Efforts to end violence against journalists must be stepped up

Today, the European Commission adopted its 'Recommendation on ensuring safety of journalists in the European Union'. The EESC's Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law (FRRL) Group welcomes this move, which aims to ensure better implementation of the Council of Europe's 2016 Recommendation on the same topic, and calls for further action.

The EESC and its FRRL Group consider media freedom and the safety of journalists as essential prerequisites for democracy and they view these issues as a matter of priority. The draft Opinion on 'Securing media freedom and diversity in Europe' (SOC/635), adopted unanimously by the Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship (SOC) on 7 September 2021, complements the proposals made by the EESC in previous opinions in this area[1].

Christian Moos (III, DE), Rapporteur for Opinion SOC/635, commented: "The assassination of Dutch investigative journalist Peter de Vries took place while this Opinion was being drafted – taking the gruesome total of journalists murdered in the EU since 2015 to 16. This tragically illustrates the seriousness of the situation and the urgent need to act now in a decisive way".

The draft opinion expresses the firm belief that verbal and physical threats against journalists are not an isolated phenomenon, and it therefore highlights the link with other specific contemporary challenges such as disinformation, the precarious socio-economic conditions faced by many journalists and media, and legal harassment against journalists.

Cristian Pîrvulescu (III, RO), President of the EESC Fundamental Rights Group, commented: "There is no such thing as a petty attack against a journalist. Let us recall that Daphne Caruana Galizia was the object of 42 civil libel cases at the time of her assassination in 2017. This is not to say that every legal or verbal threat will lead to murder – fortunately. But this shows that there is a continuum between verbal vilification, administrative or legal harassment, and physical attacks".

Mr Moos added: "There is no more time to waste if we want to reverse the unprecedented deterioration of media freedom in Europe. I consider that key actions include a legal ban on Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP), better monitoring of the situation of journalists in the EU Rule of Law Report, and use of the new budget conditionality rules to sanction attacks against media freedom and plurality".

The EESC will also continue to facilitate discussions on the central topics of media freedom, including the safety of journalists. A debate will take place with Reporters without Borders and the European Federation of Journalists to mark the adoption of Opinion SOC/635 on media freedom at the EESC Plenary on 22-23 September. Media freedom will also be one of the main threads of discussion at the EESC Conference of 4 November 2021 on fundamental rights and the rule of law. The EESC and its FRRL Group will keep informed of the matter and will hold discussions on these key issues in the coming months.

[1] Opinion SOC/672 on the European Democracy Action Plan (June 2021); Opinion TEN/731 on the Media and Audiovisual Action Plan (April 2021); Opinion INT/928 on the Digital Markets Act and INT/929 on the Digital Services Act (April 2021); Opinion TEN/687 on the Action Plan against Disinformation (March 2019).