CoE and partners: Threat level to media freedom highest since Cold War

by Cassiano Gobbet 

Authoritarian governments, media ownership concentration and the weakening of public broadcast companies are making the activity of journalists harder and societies less transparent.

Memorial Jan #AllForJan: Demonstration in memory of murdered journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. Bratislava, March 2. 2018. Flickr/Peter Tkac (Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic).

There has not been a time since the end of the Cold War in the 1980s when journalists have been more exposed to threats, violence, and harassment in Europe. This is the outcome of a new report entitled Democracy at risk: Threats and attacks against media freedom in Europe

Released this Tuesday during an event in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the annual report was organised by the Partner Organisations to the Council of Europe (CoE) Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists.

140 grave violations in 2018

The group of 12 CoE partners - which represents journalists, media organisations, freedom of expression advocacy groups, and think-tanks - logged at least 140 grave media freedom violations as having taken place in 2018, in 32 of the 47 member states of the CoE. Also according to the report, the response of governments as well as the justice system has often been timid and slow, creating an atmosphere of fear and impunity.

The report gives a chilling statistic: The state itself is the biggest source of menace to journalists.

It recommends:

Urgent actions backed by a determined show of political will by Council of Europe member states are now required to improve the dire conditions for media freedom."

Despite the attention drawn by the gruesome assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, carried out in the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Turkey, most journalist murders pass almost unnoticed. As a consequence, pressure over authorities also counts very little, with only 39 percent of the alerts regarding threats to journalists having been addressed by the member states.

"Failings, unexplained delays and omissions in domestic investigations" are concerningly widespread, and legal measures seldom are up to the minimal standards expected in democracies. At least 17 media professionals lost their lives, with impunity, in the 47 CoE member states in 2018. Two of those murders took place in Azerbaijan, one in Montenegro, six in the Russian Federation, one in Serbia, two in Turkey, and five in Ukraine.

Murders are far from being the only aggression endured by journalists.

According to the Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists, which aims to create safe harbours for journalistic activity, the number of alerts on severe threats to journalists’ lives doubles every year, since the tool's creation in 2015. Lawmaking helps to undermine media freedom, by shutting down media outlets on "national security" grounds, alongside the blocking of digital tools and social media platforms.

The practice is so widespread that massive actions are being planned, like a Russian state experiment to completely cut the country's connection to the worldwide web, in case of a "cyber threat to its national security".

Threats to independent journalists

Once safeguards of good journalism in many markets, public media is also under attack. It is being targeted by "a trend of cuts to PSM funding" in several CoE member states, making the life of independent editors and reporters tougher.

The jailing of journalists under no formal legal process is also rife, with Turkey leading the charts as the largest jailer of journalists. The country currently has 110 cases of detention not complying with formal legal procedures.

Not surprisingly, freelancers are the journalists most vulnerable to threats. Working without “back-up, training and support provided to their staff colleagues, they are especially vulnerable to repression, abuse and arbitrary treatment, including judicial harassment,” says the report.

Read more

The full report can be downloaded here.

Cassiano Gobbet is a journalist focusing on media and technology matters. You can follow him on Twitter @cassianogobbet and read his writing on

Get in Contact

fact finding mission analysis