European Federation of Journalists

WPFD: EFJ calls on European governments to take action

Picture credit: Unesco.

On World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) on Monday 3 May, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) has stressed the need for concrete actions from European governments to defend and protect media freedom. 69 journalists are currently in prison in Europe, just for doing their job. The EFJ calls on states to fulfil their commitments and obligations to protect journalists and media independence and pluralism.

The recent report by the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Protection of Journalism shows a worrying deterioration in the working conditions of journalists across Europe: more than 200 serious press freedom violations were recorded in the 47 member states of the Council of Europe in 2020. Two journalists lost their lives last year, in Russia and Albania. And two more have already been murdered in the first four months of 2021, in Turkey and Greece.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, governments across Europe adopted emergency laws and regulations that also imposed extraordinary restrictions on journalists’ activities. In addition, journalists are increasingly working in a hostile environment: in 2020, a record number of alerts submitted to the Council of Europe Platform concerned physical attacks (52 cases) and harassment or intimidation (70 cases).

The EFJ calls on the European governments:

  • to realease immediately the 69 journalists currently in prison in Turkey (43), Belarus (11), Russia (10), Azerbaijan (4) and the United Kingdom (1);
  • to fully implement the 2016 Council of Europe Recommendation for the protection of journalism (member states should facilitate reforms of laws and practices, including national security, defamation and access to information provisions, ensuring full participation by journalists’ unions and associations);
  • to apply best practice regarding police protection of journalists’ safety at public events, legal provisions against obstruction of media workers, de-escalation mechanisms, and effective complaints procedures so that abuses are prosecuted or lead to disciplinary actions;
  • to enact laws and institutional safeguards to prosecute and deter online abuse against journalists; taking particular care to counter targeted abuse against female media workers;
  • to put an end to the criminalisation of journalism and abuse of the criminal law by state actors, including by ensuring strict judicial independence and oversight of law enforcement;
  • to take action against abusive legal actions, or strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPPs), by adopting a specific legislation on the protection of the right to freedom of expression and unfettered public participation from the threat of abusive and vexatious legal proceedings;
  • to address impunity for crimes against journalists (transparent, credible and effective investigations and prosecutions should lead to the punishment of all those responsible for crimes against journalists);
  • to appeal to the United Nations, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Union, so that the international community intensifies pressure and takes action in the face of constant violations of human rights and press freedom in Belarus.

“Most European countries are not living up to their international commitments to protect press freedom,” the EFJ President Mogens Blicher Bjerregård said today. “They are failing in their duty to provide citizens with access to free, independent and pluralistic information. Violations of press freedom are on the increase and the international community remains dangerously passive. It is high time for action.”

“The situation is particularly worrying in Belarus,” added EFJ Director Renate Schroeder. “We once again call on all European governments to mobilise intergovernmental organisations to put an end to the repression of the Lukashenko dictatorship. To remain passive is to be complicit in the regime’s atrocities.”