Ahead of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on 2 November, High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell and Vice-President Věra Jourová issued the following statement:
“A few weeks ago, Maria Ressa and Dimitri Mouratov received the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize as a recognition of their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression. With their reporting, they have uncovered human rights violations, corruption and abuse of power, thereby putting their lives at risk.
Unfortunately, the stories and voices of many independent journalists continue to be silenced all over the world, including in the EU. They face an increasing number of threats and attacks, including assassinations in the most tragic cases. According to the UNESCO observatory, 44 journalists have so far been killed in 2021 and many more were attacked, harassed or unlawfully imprisoned.
Independent journalists protect freedom of expression and guarantee access to information for all citizens. They contribute to the foundations of democracy and open societies. Be it at home or around the globe, the impunity for crimes against journalists must end.
Work needs to start at home. The first-ever Recommendation to Member States on safety of journalists is a concrete step to improve the situation for journalists and media workers within our Union. This includes increasing protection of journalists during demonstrations, greater online safety or support to female journalists.
The many initiatives taken for journalists’ safety within the EU will be reflected in the EU’s action around the world.
Throughout 2021, the EU has continued to raise its voice when journalists are under threat across the world. Hundreds of journalists received support through the EU Human Rights defenders tools and many media workers benefited from opportunities for professional training. Increased resources are being earmarked to support independent media, and to develop professional skills of journalists working in difficult situations.
We will stand by and protect journalists, no matter where they are. We will continue supporting a free and diverse media environment, supporting collaborative and cross-border journalism, and tackling violations of media freedom. There is no democracy without media freedom and pluralism. An attack on media is an attack on democracy.”
The EU is still considered one of the safest places for journalists. Yet, the number of threats and attacks against them have been on the rise in the past years with the most tragic cases being assassinations of journalists. In 2020, 908 journalists and media workers were attacked in 23 EU Member States. 175 journalists and media workers fell victims of attacks or incidents during protests in the EU. Digital and online safety has become a major concern for journalists due to online incitement to hatred, threats of physical violence. Female journalists are particularly vulnerable to threats and attacks with 73% declaring having experienced online violence in the course of their work.
On 16 September, the European Commission issued the first-ever Recommendation for the Protection, Safety and Empowerment of Journalists. The Recommendation includes a set of concrete actions, such as joint coordination centres, support services for victims and early warning mechanisms. It also envisages reinforced and more effective approach to prosecution of criminal acts, cooperation with law enforcement authorities, rapid response mechanisms as well as economic and social protection. It proposes actions to better protect journalists during protests and demonstration, addresses online and cyber-threats threats and draws particular attention to threats against female journalists. It aims at ensuring safer working conditions for all media professionals, free from fear and intimidation, whether online or offline.
The Commission is working on an initiative to tackle abusive lawsuits lodged against journalists and rights defenders to prevent them from informing the public and reporting on matters of public interest (SLAPPs). The Commission will present a European Media Freedom Act in 2022, to safeguard the independence and pluralism of media.
The Commission has also recently launched a new call for proposals on media freedom and investigative journalism, representing close to €4 million in EU funding. The initiative will support two separate actions: the Europe-wide response mechanism for violations of press and media freedom, and the emergency support fund for investigative journalists and media organisations to ensure media freedom in the EU.
The EU works around the world to contribute to the safety and protection of journalists by condemning attacks, as outlined in the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy for 2020-2024. The EU assists those intimidated or threatened via the EU human rights defenders protection mechanisms and supports media initiatives and appeals to state authorities to prevent and condemn such violence and take effective measures to end impunity. EU Delegations around the world attend and monitor court cases involving journalists, helping to identify those cases that need a special attention. In the last 12 months, the EU has supported more than 400 journalists with emergency grants, temporary relocation, or support to their respective media outlets. Dedicated programmes are implemented in all regions to support independent media and journalists’ safety such as ‘COVID-19 response in Africa: together for reliable information’ or the programme ‘Safejournalists’, run by Western Balkans journalist associations.