Council of Europe chief urges governments to protect journalists to safeguard democracy

The head of the Council of Europe on Friday urged governments to protect journalists to safeguard democracy as elections are held across the continent.

“As millions of citizens in Europe and other continents vote in crucial elections in 2024, we must recall the critical role that journalists and quality media play in ensuring access to pluralist and reliable information and diverse opinions and ideas, so that we can make informed choices when exercising our democratic rights,” said Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić.

Romania is in the top third of countries where press freedom is thriving: it enjoys a „diverse and pluralistic media landscape” but held back by a lack of transparency of media financing and low public trust in the media.

In a statement to mark World Press Day, Pejčinović Burić said that without a free and independent media „democracy decays and can perish. (Journalists) are a pillar of democracy…. For edia and journalists to play their essential democratic role, they need to be able to work in a safe environment,” she added.

World Press Freedom Day is marked on May 3 every year. Its aim is to provide a platform for stakeholders to converge, exchange insights, and deliberate on the pivotal role of a free and independent press in society.

The event was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference

The World Press Freedom index which measures press freedom globally has five categories: good, satisfactory, problematic, difficult and very serious.

Norway was ranked first for the seventh year running in 2023, followed by Ireland which rose four places.

At the bottom of the list were China, the world’s biggest jailer of journalists and one of the biggest exporters of propaganda content; and North Korea in 180th position. Russia fell nine places to 164th.

Romania rose two places to 53rd last year and is in the ‘problematic’ range, although better than all its neighbors. It was praised for a diverse and pluralistic media landscape „providing fertile ground for hard-hitting public interest investigations.” This was blighted by a lack of transparency of media financing, especially from public funds which has undermined the reliability of information and the trust in the media.

The 2024 annual report of the Council of Europe’s Platform which promotes the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists shows, media freedom continues to be under constant attack in Europe, Pejčinović Burić said.

Threats include the unlawful deployment of spyware and abusive lawsuits against journalists, physical attacks, intimidation, detention, restrictive legislation, media capture and attacks on public service media.

She called on Council of Europe member states to implement the Committee of Ministers Recommendation on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors and develop national action plans as part of the Council of Europe Campaign “Journalists Matter”.

“Regarding, specifically, the growing practice of abusive lawsuits aiming to harass and silence journalists, media, and other watchdogs, member states should adopt legislative frameworks that enable everyone to participate in public debate and public affairs in safety and without fear. As a priority, they should implement the recently adopted Committee of Ministers Recommendation on the use of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs).”

To mark the 2024 Press Freedom Day, in the context of the “Journalists Matter” Campaign for the Safety of Journalists, the Council of Europe has launched the short video Protecting Journalists: Safeguarding a Pillar of Democracy.

The campaign aims to improve the protection of media freedom across the continent and to raise awareness about journalists’ role in safeguarding a democratic and pluralistic society through the adoption of national action plans and enhanced legal and institutional standards. Other goals are the setting up effective remedies at the national level to address violations of media freedom, improving the investigation of crimes against journalists, and ensuring the proper sanctioning of perpetrators.

Slovak culture ministry must withdraw public broadcasting bill that makes a mockery of European press freedoms

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