Serving professional journalism since 1912

Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Democracy at risk in 2019

The Council of Europe has published its annual report on media freedom, Democracy at Risk: Threats and Attacks against Media Freedom in Europe, revealing that press freedom is now at its most fragile since the Cold War.

According to the report, “Journalists increasingly face obstruction, hostility and violence as they investigate and report on behalf of the public. Urgent actions backed by a determined show of political will by Council of Europe member states are now required to improve the dire conditions for media freedom and to provide reliable protections for journalists in law and practice.”

The report provides a clear but worrying picture of the worsening environment for journalism across Europe, including no fewer than 140 serious violations of press freedom in 32 Council of Europe member states during 2018. “Legal protections have been progressively weakened and denied”, says the report. “The space for the press to hold government authorities and the powerful to account has been diminished.”

In addition to providing an overview of the urgent threats to media freedom identified in 2018, the report takes an in-depth look at particular issues or country contexts that individual partner organisations have identified as especially salient during the past year. Turkey, which remains the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, and Russia, where state actions and policies continue to severely restrict the space for free expression, are major causes of concern for the Council of Europe.

Oligarchs

However, the countries which have seen the sharpest increase in the number of media alerts are Italy and Hungary. In the latter, there is a very high concentration of media in the hands of pro-government oligarchs. But the report also assesses disturbing new trends, including impunity for journalists’ murders, attacks on freelance journalists, and efforts to undermine the independence of public service media, including in countries once considered safe harbours for such media.

The Council of Europe is calling on member states to urgently take “all measures necessary to create a favourable environment for free and independent media and to end the many acts of violence, harassment and intimidation which journalists face as a daily reality in some member states.”

The report has been produced by the Council of Europe in partnership with 12 international media organisations including the International News Safety Institute (of which the Chartered Institute of Journalists was a co-founder), Reporters Without Borders, Index on Censorship and the Rory Peck Trust.

To download a copy of the report, go to: www.coe.int/en/web/media-freedom

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Council of Europe. Based in Strasbourg, the organisation was formed in 1949 “to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe”. It currently has 47 member states, including the United Kingdom and all the nations of the European Union. It is often confused with the EU but is a distinct organisation. Unlike the EU, the Council of Europe cannot make binding laws, but it does have the power to enforce international agreements reached by European states on various topics. The best known body of the Council of Europe is the European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights. Further information: www.coe.int