Europe: Council of Europe report highlights need for independent journalism

The Council of Europe Platform for Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists, together with the International and European and Federations of Journalists (IFJ/EFJ) and other partner organisations, launched the 2023 Annual Report: 'War in Europe and the Fight for the Right to Report' on 7 March in Brussels.

Credit: IFJ

The report discusses the impact of the war in Ukraine, and the need for robust and independent journalism. It highlights the need for Member States to harmonise their laws, and the danger of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), as well as the case of Belarus, impunity, detentions of journalists and restrictive legislation. Other topics mentioned are the stakes surrounding public service media, media capture, and the issue of surveillance and spyware.

A total of 289 alerts in 37 countries were reported in 2022. The report urges Member States of the Council of Europe to be more proactive, calling on the COE to “encourage member states to take measures to effectively address concerns and recommendations for reform”. It also asks the European institutions to adopt the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) and give more visibility and recognition of positive measures taken by EU member states. 

In 2022, out of the 289 alerts sent to the platform, 13 concerned journalists killed in Europe, the highest death toll ever recorded since the launch of the platform in 2015. “12 in Ukraine and one in Turkey, that it is the highest death toll since the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in 2015 in Paris,” IFJ Head of Safety and Human Rights Ernest Sagaga said, adding that the war on journalism goes beyond killing journalists.

In 2022, 35 previous cases were still unresolved, 26 of which concern impunity for murder cases. Beyond impunity in such cases, many arbitrary arrests and detentions were also recorded. At the end of 2022, a record number of 127 journalists were behind bars in Europe.

The case of imprisoned Georgian investigative journalist Nika Gvaramia was also highlighted, through Sofia Liluashvili, his wife, who was present. Sofia urged the member states to fight against impunity and unlawful arrests and detentions, saying: “Nika is not only a political prisoner and my husband, he is a victim of the Russian regime. […] He is in prison just because he wants freedom for our country and fights for democracy.” 

In terms of SLAPPs and abusive legal actions against journalists, Flutura Kusari of the ECPMF said the use of such legal actions are aimed at silencing the media who "are forced to invest a lot of time, energy and money instead of doing what they are supposed to do: journalism.” The report called on Member States to harmonise their legislations, and to start taking action against SLAPPs.

On media capture, the Platform documented how state economic and regulatory powers are abused to ‘capture’ public and private media to turn them into propaganda arms of governing parties. Media capture represents a real danger to media pluralism and media freedom in Europe.


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