In a statement issued ahead of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić urged European governments to show stronger political will to protect journalists and independent journalism in order to put a stop to the deterioration of media freedom in the continent.
“Media freedom is an essential pillar of our democracies which is too often taken for granted. Respect for freedom of the media is in decline in many countries. In the last years, we have witnessed an increase in the number of cases of violence and intimidation against journalists,” said Secretary General.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a strong rise in reports of violence against journalists as well as censorship and reprisals for questioning governments policies. At the same time, quality media face serious economic challenges and many journalists have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. These worrying trends are highlighted in my annual report to be published in the next days.
It is time to recall that states have an obligation to ensure that journalists can carry out their work free from violence and intimidation and fulfil their role as public “watchdog”, which includes holding public authorities accountable for their decisions and action.
The Council of Europe stands ready to support its member states to create and promote an environment where plural, diverse and independent media can perform their role and contribute to making our democracies more robust.”
The Secretary General also expressed concern at the findings of the annual report of the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists.
The annual report of the Platform for the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists, released by 14 international media freedom organizations, lists 201 serious cases of threats to media freedom in the 47 Council of Europe member states in 2020, a 40% increase compared to 2019. A record number of alerts concerned physical attacks (52 cases) and harassment or intimidation (70 cases).
The report analyses serious threats to press freedom including those posed by the impunity of crimes against journalists – with 24 cases of impunity for the killing of journalists still pending -, the state capture of independent media, judicial harassment, political pressure on public service media and surveillance of journalists.
The report underlines as specific threats to media freedom in 2020 the extraordinary restrictions imposed on journalists’ activities by emergency laws and regulations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.