European Federation of Journalists

EU: No real progress in protecting journalists, contrary to what a European study claims

Vice-President of the European Commission Vera Jourova presented the EU Recommendation on September 16, 2021. Credits: François Walschaerts / AFP.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) radically disputes the conclusions of a study commissioned by the European Commission to assess the implementation of the EU Recommendation on the protection, safety and empowerment of journalists. The report points to supposed progress that in fact remains marginal, if not ineffective.

On 3 May, the European Commission published the study carried out by Intellera Consulting, Open Evidence and PwC assessing the efforts made by EU Member States since the publication in 2021 of the highly relevant EU Recommendation on the Safety of Journalists. According to the EU press release, “EU countries show progress in taking measures to improve journalists’ safety”, which is radically disputed by the EFJ.

The press release states that “since the Recommendation was adopted in 2021, most Member States (19 out of 27) have either adopted a dedicated Action Plan (Denmark, Lithuania, Sweden) or created a dedicated structure or committee (Greece, Latvia, Italy). The majority also either have or are planning to put in place a comprehensive governance supporting the safety of journalists”.

The executive summary of the study states that “eight EU Member States (Croatia, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Sweden) have established a specific governance system, eight (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain) have adopted initiatives only covering specific aspects of the Recommendation (e.g. ensuring the safety of journalists covering protests and demonstrations), while three (Cyprus, Slovakia, Malta) are currently in the process of developing a governance framework. Among eight Member States with established governance systems, three (Denmark, Lithuania, Sweden) have adopted a dedicated Action Plan and three (Greece, Latvia, Italy) have adopted a more “practical” approach with the creation of a dedicated structure. Greece and Latvia have created a dedicated Task Force, while Ireland introduced a Media Engagement Group (MEG). Finally, in two countries – Croatia and the Netherlands – dedicated protocols ensuring the safety of journalists have been adopted.”

“It is quite shocking that this study notes progress in the measures taken by the governments of most of the EU member states,” reacted EFJ GS Ricardo Gutiérrez. “It is clear that the evaluators, who know nothing about journalism, are out of touch with the realities experienced by journalists in Europe. The report often confines itself to a quantitative approach, without really seeking to assess the quality of government initiatives, as is the case for the so-called task force set up by the Greek government”.

Another cause for concern is the study’s observation that it is allegedly difficult to set up mechanisms for monitoring press freedom violations at national level, even though mechanisms are proving effective at European level (MFRR Platform, Council of Europe platform).

The EFJ nevertheless welcomes some of the factual findings of the study:

  • Journalist associations are “at the forefront of training”: the study highlights a clear pre-eminence of journalist associations in delivering training for journalists. Consultations show that media professionals can find training within 16 EU Member States (the study also notes that many training initiatives are not supported either by the public authorities or by companies in the sector);
  • Social and economic protection measures are currently limited, particularly for freelance journalists. “Dedicated social or economic protection for journalists is still in the early stages, indicating a need for more comprehensive measures”;
  • Cooperation among stakeholders remains a work in progress, with only half of EU Member States establishing mechanisms for collaboration. Concrete measures to enhance personal protection, rapid response, and support mechanisms for journalists need further development;
  • A small number of Member States have developed initiatives to address online safety.

“The shortcomings of the Member States should have led the authors of the study and the European Commission to take a much less optimistic view of the situation,” said Maja Sever, EFJ President. “Freedom of the press is fundamental to our democracies. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the global inaction of governments”.