed in the exercise of his functions compared to four who died the previous year outside of a war zone.
  • The use of legal action to intimidate and silence reporting remains a favourite tool for certain politicians, business tycoons, and other powerful figures, with at least twenty defamation and other types of legal proceedings documented.
  • Harassment and smear campaigns online and offline continued unabated as private citizens and public officials tried to intimidate journalists and coerce them not to cover sensitive stories.
  • New restrictive legislation was adopted or proposed in several Member States, including Armenia, Georgia, Türkiye, and the United Kingdom, muzzling journalists and impeding their ability to exercise their profession.
  • The number of Member States’ responses to these was disappointingly low: replies were filed for 48 alerts – a paltry 16% reply rate.

The report urges member states to be more responsive to threats against press freedom and to secure the adoption of the European Media Freedom Act that should contain strong provisions against external interference; protects the editorial independence of the media; the role and expertise of independent regulators; the transparency of ownership structures and media concentration laws; and the stable allocation of resources to public service media. 

The Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists was set up by the Council of Europe in 2015, in co-operation with international NGOs active in the field of the freedom of expression and associations of journalists.  

The 15 partners are the European Federation of Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists, the Association of European Journalists, Article 19, Reporters without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Index on Censorship, the International Press Institute, the International News Safety Institute, Rory Peck Trust, the European Broadcasting Union, PEN International, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, Free Press Unlimited and the Justice for Journalists Foundation. 

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