The recommendations adopted by the European Commission today are the first that the EU has ever issued on journalists’ safety and represent a step in the right direction in response to the increase in attacks on journalists and media outlets within the bloc. And RSF welcomes the fact that they reflect most of its contribution to the Commission’s prior public consultation,
The Commission could however have gone further in involving European authorities in the prevention and solving of crimes of violence against journalists, for example, by means of European Parliamentary enquiries when it seems that national authorities have failed to take appropriate measures to prevent a crime, or by reinforcing the European prosecutor’s mandate.
But these recommendations will not help to bring about a concrete improvement in the situation of journalists unless member states implement them, RSF says.
“Every effort must be made to ensure that these recommendations become a reality,” said Julie Majerczak, RSF’s representative to the EU. “We urge the leaders of EU countries to act responsibly and we call on the European Union to demonstrate a determination to ensure that these recommendations are not ignored. The European Union must continue to be a region where journalists can practice their profession safely and where press freedom enjoys the strongest safeguards.”
The most dramatic examples of the growing threats to journalists within the EU are Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder in Malta in October 2017 and the murder of Ján Kuciak (along with his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová) in Slovakia five months later. Both were deliberately targeted because of their investigative reporting on corruption. Two more journalists have been murdered this year – Giorgos Karaivaz in Greece and Peter R. de Vries in the Netherlands. RSF registered only four murders of journalists in the EU in the ten years prior to Caruana Galizia’s murder.
The impunity often enjoyed by both perpetrators and masterminds amounts to giving carte blanche to all those who want to silence critics and create a climate of fear for journalists. The businessman accused of masterminding Kuciak’s murder has been acquitted in Slovakia, while the judicial proceedings in the Caruana Galizia case in Malta are both slow and inadequate.
These murders are just the tip of the iceberg. Journalists are subjected to many forms of harassment and intimidation, including verbal and physical violence, online harassment, judicial harassment, arrest, arbitrary detention, illegal surveillance and sexist and sexual violence.
Covering protests has become fraught for reporters in countries such as France, Greece, Poland and Spain. Reporters were recently attacked by demonstrators while covering protests against the adoption of a Covid health pass. They are also often the victims of police violence. In France, during the ”yellow vest” protests in 2019 and the protests against the “global security” bill in 2020, many journalists were injured by police, were detained arbitrarily, or had their equipment seized. In Greece, the authorities have often arrested reporters violently to bar them from any contact with migrants.
Finally, the inability or reluctance of the authorities in some countries to protect journalists is contributing to the increase in violence. Nikolay Staykov, a Bulgarian journalist who received threats after releasing a documentary about corruption, did not receive police protection until RSF publicly drew attention to the urgent need for him to be protected.
The five EU member states with the worst rankings in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index are Bulgaria (112th), Hungary (92nd), Malta (81st), Greece (70th) and Poland (64th).