Press freedom "fragile" in Europe, says new report

Verbal attacks and threats are on the rise in European countries once deemed safe for journalists

Journalists hold  banners and copies of Cumhuriyet daily reading "We want Justice" as they march to the courthouse from Cumhuriyet daily's headquarters on July 24, 2017 in Istanbul.
Seventeen directors and journalists from one of Turkey's most respected opposition newspapers go on trial on July 24 after spending over eight months behind bars in a case which has raised new alarm over press freedoms under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE

Press freedom in Europe is “more fragile now” than at any time since the end of the Cold War, with journalists in Europe facing increased hostility and violence, according to a new report published on Wednesday.

Efforts to undermine media integrity and attacks on freelance journalists are new “disturbing trends” particularly seen in European Union member states and countries once considered safe, said the Council of Europe’s annual report on press freedom in conjunction with Reporters Without Borders and a dozen other NGOs.

130 journalists are currently held in detention by the Council of Europe’s 47 members, including Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.

The number of verbal abuse and death threats to journalists doubled year-on-year in 2018.

Italy saw the sharpest rise in alerts to potential violations against media freedom.

Russia “severely restrict the space for free expression" for journalists, while concern was raised over Hungary and Turkey.

Public service media is also under “blatant” attack, said the Council of Europe.

Surprisingly, Denmark is highlighted as a country where public service channels are at high risk. Denmark’s centre-right coalition government, reliant on extreme right-wing support to pass legislation, slashed funding and investment for DR, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.

Luxembourg and Switzerland were also mentioned as places where government interference with public service broadcasters happened.

“The presence in this report of Denmark, Luxembourg and Switzerland – three countries with long-standing democratic traditions – is another indication that media freedom, independence and pluralism is under growing pressure almost everywhere”.

The Council urged for states to take immediate action “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”.