Mapping Media Freedom: Heartbreaking stories of violence

by Ana Ribeiro

Index for Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom paints a grim map of Europe in its latest annual report. The monitoring platform in 2016 verified 1,387 instances of violence, threats and other violations of journalists’ rights in the EU and enlargement countries.

Mapping Media Freedom 900X600 Mapping Media Freedom is a platform regularly monitoring media freedom violations across Europe. Its latest report shows a high number of violent attacks and other attempts to repress and obstruct the work of journalists. (Photo: screenshot from annual 2016 report)

Worrying trends expected to continue in 2017 include attacks by right-wing groups, limitations on journalists covering the plight of refugees, false charges meant to frame journalists, disproportionate libel lawsuits, as well as economic sanctions and seizures leading to news outlet closures. Hundreds of media workers lost their jobs in the region last year, an estimated 2,500 of them in Turkey.

"With so many journalists in jail or out of a job in Turkey, diverse information is sparse, which is a real threat to democracy," says Melody Patry, Head of Advocacy for Index on Censorship.

The worst offenders and their victims

The "state of emergency" in Turkey has lasted nearly a year now following the attempted coup, wreaking havoc in the country’s media landscape. No other country in the report racked up more media freedom violations than Turkey in 2016: at least four journalists died and 225 were arrested there.

One of the media workers died while covering clashes between Turkish authorities and the Kurds – a conflict that has also led to journalists’ arrests and expulsions from the country. Turkish soldiers and the Islamic State (IS) were among those involved in journalists’ killings in 2016.

Media workers also died in Ukraine (2) and Russia (1), two having been shot in their homes. In the Netherlands, one blogger was fatally shot in his car after publishing information on the case against a notorious Dutch criminal.

Hannah Machlin, Mapping Media Freedom’s project officer, shows deep concern about these violent trends, saying they "do not bode well for 2017":

The spectrum of threats is growing, the pressure on journalists increasing and the public right to transparent information is under assault. People who are simply trying to do their job are being targeted like never before."

In terms of arrests, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) came in second with 29, as its media scenario quickly darkens amid rising political and ethnic tensions. Russia came in third with 27 media workers arrested. Turkey, the worst offender, still had 10 times as many arrests.

Another top offender in the category was Azerbaijan (12 arrests). Journalists and even their families in the former Soviet country are feeling the tightening grip of its regime against dissent.

Meanwhile, 205 journalists were physically assaulted or injured while doing their jobs in 2016, and 390 harassed or intimidated, according to the report. Machlin says this is happening "at an alarming rate," a testament to the importance of keeping up the monitoring platform.


Read the full Mapping Media Freedom Q4 2016 report here.