EU states told to enact laws protecting journalists, Casa: Time for action

European Commission presents irst-ever Recommendation to strengthen the safety of journalists and other media professionals

Nationalist MEP David Casa
Nationalist MEP David Casa

The European Commission has presented its first-ever Recommendation to strengthen the safety of journalists and other media professionals.

The EC’s actions for Member States to improve the safety of journalists include the creation of independent national support services, helplines, legal advice, psychological support and shelters for journalists and media professionals facing threats.

It also calls for an increased protection of journalists during demonstrations, greater online safety and particular support to female journalists.  

“No journalist should die or be harmed because of their job. We need to support and protect journalists; they are essential for democracy. The pandemic has showed more than ever the key role of journalists to inform us. And the urgent need for public authorities to do more to protect them. Today we ask Member States to take decisive action to make the EU a safer place for journalists,” Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, said.

Journalists have been facing an increasing number of attacks over the past years, including assassinations in the most tragic cases. The COVID-19 crisis has made their work even more difficult, with lower incomes, especially for freelancers, and limited access to venues.

On the occasion of her State of the Union Address, President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Information is a public good. We must protect those who create transparency – the journalists. That is why today we have put forward a recommendation to give journalists better protection.”

“If implemented, the recommendations, put forward today by the European Commission, should ensure that journalists across Europe are better protected and able to perform their job in a better way. However, the recommendations addressed by Member States are not binding,” Nationalist MEP David Casa said.

“Therefore, we will continue to insist that the European Commission publishes legislative acts which will bind all the EU government to change their laws to protect journalists.”

As the Co-Chair of the European Parliament’s Media Working Group, David Casa called for more concrete actions by the Commission.

“The statements made by the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, during the State of the Union’s speech, showed the determination of the Commission in having strong laws which really and truly protect journalists and media houses from continuous harassment. Now, I expect that these words are translated into action, which will, undoubtedly, find the European Parliament’s support.”

Casa has been insisting on anti-SLAPP laws and EU funding to support journalism. “Some of our priorities include increased EU funding, support and resources made available to journalists and media houses across Europe. Anti-SLAPP legislation is also needed urgently. This will go a long way in protecting journalists against vexatious and overly costly lawsuits.”

Recommendation on the safety of journalists

The Recommendation sets out recommendations, including ones focused on protests and demonstrations; online safety and digital empowerment; female journalists and journalists belonging to minority groups.

1. General recommendations

With an increasing number of attacks on journalists, more than 900 attacks in the EU in 2020, the Recommendation calls on Member States to vigorously investigate and prosecute all criminal acts, making full use of existing national and European legislation. Where relevant, Member States are encouraged to involve European authorities, such as Europol and Eurojust. Member States should foster better cooperation between law enforcement and media bodies to identify and address the threats faced by journalists more efficiently, and provide personal protection to journalists whose safety is at risk. It is also crucial that media have non-discriminatory access to information, including press conferences and documents held by public authorities. Furthermore, the Recommendations highlights the importance of training and of strengthening access to social protection for all media professionals.

2. Protests and demonstrations

Nearly one in three incidents occur during demonstrations, making demonstrations the most frequent place where journalists were attacked in 2020. Member States should provide regular training for law enforcement authorities to ensure that journalists and other media professionals are able to work safely and without restrictions during such events. Working together with representatives of journalists is essential to decide on the most appropriate measures, for example when it comes to the visual identification of media professionals. The nomination of liaison officers to inform journalists about potential risks, in advance of planned protests or demonstrations, is also among the recommended measures.

3. Online safety and digital empowerment

Digital and online safety has become a major concern for journalists due to online incitement to hatred, threats of physical violence, but also cybersecurity risks and illegal surveillance. Member States are encouraged to promote the cooperation between online platforms and organisations with expertise in tackling threats against journalists, for instance by encouraging their potential role as trusted flaggers. Relevant national cybersecurity bodies should, upon request, assist journalists who seek to determine whether their devices or online accounts have been compromised, in obtaining the services of cybersecurity forensic investigators. Member States should also promote a regular dialogue between such cybersecurity bodies, media and industry, in particular in view of fostering cyber-awareness and digital skills among journalists.

4. Women and minority groups journalists and those reporting on equality issues

Female journalists and journalists belonging to minority groups, as well as journalists reporting on equality issues are particularly vulnerable to threats and attacks. Female journalists face more threats than their male counterparts do and 73% declared having experienced online violence in the course of their work. The Recommendation urges Member States to support initiatives aimed at empowering women journalists and professionals belonging to minority groups and those reporting on equality issues. It encourages Member States to improve transparency and effective reporting on attacks and discrimination against these journalists and to provide them with information on how to seek assistance and support. Furthermore, the Recommendation highlights the need to foster equality and inclusion in newsrooms and the media industry as a whole, and to promote the continuous development of competences and skills in all professions relevant for the protection of journalists.

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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