The European Commission launched a dialogue on the protection of journalists in the EU with a wide range of stakeholders, including journalists and their associations, news media companies, representatives of media councils, European Parliament, Member States and regulatory authorities as well as international partners. The dialogue ran until 25 March within the framework of the European News Media Forum.
It is a central step in preparation of the Commission’s Recommendation to Member States on ensuring the protection of journalists (online and offline) and tackling gender and minority-based attacks in the EU. The Recommendation will be adopted later this year. The urgency of tackling issues related to safety of journalists is once again tragically evident, after Giorgos Karaivaz, a veteran Greek television journalist who specialised in reporting on crime was shot dead on April 9 near his home in Athens.
The Forum was organised in four modules, corresponding to the main aspects of journalists’ safety (unrestrained operation of journalists and addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the journalistic community, physical safety of journalists, online threats and digital empowerment, gender-based attacks and supporting journalists representing minorities).
CMFE attended the third module dedicated to “Journalists and equality – Addressing gender-based attacks and supporting journalists representing minorities”. The dialogue was opened by a Keynote address from Helena Dalli, Commissioner for Equality, European Commission, who stressed that the Commission plans to address under EU law hate crimes online and offline, in particular gender-based ones. The 2020 Media Pluralism Monitor confirmed that digital safety has become a major concern for journalists, reporting that online threats are faced by journalists in 23 of 30 analysed countries. Journalists are not only targets of hate speech (including threats of violence) but are also subject to illegal surveillance, email hacking, denial of service attacks, or cyberbullying. In some cases, those digital attacks against journalists have a coordinated character. Likewise, attacks can appear to be organised: individual journalists are singled out online and repeatedly attacked over an extended period, also by means of tags and bots. It is also reported that journalists who cover specific topics, in particular migration and feminism, are more likely to be the victims of online harassment than their colleagues. Matthew Caruana Galizia, Director of the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, delivered a powerful closing address, re-iterating what other speakers had also stated: the European Union must enforce respect of the rule of law by its Member States.
The Forum and the Recommendation are part of a broader set of actions to address the threats to media freedom and pluralism in the EU, as announced in the European Democracy Action Plan and to journalists in particular, together with an initiative to curb the abusive use of lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs). This is also linked to the Action Plan to support recovery and transformation of the media and audiovisual sectors in the EU.