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27.04.2017

CoE report: A decade of attacks on journalists from member states

by Ana Ribeiro

Over the past 10 years, violence and abuse have skyrocketed against media workers and whistle-blowers from the 47 Council of Europe (CoE) member countries and Belarus – threatening their role as public watchdogs. Problems have multiplied and also diversified with the growing reach of the internet.

Censorship_900X600 Censorship, via many different tactics, is a big problem across the media landscape in Europe. (Photo: Public domain)

The Council on 20 April released a report that surveyed 940 journalists in Europe last year on “serious unwarranted interference in their work”. Nearly one-third of the journalists said they had been physically assaulted over the previous three years.

“Physical assault was most frequently reported by journalists reporting from the South Caucasus region and Turkey, but was also mentioned in EU member states and non-Western European countries,” the report reveals.

Other kinds of intimidation have also been rampant. More than half of all respondents had been victims of cyberbullying, and more than two-thirds had suffered “psychological violence”, including character assassination.

The results were gathered via an anonymous questionnaire containing 44 questions to assess the prevalence of certain threats and their possible “chilling effect” on journalists. But more than one-third (36%) of journalists said that the pressures they experienced made them more committed to resist censorship, whether directly from outside forces or self-imposed.

Fear and loathing in Europe

Most respondents worked for newspapers or internet media, and nearly half had been journalists for at least 16 years. Many feared not only for their own safety, but also for that of their family and friends.

Political groups accounted for 43 percent of incidents involving intimidation, and police for 35 percent. Almost one-fourth of the journalists surveyed had suffered “judicial intimidation” via arrests, prosecution or threats related to defamation laws. 

Meanwhile, 39 percent reported having being victims of “targeted surveillance”. A similar proportion (35%) expressed a lack of belief in effective mechanisms to report the threats they suffer while doing their jobs.

CoE report respondents CoE report respondents' profile (Source: CoE; graphic by ECPMF)

“It should therefore come as no surprise that the survey found high levels of self-censorship among journalists,” the report’s foreword says, suggesting that the media outlets themselves are also to blame for that. Nearly a quarter of respondents had “felt compelled” to hold back information, and 15 percent to completely drop their stories. 

The CoE report issued a related warning:

A high proportion of respondents say that they feel pressured to present their reports in ways which are more amenable to their employers, withholding information when necessary. Many are compelled to tone down controversial stories, or abandon them altogether. Such constraints clearly conflict with the desire to report fully and factually, a desire which motivates many in the profession.”

The Council of Europe regularly monitors media freedom violations across the continent via its platform.


More

The full Council-commissioned report – “Journalists under pressure: Unwarranted interference, fear and self-censorship in Europe” – can be found here. Access is not free of charge, though those interested can also get a free preview and summary.





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