While the Covid-19 public health crisis has reminded us of the importance for all citizens to have access to reliable sources of information, the multiplication of threats to journalists as well as impunity for crimes committed against them are alarming trends.
The right to freedom of opinion and expression is enshrined both in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, stating that “this right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas” and in Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which specifically guarantees that “freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected.” This right is essential to provide access to reliable information and to combat disinformation and other forms of manipulation of information. Silence resulting from the assault or, in the worst cases, the death of journalists deprives their public of the right to be informed.
Since 2014, the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists has recorded 28 murders of journalists in Europe, while hundreds more have been victims of attacks ranging from harassment and intimidation to physical assault, detention and imprisonment. The vast majority of these attacks remain unpunished. Both physical and psychological violence can have a disastrous impact on the exercise of freedom of expression by affected journalists, causing reflexes of self-censorship and even abandonment of the profession.
The European Union and the Council of Europe are taking action to counter the increase in these crimes against journalists and end the impunity of their perpetrators.
The Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism continues to monitor violations against journalists, while the European Court of Human Rights plays a key role in defending the right to freedom of expression. In 2016, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe also adopted a Recommendation on the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists and other media workers, which provides concrete guidelines for member states. A new implementation guide was recently published to serve as a common basis for national authorities to develop measures and action plans.
At the Committee of Ministers’ meeting on 28 October, the European Union reaffirmed its support for the actions of the Council of Europe and commended the work of all journalists and media workers, paying tribute to all those who lost their lives and suffered attacks in the exercise of their right to freedom of opinion and expression. The EU has taken important steps to enhance the protection of journalists. In 2014, the Council of the EU issued guidelines on freedom of expression online and offline. In 2015, the European Union Human Rights Defenders’ Mechanism “ProtectDefenders.eu” was established to protect defenders exposed to high risks, including journalists and media workers. The European Commission also continues to support important new initiatives for media freedom, such as the “Europe-wide Rapid Reaction Mechanism (RRM)” project launched in March 2020 by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom.
The current health crisis should serve as a wake-up call on the need to defend journalists and media workers and should in no way be used to prevent them from exercising their profession and right to freedom of expression. On this World Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, as we face many global challenges, from climate change and pandemics to artificial intelligence, the defense of freedom of expression must remain a priority.