BY Anna Bevan

Council of Europe warns of media intimidation, self-censorship

Journalists in Europe are suffering violence, intimidation and self-censorship, according to a new survey by the Council of Europe.

Almost one third of those questioned said they had experienced intimidation and violence as a result of their work, which had impacted their private lives and forced many to self-censor. More than two-thirds reported suffering threats of violence, one third cited police intimidation and 53 per cent said they were subjected to online harassment.

The International News Safety Institute (INSI) was among five press freedom and media safety organisations that participated in the research, which sampled 940 journalists reporting from Council of Europe member states and Belarus.

“From physical attacks to online harassment and targeted surveillance, this report is just a snapshot of the range of tactics employed to threaten and silence journalists,” said INSI’s assistant director Anna Bevan who contributed to the study.

“It shows that risks are not just limited to war reporting and countries in conflict but affect every journalist who attempts to hold power to account.”

The survey found high levels of self-censorship among journalists. One in five said that they felt pressured to present their reports in ways that were more amenable to their employers. Many felt compelled to tone down controversial stories, withhold information or abandon stories altogether.

Almost one quarter said that over the last three years they had experienced judicial intimidation (arrest, threat of prosecution or actual prosecution), mostly through defamation laws.

“The obligation to create an environment in which journalists can work free from fear of violence and intimidation rests primarily with national authorities,” said Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe.

“They alone have the power to enact journalist-friendly legislation, to establish the conditions for a pluralist media landscape and to investigate and prosecute instances of unwarranted interference.”

Jagland called on the Council of Europe’s 47 member states to fully implement its 2016 recommendation on affording journalists protection and safety in their work "to create a climate of open debate and free speech."

The study was conducted by experts at the University of Malta and carried out with the support of the Association of European Journalists, the European Federation of Journalists, Index on Censorship, INSI and Reporters without Borders.

Image by AFP