In 2021, press freedom in Europe faced another challenging year, witnessing a rise in a wide range of attacks against journalists and attempts to curtail independent outlets. ARTICLE 19 joins partner organisations of the Council of Europe’s Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists in launching an annual report examining the alarming trend of shrinking media freedom across the continent.
“Defending Press Freedom in Times of Tension and Conflict” provides an overview of alerts reported to the Platform, analyses major threats that hinder journalists’ reporting, and discusses the legal framework and measures required to improve protection of journalists.
The report opens with an analysis of the impact the invasion of Ukraine has had on press freedom. Ukrainian and foreign reporters on the ground are in an incredibly difficult position, as they have been constrained by curfews, checkpoints, and military restrictions. They are deliberately targeted, captured and even killed. Meanwhile in Russia, widespread censorship laws block reliable reporting on the war, with Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor seizing full control and ordering media outlets to base their coverage solely on official reports.
The research underscores that ‘red lights are flashing’. In 2021, 282 alerts from 35 countries were submitted to the Platform, up from 200 in 2020, an increase of 41%.
In 2021, six journalists were killed in Europe while carrying out their work. Four of them were deliberately targeted.
The report finds that journalists were increasingly exposed to physical assaults, in particular while covering protests. The number of physical attacks soared in 2021 by 51% in comparison to 2020.
In 2021, journalists continued to face legal harassment aimed at silencing their critical reporting. This harassment included detention, imprisonment (at the end of December 2021, 56 journalists and media actors were in prison in Council of Europe member states), criminal prosecution, defamation and other abusive lawsuits.
Notably, Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) were on the rise, used to discourage media and journalists from reporting on public interest topics. The report also states that journalists’ safety and work were increasingly affected by restrictive legislation, online smear campaigns, or surveillance mechanisms.
On Wednesday, April 27, the partners held a launch event at the Brussels Press Club. Click here to watch the full recording.