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AEJ Media Freedom Reports

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AEJ and the Council of Europe

The AEJ takes part in the policy work of the Council of Europe (CoE) on key issues of media freedom as a participant in the Steering Committee on Media and Information Society and the Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists. It works on behalf of its members across Europe to hold the CoE and its 47 member states to their commitments on media freedom and freedom of expression.

The Platform went live on 2 April 2015 and was formally presented to the public on 19 May. In those seven weeks, 47 alerts had been submitted and some responses had already been given. By the end of the year, the number of alerts had risen to 107, 53 government responses had been received and the first four cases had been closed.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Article 19 and Reporters without Borders are the other four partner organisations in this project.

More broadly, the AEJ has challenged member states to put aside narrow state interests to better protect the lives and rights of journalists who work to hold power to account. The CoE's Committee of Ministers acknowledged the threat to European democracy that stems from restrictions on press freedom in its Declaration of 13 January 2010 and Decision of 18 January 2012.

Already in 2009, AEJ Media Freedom Representative William Horsley wrote the Respect for Media Freedom Report for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), chronicling the killings of 20 journalists in the previous three years and a widespread pattern of violence and abuse of state power directed at journalists because of their work.

Governments failed to fulfil their pledge at the 2009 Ministerial Conference in Reykjavik to review anti-terrorism laws and practices to ensure compliance with Council of Europe norms and standards. Many journalists are being unlawfully prosecuted and jailed because state secrecy and terrorism laws are misused for political purposes in CoE member states. They have now committed themselves to comply with the European Convention through a new set of political commitments (Recommendation of 14 April 2016).

The explicit protest of many of the world's leading human rights organisations thus continues to be ignored. That heavy responsibility rests with member states.

The AEJ supports other CoE campaigns, including anti-discrimination in the media (since 2009). William Horsley and Zdenko Duka (Croatia) have taken part in meetings on related themes.

The news to the right on this page will keep our records up to date with developments.

Anniversary of the ECHR

William Horsley's message to the British Institute of Human Rights on 3 September 2013:

The 60th anniversary of the Convention should indeed be celebrated by people across Europe and beyond, and it should be an occasion to counter a lot of hostile and ignorant attacks on the Convention itself, as well as the Court of Human Rights and its work. It is a good time to recall that the Court’s rulings have helped Britain to improve its patchy human rights record on issues where political or popular opinion had seemed implacably opposed to change, like banning corporal punishment and sweeping stop and search powers for the police.

Recent events in the UK as well as elsewhere have shown again that the Strasbourg court is an absolutely vital safeguard against attempts by the state – including in the UK – to exceed its legitimate powers in matters of justice and security. Journalists should especially be mindful that rulings of the ECtHR have strengthened their legal rights to investigate and disclose injustices – from the Sunday Times's thalidomide ruling in the 1970s to other landmark cases giving protection to journalists when reporting matters of public interest or resisting the demands of courts to reveal confidential sources. The Convention and the Court are one of the few defences against the worst kinds of injustice and abuse of state power, many of which we are witnessing in the present day, and which today’s political leaders are often proving themselves too weak and shallow to take action against.



Council of Europe Platform Reports

The Platform includes 14 international media freedom groups and journalists’ organisations –the AEJ, Article 19, Committee to Protect Journalists, EBU, EFJ/IFJ, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, Free Press Unlimited, Index on Censorship, INSI, IPI, PEN International, Reporters Without Borders, Rory Peck Trust .


Media Freedom Report 2021
The 2021 annual report on media freedom by the Council of Europe platform for the protection and safety of journalists notes a strong rise in reports of violence against journalists as well as censorship and reprisals for questioning government policies. At the same time, quality media face serious economic challenges and many journalists have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The report says extraordinary damage was inflicted on free and independent journalism in 2020 as governments across Europe adopted emergency laws and regulations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic that also imposed extraordinary restrictions on journalists’ activities. It says these represent arbitrary interferences in the legitimate work of journalists and news organisations and place excessive limitations on the fundamental rights of people across Europe to enjoy access to uncensored information freely and from diverse sources. The Council of Europe platform for the protection and safety of journalists joins the AEJ and 13 other journalistic and NGO partner organisations in a Europe-wide “rapid response mechanism” to issue real-time online media freedom alerts. The AEJ, Article 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the European Federation of Journalists and the International Press Institute form the core editorial team for the report which is the collective work of all 14 partner organisations. Please see here for the full report and here for the press conference marking the launch.



AEJ action on media freedom
The AEJ has played an active part with other media freedom organisations throughout 2020 to highlight attempts by some European states to use the covid pandemic as a pretext to suppress independent media voices. And in a number of cases forced governments to reverse their actions or take account of public criticism of attempts to constrain media freedom. A report on these actions is available here from William Horsley, AEJ media freedom representative and UK chairman.


Covid-19 pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has marked a worrying new wave of serious threats and attacks on media freedom in Europe says the 2020 annual report of the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists. The fourteen member press freedom organisations document how several Council of Europe member states have detained journalists for critical reporting, vastly expanded surveillance, and passed new laws to punish “fake news” even as they decide themselves what is allowable and what is false without the oversight of appropriate independent bodies. The report – available in full here – says these threats risk a tipping point in the fight to preserve a free media in Europe and aggravate an already gloomy outlook. It warns that attacks on press freedom in Europe risk creating a new normal as the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated a growing pattern of intimidation to silence journalists on the continent. These attacks underscore the report’s urgent wake-up call for Council of Europe member states to act quickly and resolutely to end the assault against press freedom, so that journalists and other media actors can report without fear. The international media freedom groups and journalists’ organisations warn of a growing pattern of intimidation to silence journalists on the continent through attacks, intimidation, media ‘capture’ and sweeping emergency laws that are open to abuse and severely restrict the media’s ability to hold state power to account.



Press freedom more fragile than ever..
Even inside the EU. 
The latest annual report from the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists – which includes the AEJ - paints a disturbing picture of media freedom:
Across Europe journalists are intimidated and attacked.
Murders of journalists go unpunished.
Freedom of media - a cornerstone of democracy - is under threat.
The report blames an atmosphere of impunity, weakened institutions and lack of accountability - and calls for urgent action by the Council of Europe, the European Union and their Member States. Please see here for the report, this link to the Platform, and this background on the AEJ International website. The 12 partner organisations in the platform in 2019 were: European Federation of Journalists, International Federation of Journalists, Association of European Journalists, Article 19, Reporters Without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists, Index on Censorship, International Press Institute, International News Safety Institute, Rory Peck Trust, European Broadcasting Union and PEN International.



World Press Freedom Day 2021

Marking World Press Freedom Day 2021 on May 3, the secretarys general of both the United Nations and the Council of Europe called for urgent action to stop threats to media freedom. AEJ UK chairman and AEJ international media freedom representative William Horsley has this commentary - The Media Freedom Fightback Gets Stronger. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the coronavirus pandemic and its severe impact on media revenues could lead to a “media extinction event”. The Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić expressed concern about attacks on journalists and limitations to press freedom in many parts of Europe in a joint statement with Germany’s federal minister of justice and consumer protection, Christine Lambrecht, representing the German presidency of the Council of Europe’s committee of ministers. Earlier Ms. Pejčinović Burić urged European governments to show stronger political will to protect journalists and independent journalism as she marked the release of the its annual report on media freedom of the Council of Europe Platform for the protection and safety of journalists. AEJ UK chairman and AEJ international media freedom representative William Horsley contributed a personal message of support for editor and journalist Maria Ressa in the Philippines as part of an innovative and unprecedented global solidarity campaign led by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the #HoldTheLine coalition. Their website features hundreds of videos from prominent supporters around the world - with a call for public contributions - that will stream on a continuous loop until all charges are dropped against Ressa and the media outlet Rappler she founded. Ressa faces a possible lifetime in prison in the Philippines. She was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2018 and won this year’s UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. This year marks exactly 30 years since the landmark “Windhoek Declaration” when African journalists set out three key demands – for media freedom, media independence and media pluralism - that laid the foundation for a United Nations global campaign proclaiming the date as World Press Freedom Day. Then, South Africa’s apartheid regime was crumbling and the Cold War was becoming history in Europe. This year, World Press Freedom Day is hosted in Namibia and key themes include the survival of independent and local media, enforcing the responsibilities of internet giants, and public media literacy in the face of the “disinfodemic” and persecution of journalists through anti-media “fake news” laws.


AEJ Hungary defends media independence

The AEJ Hungarian Section marked World Press Freedom Day with a broadside against the government’s attempts to stifle media independence and a fresh call for the European Union to use stronger means to counteract the hostile propaganda of Hungary’s pro-government media.


Justice for Daphne?

There may be a possible glimmer of hope for justice in the killing of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. One of three previously accused men, Vincent Muscat – believed to have been the hitman - has been sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty in a plea bargain deal. On the same day, Feb.23 2021, police arrested three new suspects - two of them have been charged with supplying the car bomb in Caruana Galizia’s assassination in October 2017. Her son Matthew told the AEJ: “What has happened is a step from no to partial justice. The homicide squad has done a good job, but there are severe problems with Malta’s capacity to fight corruption.” Police claimed all suspects in the case have now been arrested but it’s widely suspected that Caruana Galizia’s assassination involved both organized crime and members of Malta’s elite. Her blog uncovering political corruption in Malta earned her a reputation as a one-woman WikiLeaks. And her murder mired Malta’s ruling Labour party in political scandal. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat resigned in 2019 over allegations that members of his administration had tried to sabotage the police investigation. AEJ President Saia Tsaousidou described the new arrests as “half-good news, but not more than that.”

The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ-EFJ) welcomed Muscat’s guilty plea and urged Malta’s authorities to continue to pursue others involved in her murder. The AEJ has worked consistently with other media freedom organizations to focus attention on the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia and AEJ media freedom representative William Horsley was instrumental in the publication of the last interview with her.


Concerns about UK government media management
The AEJ joined widespread criticism of the new UK government’s attempts to control and manage media access, tactics that echo Donald Trump. And it called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to end at once its restrictive and partisan media policies.
“The UK government has laid itself open to the charge of hypocrisy,” said William Horsley, the AEJ’s Media Freedom Representative and AEJ UK chair, “by seeking to evade the robust media scrutiny of its actions by independent media that is essential in an open society, while it also claims to be acting as a champion of media freedom to the rest of the world.”
More than 60,000 people signed an online petition urging the government to stop blocking media scrutiny.

On Feb. 3 2020 - the first working day after the UK officially left the EU – all British political journalists at an official briefing arranged at the Downing Street residence of the prime minister walked out to protest the government’s decision to separate and exclude critical media on an arbitrary basis. The prime minister’s staff had invited selected political journalists to a “technical briefing” on Boris Johnson’s plans for a trade deal with the EU. When other members of the Westminster “lobby” – full-time political journalists based in the Houses of Parliament – showed up as well, the group was told only those invited could go in and the rest should leave. All the journalists present including those specifically invited then walked out. The prime minister’s aides claimed favoured journalists are routinely being granted special access to some press briefings a part of an “inner lobby” while others, essentially those considered opponents of the government, are excluded. That even included Press Association, the UK’s national news agency.
“We reserve the right to brief whoever we like, whenever we like”, said Lee Cain, the prime minister’s communications director.

The political editor of Fleet Street tabloid Daily Mirror,  Pippa Crerar, called the exclusion “sinister and sad”.

Answering questions in the House of Commons the prime minister claimed he loved journalism – he was once sacked from a reporting job at The Times for making up a quote.

The dispute had been simmering for months as Boris Johnson was repeatedly accused of evading scrutiny during the election campaign late in 2019. During six months in power the prime minister’s aides have imposed tighter restrictions on ministers’ contacts with the media, boycotted specific media and programs, and sought to bypass mainstream media altogether by delivering messages directly to the public in their own way - such as Johnson’s “address to the nation” to mark the UK’s departure from the EU on 31 January, filmed and released by his own staff instead of a national TV network. Downing Street staff were said to be furious after the BBC and some other networks declined to air clips from the message in their live programmes marking the actual moment of Brexit last Friday night. Downing Street’s broader attempts to change media management prompted this reporting by The New York Times and this discussion on BBC Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster (from 21 minutes in) - along with widespread other coverage.

In early January 2020 political journalists based in Parliament, known as the Lobby, raised concerns about changing rules for briefings. And a week later the editors of all UK national newspapers as well as leading regional, online and broadcast media called on Boris Johnson to reverse the new rules. A letter from the Society of Editors said the changes would “hamper the workings of a free press”.
In reference to his comment about hypocrisy, the AEJ’s William Horsley noted that the UK hosted a major Global Media Freedom Conference in London in July 2019 and the UK has assumed a leading role in a 33-nation Media Freedom Coalition whose publicly stated goals are to ensure that international and UN-sanctioned standards related to media freedom are upheld by the countries making up the Coalition themselves. The 33 states announced their intention to apply significant pressure on other states by diplomatic and other means to encourage them to discard repressive laws and practices that stifle of arbitrarily restrict press freedom. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says he wants to ensure that the UK imposes harsh sanctions on individuals found to be responsible for serious abuses of fundamental rights.

Media Freedom in the Commonwealth?
It’s never been so bad, ” says the publisher of Africa Today. Nigerian journalist Kayode Soyinka thus summed up the wide consensus that emerged from a media freedom panel discussion during the Taking Stock of the Commonwealth day-long global webinar on 24 June. The event was organised by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies as a “virtual tour of the Commonwealth and its challenges” and took place on the exact date when the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) had been due to open in Rwanda. The biennial summit was postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. For more please see this report from AEJ UK chairman and international media freedom representative William Horsley.

AEJ conference and call for media freedom
The international Association of European Journalists opened its annual conference on Friday Dec. 6 2019 in Paris. Europe is no longer a completely safe place for journalists or media freedom and panel discussions will highlight the acute threats and the vital role of the media in the democratic process with conclusions and recommendations from the meeting to be communicated to the relevant authorities in UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the European Union. For one example of the issues being faced please see this presentation on failing media freedoms in Poland from Krzysztof Bobinski of the AEJ Poland. The conference is also leading a call to respect press freedom and journalistic independence from all the national sections of the AEJ, Reporters Without Borders, the European Federation of Journalists, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, and the South East Europe Media Organisation.

AEJ co-signs open Letter for upgraded efforts to protect media freedom
The AEJ has co-signed a letter to the new Council of Europe Secretary-General for upgraded measures to stop criminalizing and demonising journalists, counter the toxic atmosphere of hostility to the media, and stamp out impunity. For more please see the AEJ International website..

AEJ Bulgaria makes a Declaration for ethical journalism
More than one hundred Bulgarian journalists and leading media outlets have called on local politicians to cease legitimising the yellow press that pours praise on those in power and harms all who criticize them while receiving financial incentives to do so.

AEJ joins call for new European Commission President to prioritize press freedom
The AEJ joined the Committee to Protect Journalists and others to ask the new President of the European Commission to make key media issues a policy priority for the EU. The AEJ is among 20 media and press freedom organisations urging Ursula von der Leyen to take action on media freedom, journalists’ safety and access to public information. For more please see this on the AEJ International website.

Media Freedom Promises Not Credible Without Action
The AEJ joined a total of 33 media freedom groups calling on governments to ensure the protection and safety of all journalists and media workers as the first Global Media Freedom Conference opened in London in July 2019. Please see this report on the conference from AEJ member and former BBC World Service editor Firdevs Robinson. The group including the AEJ, representing and working with hundreds of thousands of journalists and media workers around the world, made their call on July 9 in advance of the first major international conference on media freedom, hosted by the foreign ministers of Canada and the United Kingdom. Several states attending the conference currently have journalists in prison and unsolved murders. The 33 media freedom groups demand all states hold themselves accountable and show demonstrable progress on complying with their existing obligations and international standards. The AEJ UK and the AEJ Bulgaria attended the conference. For the conference agenda and participants please see here and more at these links:
New threats to journalism blog from BBC media editor Amol Rajan
The Canary’s take on Russian “news” outlets RT and Sputnik banned from conference
More irony from The Canary on human rights lawyer Amal Clooney v. Jeremy Hunt
BBC Director General Tony Hall re “Assault on Truth”

World Press Freedom Day
AEJ Sections joined journalists across Europe to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3 2019 paying tribute to courageous journalists and demanding safe working environments. Please see the AEJ International site for details on various events – in particular a report from Armenia a year after the Velvet Revolution there and notes about Bulgaria. In the UK the AEJ has responded jointly with Index on Censorship to urge the British government to rethink its proposals for new, wide-ranging regulation of “online harms” which could have damaging impacts on media freedom. Please see here for more.

Assange case raises major questions
The arrest in London in 2019 of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has far-reaching implications for press freedom, the public’s right to know, and public trust in journalism writes William Horsley, AEJ UK chairman and AEJ Media Freedom Representative.

RSF 2019 World Press Freedom Index – Increased Danger
The 2019 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF-Reporters Without Borders) shows fewer countries are safe for journalists and an increase in violence and danger. Norway is ranked the safest for the third year running, Finland is second and Sweden is third. The UK rose seven places to number 33 but RSF notes: “Despite improvements in some areas and the presence of a robust independent media, the UK remained one of the worst-ranked Western European countries in the World Press Freedom Index, largely due to a heavy-handed approach towards the press, often in the name of national security.” And the United States ranks 48th, down three places “as a result of an increasingly hostile climate that goes beyond Donald Trump’s comments... Never before have US journalists been subjected to so many death threats or turned so often to private security firms for protection.” Please see here for the full report.

Safety for journalists?
The UK House of Commons has hosted a key event on growing concerns about safety for journalists ahead of a planned international conference later in the year on media freedom. On 25 March 2019, the Foreign Policy Centre and the Justice for Journalists Foundation invited four panellists to examine the issue of safety and justice and possible solutions - chair John Whittingdale MP, former Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, panellists Maria Ordzhonikidze, Director of Justice for Journalists Foundation, Professor Philip Leach, Director, European Human Rights Advocacy Centre, Rebecca Vincent, UK Director of Reporters Without Borders, and Joy Hyvarinen, Head of Advocacy at Index on Censorship.
For more please see this report from AEJ member Firdevs Robinson.

AEJ calls for justice and investigation in Slovakia murder
The AEJ joined nine other international organisations concerned about press freedom and freedom of expression to call for an investigation into the state authorities in Slovakia over the failure to prevent the murder of a Slovak investigative journalist. The appeal marks the first anniversary of the mafia-style killing of Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova on 21 February 2018.  The European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee has adopted a resolution calling for the Slovak government to ensure the safety of journalists and expressed concern about “allegations of corruption, conflict of interest and impunity in Slovakia’s circles of power”. The media freedom organisations representing thousands of journalists and human rights activists across Europe have welcomed the arrests of suspects who have been charged in connection with Kuciak’s and Kusnirova’s murder but have urged the Slovak authorities to examine their responsibility in failing to prevent the assassinations. A few months before he was killed Kuciak reported threats against him. The state is obliged to protect the life of journalists under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the media freedom organisations say so far there has been no adequate investigation of possible state breaches of its protective obligation. They are calling for answers to the following questions:
- whether Slovakia knew, or ought to have known, of a present and immediate threat to his life;
- which steps, if any, have they taken to protect Kuciak from that threat;
- and what will be done to protect Slovak journalists in the future.
The full text of the appeal and list of signatories is on the AEJ International website.