Journalists face an escalating risk of violence, threats and government censorship ‘like never before’, according to a report from Index on Censorship.
The statistics are alarming. During 2016 in Europe alone, nine journalists were killed, 205 were assaulted, 347 were detained and 390 reported intimidation of some kind. Other concerning trends facing the media in 2017 include:
- Death threats and smear campaigns directed at journalists online
- Dangers faced when attempting to report on protests
- Violence against journalists regularly going unpunished
- Government officials intimidating journalists without consequence
- Journalists silenced by arrests and lawsuits
- Difficulty reporting on refugees due to denial of access and violence
Press freedom is fundamental to our rights, and is protected by the Human Rights Convention. If we don’t have an independent free press, the Government could use the media to conceal its own wrongdoings and to further its own political agenda.
Violence and arrests
Much of the violence against journalists occurred in Turkey, Ukraine and Russia, with seven reporters dying whilst reporting on conflicts in Turkey and Ukraine. They also faced violent attacks across Europe, organised by radical groups such as the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece.
Those covering political demonstrations regularly faced violence from both police and demonstrators attempting to censor media coverage. During protests in France over proposed changes to labour laws, journalists reported being attacked by police with anti-riot weapons and protestors throwing rocks.
Following the attempted coup in Turkey President Recep Erdogan cracked-down on media freedom, arresting several journalists for links to the alleged organiser of the coup. This led to the shutdown of a major newspaper in March 2016. Journalists were also detained and prosecuted in several other countries across Europe, including Russia, Macedonia and Belarus.
Online threats and intimidation
The report also highlights the escalating use of online platforms to threaten and intimidate media workers. Social media is increasingly being used as a vehicle for death threats to be issued against journalists, often by perpetrators hiding behind a veil of anonymity. In one case, Swedish reporter Skånska Dagbladet received death threats and had her personal information leaked after writing about a convicted criminal.
The internet has also been used to release private information about journalists to the public. In one case over 5,000 journalists reporting in Ukraine had their personal data leaked and subsequently faced threats and abuse.
Intimidation tactics have also been employed by government officials. In November 2016, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä sent two journalists covering an alleged conflict of interest more than 20 emails accusing them of publishing falsehoods and acting unprofessionally.
What does this mean for our human rights?
If there isn’t an independent and free press, the Government can easily cover up scandals or use it promote its own agenda. The public have a right to be informed about news journalists discover, and reporters have a right to protect their sources – and that’s part of our human rights. Hannah Machlin, an officer who worked on the project, explained the trends they found were concerning:
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. These trends do not bode well for 2017.
We all have a right to freedom of expression, and this includes journalists, so it’s important to know what these rights are.
Want to read more about the importance of press freedom and the right to free expression?
- Read the full report on the Mapping Media Freedom website
- Check out these seven tireless fighters for press freedom
- Take a look at how human rights protect the free press
- See five times human rights laws protected press freedom