‘Worrying picture’: Journalists in Europe face increasing threat, press freedom group warns | Press freedom
The murder of a high-profile Greek journalist last week marks the fourth murder of a reporter in Europe in the last five years and has underscored growing concerns about a steady decline in freedom of the press in several EU Member States.
Giorgos Karaivaz, who covered crime stories on the private Star TV channel, was hit on Friday by at least six shots from a 9mm pistol fired by a passenger on a motorcycle outside his home in Athens.
“It’s a worrying picture,” said Pavol Szalai, head of the EU / Balkans office at Reporters Without Borders (RSF). “Europe remains the safest place in the world to be a journalist, but pressures – and risks – are mounting.”
Karaivaz’s murder came five years after investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in Malta in 2017 and four years after Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová were found shot dead outside their home in Slovakia.
In April 2019, 29-year-old campaign journalist and writer Lyra McKee was shot dead while covering rioting in Derry, Northern Ireland. Paul McIntyre, 53, has been charged with murder, arson and kidnapping. He denies the charges.
Seven men have admitted or were charged with the murder of Caruana Galizia, a columnist and investigator whose blog focused on political corruption, money laundering and organized crime in Malta, but it is still unclear who was behind her murder.
A former soldier was convicted of the murder of Kuciak, who investigated tax fraud committed by businessmen associated with leading Slovak politicians and his fiancée. The alleged mastermind, developer Marián Kočner, was acquitted. An appeal is filed against the judgment.
“The murder of a journalist is a despicable, cowardly act,” tweeted the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, last week. “Europe stands for freedom. And freedom of the press may be the most sacred of all. Journalists must be able to work safely. “
Greek police have not yet confirmed that Karaivaz was killed for his work, but the professional nature of his murder and the fact that he is investigating organized crime make it “very likely,” Szalai said.
RSF cites a decline in the rule of law, an increase in violent attacks and an increase in online threats as one of the main concerns of media freedom in Europe. Particular attention is drawn to a “subtle and methodical attack on press freedom” in Hungary, which inspires similar tactics in Poland and Slovenia.
In Hungary, which Szalai described as the “counter-model” for freedom of the press in Europe, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán used the pandemic to take full power. Anyone convicted of publishing “fake news” can now face up to five years in prison.
The move provides another means for authorities to put pressure on independent media, RSF said in its 2020 report, which ranked Hungary 89th out of 180 countries in its global press freedom index after a series of previous media control measures.
RSF said in Poland, ranked 62nd on its index, that government control over the judiciary has affected freedom of the press. Some courts are now relying on Article 212 of the Criminal Code, which allows journalists to be sentenced to up to one year in prison for defamation.
The organization has described a veritable “authorities’ crusade against the media” in southern European countries such as Bulgaria (111th), Montenegro (105th) and Albania (84th), with journalists criticizing the authorities being suspended, detained and harassed .
In Western Europe, RSF was more alarmed by the increase in cases of violence against journalists during demonstrations – both by police officers and demonstrators – and in countries such as Germany, France, Spain and Greece.
Several journalists in France, ranked 34th in the 2020 RSF Index, have been hit or injured by lightning balls and tear gas grenades fired by police, others have been attacked by angry protesters, while supporters of far-right groups in Spain and Greece have deliberately attacked targeted journalists for violent assault.
“This is also a trend of growing concern – violence against journalists and arbitrary arrests,” said Szalai.
The organization also lists online threats such as harassment, trolling and government surveillance that undermine the work of journalists across the continent, even in countries where freedom is valued.
“The EU has called for media freedoms to be strengthened,” said Szalai. “But Orbán in particular was not prevented from restricting the freedom of the press. It is important that Europe lives up to its responsibilities and improves protection for all journalists. “