Governments across Europe adopted emergency laws and regulations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic that also imposed extraordinary restrictions on journalists’ activities, the annual report for the Council of Europe’s Safety of Journalists says. The report was published shortly before World Press Freedom Day, annually celebrated on May 3.
The Council points at a total of 201 European media freedom alerts noted in 2020. That is the highest annual total so far recorded and is almost 40% more than in 2019.
“Wanted! Real action for media freedom in Europe protocols for providing effective protections and ensuring effective investigations into attacks and abuses against journalists and other media actors. Those provisions were unanimously approved by the adoption of the Committee of Ministers Recommendation on the safety of journalists in 2016, but in many member states very little, if any, improvement has been evident in the five years since then”, the Council says.
ALLEGED FALSE INFORMATION
It also says that severe infringements of rights were the results of laws punishing the alleged dissemination of false information – under which journalists have faced the risk of severe criminal penalties for their reports – as well as the systematic denial of access to public information on the pandemic, including access to healthcare workers and facilities.
“These and other measures – whether implemented deliberately or out of neglect for the media’s crucial role in times of crisis.”
“Many European governments enacted sweeping emergency laws, often with scant parliamentary scrutiny, and took other extraordinary measures to penalise critical voices and restrict media scrutiny of government actions.”
The Council points at a total of 201 media freedom alerts noted in 2020. That is the highest annual total so far recorded and is almost 40% more than in 2019.
“A record number of alerts concerned physical attacks (52 reported cases), and harassment or intimidation (70 cases). Albanian media owner Kastriot Reçi was shot dead outside his own home, while the editorin-chief of the Russian Federation’s Koza.Press news portal, Irina Slavina, died by self-immolation after making appeals for protection against sustained official harassment. “
BLOCKING OF WEBSITES
“The chilling effect of multiple threats and acts of violence and other forms of harassment was widely felt by both media outlets and individual journalists. Journalists were assaulted or blocked by police from reporting on public protests and other events. Newsgathering activities by online and offline publications and media scrutiny of state authorities’ actions were inhibited by means including the blocking of websites, administrative and criminal investigations targeting critical media outlets, and the closure of independent media or their exclusion from public events.”
“Access to official information was unduly restricted; attempts by news organisations to assess and question government policies in the public interest were penalised; and in numerous cases politicians attacked or vilified independent journalists with hostile words or actions, including smear campaigns aimed at discrediting their reputations.“
Among recommendations, the Council says member states should apply best practice regarding police protection of journalists’ safety at public events, legal provisions against obstruction of media workers, de-escalation mechanisms, and effective complaints procedures so that abuses are prosecuted or lead to disciplinary actions.
“Member states must enact laws and institutional safeguards to prosecute and deter online abuse against journalists; taking particular care to counter targeted abuse against female media workers. The criminalisation of journalism and abuse of the criminal law by state actors must be ended, including by ensuring strict judicial independence and oversight of law enforcement. “