Conflict Prevention, Peace building and Mediation

Crimes against journalists: Speech on behalf of HR/VP Borrell in the European Parliament plenary on the fight against impunity for crimes committed against journalists around the world

Brussels, 25/11/2020 - 18:00, UNIQUE ID: 201125_51

Delivered by Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice

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Merci Madame la Présidente, Mesdames et Messieurs les députés, permettez-moi tout d’abord de vous remercier pour cette opportunité d’échanger avec vous ce soir sur la lutte contre l’impunité en matière de crimes à l’encontre de journalistes à travers le monde.

Je vais intervenir en lieu et place du haut représentant, Josep Borrell, bien entendu, en plein accord avec lui sur ce que je vais vous dire.

As the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists reminded, in some countries the already difficult situation for journalists is being exacerbated by the use of the pandemic as a pretext for additional restrictions on media freedom.

Journalists play a fundamental role in the functioning of democracies. They help ensure accountability of those in power, through the provision of timely and factual information.

The Commission has said many times that democracy is fuelled by information. In other words: without information, democracy cannot work.

Unfortunately, across the world, journalists face intimidation, violence or abuse, often putting their life at risk.

Disturbingly, impunity for abuses and crimes against journalists and media workers remains widespread, reaching 90% of cases in some countries, according to a UNESCO report in 2019.

We follow with concern reports of journalists being placed in detention without trial, the closure of media stations and Internet shutdowns in many countries. In this troubling context, the EU has stepped up its action.

In our relations with other countries, we have always been clear on the key role of unrestricted media and civil society and the need to protect human rights defenders -many of whom are journalists.

Our EU Delegations around the world have strengthened their response to attacks against journalists. A handbook on journalists’ safety has been distributed to all Delegations.

The Delegations are producing or coordinating public statements and social media interventions to give visibility to EU support, observing court cases and identifying cases requiring special protection.

In the last 12 months, the EU has supported over 425 journalists with emergency grants, temporary relocation, or support to their respective media outlets.

Dedicated programmes have been operating in many regions for some time with a total amount of support beyond €180 million. One example is the programme ‘Safejournalists’, run by Western Balkans journalist associations.

Recent programmes include ‘COVID-19 response in Africa: together for reliable information’, which brings together organisations such as Deutsche Welle Akademie and Reporters Sans Frontières, to build resilience of journalists in Africa. Similar programmes are being finalised for Asia and Latin America.

The safety of journalists is at the centre of EU advocacy for media freedom in international fora and bilateral dialogues. We keep recalling the obligation to protect and promote freedom of opinion and expression and offering collaboration.

We also work with the Council of Europe, OSCE and UNESCO and we want to intensify this cooperation.

In a similar plenary discussion last year, some priority areas were mentioned, on which we are making progress.

As regards Media freedom monitoring, the EU supports the projects of the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom and of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, including its Rapid Response Mechanism.

As regards Opposition to strategic lawsuits against public participation (the so-called SLAPPs), EU services are formulating a common approach. The next steps are to establish, first, a network of lawyers and media specialists to exchange practices and know-how regarding SLAPP cases and, second, a focus group on legal and financial aid to identify legal and practical solutions.

On a more systematic fight against impunity, apart from the already mentioned support, protection of media independence and journalists in the Member States was a key factor in the analysis that we did in the first annual Rule of Law Report that is at the centre of a new rule of law mechanism.   

Support to the reform of justice systems and to the rule of law remains key in our external cooperation in over 70 countries, with more than €2.76 billion spent between 2007 and 2017 –in ten years’ time.  

In the future, we will keep on working on ending impunity for crimes against journalists with two important tools: the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy for the period 2020-2024 and the forthcoming European Democracy Action Plan.  

As you can see, this topic is paramount to our work on the protection and promotion of human rights and, as the examples I mentioned clearly show, we totally agree and join forces with the European Parliament on such an issue.  

I want to add that, regarding the Rule of Law Annual Report, it is very important to do the job at home to be able to organise our action outside the European Union.  

I thank you for your attention and I am looking forward to your debate and also to your remarks and proposals. 

 Thank you.  

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Closing remarks

Merci Madame la Présidente, Mesdames, Messieurs les députés,  

Je vous remercie tout d’abord pour ce débat à nouveau tenu en séance plénière pour un sujet d’une importance fondamentale et je crois très utile que plusieurs d’entre vous aient rappelé la longue liste de journalistes victimes de violences et d’attaques ces dernières années, ces derniers mois, ces dernières semaines, y compris dans l’Union européenne.  

Protecting journalists is a long-term task that requires clear objectives and coordinated action. I mentioned two instruments that will now guide our efforts.  

The new European Union Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy for 2020-2024, which sets out clear guidelines for a coordinated and effective approach and the upcoming European Democracy Action Plan, of which media pluralism and freedom are one of the pillars.

I want to also add that the European Union sanctions regime remains a key political priority. As you know, the new regime will not replace existing geographic sanctions regimes –some of which already address human rights violations and abuses. For example in Syria, Belarus or Venezuela.  

The new global sanctions regime will provide the European Union with greater flexibility to target those responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide, no matter where they occur or who is responsible. And, of course, who are the victims – journalists.  

I am pleased that good progress has been made in the decisions on the proposals at the technical level in the Council. And let me recognise the long-standing support of the European Parliament for such a regime.  

Everyone involved continues working towards adoption in the near future and, hopefully, before the end of this year.  

The European Parliament’s contribution is crucial if we are to achieve our common objectives.  

Je voudrais en outre ajouter que, comme je l’ai dit tout à l’heure si l’on travaille à cette protection des journalistes à travers l’ensemble des contacts internationaux nous devons aussi faire ce travail au sein de l’Union européenne.  

Et je le rappelle, le premier rapport que nous avons publié le 30 septembre dernier sur l’État de droit dans les 27 États membres de l’Union comporte quatre chapitres, l’un de ces chapitres concerne la liberté et le pluralisme des médias avec une attention tout à fait particulière aux attaques adressées à l’égard des journalistes au cours des derniers mois, et notamment une attention particulière aux mesures qui ont parfois été prises dans les États membres pendant la période d’urgence liée à la crise sanitaire que nous vivons.  

Je voudrais en outre ajouter qu’en qualité de commissaire à la justice j’ai l’occasion régulièrement de rappeler aux États membres comme à des partenaires internationaux la nécessité de lutter contre l’impunité lorsque des violences, des abus ou des attaques sont commises à l’égard de journalistes.  

Je voudrais alors terminer en vous remerciant pour votre engagement en faveur de la liberté de la presse, vous garantir de la ferme décision de la Commission de poursuivre un travail très actif dans l’Union comme en dehors de l’Union sur ce sujet et de renforcer la protection mise en œuvre à l’égard des journalistes que ce soit dans les États membres ou dans des pays tiers.  

Je vous remercie.  

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