EC calls on EU countries to improve safety of journalists

The European Commission presented on September 16 its first-ever formal recommendation to strengthen the safety of journalists and other media professionals, saying that EU countries should report to the Commission on the measures taken to implement the recommendation 18 months after its adoption.

The Commission said that journalists have been facing an increasing number of attacks over the past years, including, in the most tragic cases, assassinations.

“The Covid-19 crisis has made their work even more difficult, with lower incomes, especially for freelancers, and limited access to venues,” the Commission said.

With an increasing number of attacks on journalists, more than 900 attacks in the EU in 2020, the recommendation calls on EU countries to vigorously investigate and prosecute all criminal acts, making full use of existing national and European legislation.

EU countries should foster better cooperation between law enforcement and media bodies to identify and address the threats faced by journalists more efficiently, and provide personal protection to journalists whose safety is at risk.

It is also crucial that media have non-discriminatory access to information, including press conferences and documents held by public authorities. Furthermore, the recommendation highlights the importance of training and of strengthening access to social protection for all media professionals.

Nearly one in three incidents occur during demonstrations, making demonstrations the most frequent place where journalists were attacked in 2020.

“Member states should provide regular training for law enforcement authorities to ensure that journalists and other media professionals are able to work safely and without restrictions during such events,” the Commission said.

Digital and online safety has become a major concern for journalists due to online incitement to hatred, threats of physical violence, but also cybersecurity risks and illegal surveillance.

“Member states are encouraged to promote the cooperation between online platforms and organisations with expertise in tackling threats against journalists, for instance by encouraging their potential role as trusted flaggers,” the Commission said.

“Relevant national cybersecurity bodies should, upon request, assist journalists who seek to determine whether their devices or online accounts have been compromised, in obtaining the services of cybersecurity forensic investigators.

“Member states should also promote a regular dialogue between such cybersecurity bodies, media and industry, in particular in view of fostering cyber-awareness and digital skills among journalists,” it said.

Female journalists and journalists belonging to minority groups, as well as journalists reporting on equality issues are particularly vulnerable to threats and attacks, the Commission said.

“Female journalists face more threats than their male counterparts do and 73 per cent declared having experienced online violence in the course of their work.”

The recommendation urges EU countries to support initiatives aimed at empowering women journalists and professionals belonging to minority groups and those reporting on equality issues.

It encourages member states to improve transparency and effective reporting on attacks and discrimination against these journalists and to provide them with information on how to seek assistance and support.

“Furthermore, the recommendation highlights the need to foster equality and inclusion in newsrooms and the media industry as a whole, and to promote the continuous development of competences and skills in all professions relevant for the protection of journalists.”

The Commission said that it would hold discussions on the implementation of the recommendation with member states and stakeholders in relevant forums, in particular within the European News Media Forum.

“The Commission will also perform evaluations taking stock of the progress achieved and will continue to analyse the safety of journalists in all the member states as part of the annual Rule of Law Report. Member states should report to the Commission on the measures taken to implement the recommendation 18 months after its adoption,” the EC said.

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