Erosion of media freedom in Europe casts a shadow on safety of journalists
The rise in a wide range of attacks against journalists and increasing attempts to curtail independent outlets in several European countries require urgent and robust actions. Resilient and diverse media ecosystem is indispensable in any democratic society.
ARTICLE 19 Europe joins partner organisations of the Council of Europe’s Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists in launching the 2022 annual report examining the alarming trend of shrinking media freedom across the continent.
“Defending Press Freedom in Times of Tension and Conflict” provides an overview of alerts reported to the Platform, analyses major threats that hinder journalists’ reporting, and discusses the legal framework as well as measures required to improve protection of journalists.
Press freedom is an essential component of a vibrant democracy, enshrined in key European instruments and national provisions. While European countries still pack the first ranks in press freedom indexes, journalists are increasingly being threatened, assaulted, subjected to surveillance, detained or even killed because of their investigative work, opinions or reporting. The number of physical attacks against journalists, in particular while covering protests, soared in 2021 by 51% in comparison to 2020.
States are under an obligation to prevent, protect against, and prosecute attacks against journalists. Policy makers must foster an enabling environment for free flow of independent information and refrain from attempts to seize control over public discourse by promoting and financially supporting allied media outlets and entities.
Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (known as SLAPPs) are abusive litigation used by well-resourced and powerful individuals to stifle public debate on vital issues such as corruption, mismanagement of public resources, and human rights violations by dragging their critics into time-consuming and costly legal proceedings.
ARTICLE 19 Europe conducts comprehensive research into the increasing trend of SLAPPs against journalists and other public watchdogs across Europe. As part of The Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) and the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), we have been advocating for EU-wide robust measures against abusive litigation for the past few years. We are encouraged to see that the European Commission’s anti-SLAPP Initiative includes the core components of CASE Model Directive.
Freedom of expression in Turkey has been under attack for years, with a drastic decline since the Gezi Park protests in 2013. The government and the police’s extremely violent reaction to the peaceful protest was a turning point in relations between civil society and the authorities.
The government further used certain Turkish criminal legal provisions disproportionately to silence critical voices and opposition in Turkey. Hundreds of journalists, academics and writers in jail. In addition, the Turkish authorities have severely curtailed freedom of assembly and regularly forbid or quash gatherings by government critics. We work to defend freedom of expression and raise human rights violations to European institutions and the UN.
In the course of nearly two years since the rigged presidential election that sparked mass protests across Belarus, the regime has continued to quash dissent, harass journalists and activists, as well as banning and blocking hundreds of news websites and media outlets.
In light of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the regime has stepped up its crackdown with even more intensity. Belarusian authorities introduced the death penalty for ‘attempts to carry out acts of terrorism’. ARTICLE 19 Europe finds the new law deeply distressing given the fact that the terrorism-related charges are regularly used to prosecute political dissidents. According to the human rights centre Viasna, as of May 2022, there are 1217 political prisoners in Belarus. Several members of the organisation also remain in prolonged detention.
We stand in solidarity with Ukrainian people in the face of Russia’s aggression. The Russian Federation’s actions constitute an act of war and a blatant breach of international law and treaties, deserving of unequivocal international condemnation. Standing in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and with all those suffering in the war, Alongside our partners, activists and experts we are working to ensure the facts can no longer be ignored.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin has spent the last two decades eroding public debate, silencing media and civil society and slowly taking control of the information space – largely without any consequences on the international stage.
The invasion of Ukraine was the final klell for press freedom in the country with the media prevented from reporting the truth about the war or even calling Russia’s actions by their true name. The new law, banning references to ‘war’ or ‘invasion’ silenced the last remaining voices of dissent with the independent Novaya Gazeta suspending operations within Russia at the end of March 2022.
In recent years, freedom of expression in Central Asia has become increasingly restricted. The global pandemic further underscored the important role the internet and digital platforms play in supporting human rights movements and access to information. In this context, it is clear that autocratic regimes are repeatedly cracking down on the internet in order to quell activism in the region.
We promote freedom of expression in Central Asia by monitoring legislation, media regulation and the safety of journalists. We provide legal recommendations for countries to meet international standards and raise violations to UN bodies and the Human Rights Council.
About ARTICLE 19 Europe
ARTICLE 19 Europe works across many countries in the region, but focuses on several priority countries: Turkey, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Poland, Albania, Serbia, Malta, Slovakia, eastern Europe and the EU bloc
Working with national partners in our priority countries and international coalitions of human rights defenders and experts we monitor the state of freedom of expression across the region and conduct sustained campaigning and advocacy to European institutions and global human rights mechanisms.
The Expression Agenda
The Expression Agenda is our global human rights strategy. Through it, we target the best means of protecting rights and freedoms on the ground, while enhancing international instruments that protect freedom of expression and the right to information around the world. Each year we produce a unique report on the state of freedom of expression globally. The “XpA Report” looks at trends across major issues of freedom of expression and information, and how they are experienced in various countries.