by Jane Whyatt
Protecting the safety of journalists – and especially the thousands of media workers who identify as women and face online threats and harassment – is important to the mission of Teresa Ribeiro. The Portuguese media expert is the new Representative on Freedom of the Media at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In an interview with The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), Dr Ribeiro talks about surviving COVID-19, supporting people facing gender-based harassment and reviving the core concept of press freedom as an essential pillar of democracy.
ECPMF: What are your priorities in terms of protecting the safety of journalists, both in terms of physical dangers and online threats?
A: Every attack and each threat against any journalist is one too many. We recently published a third edition of our Guidebook on this issue, and it rightly addresses the safety of all media workers in all situations. How to distinguish between a physical assault on a TV-crew during a demonstration, an online smear campaign against a female journalist, a threat with expensive legal procedures against a newspaper publisher, or the detention of a critical reporter? We need all voices, and we need them now more than ever. Therefore, I would rather not prioritise, but instead put all my effort into restoring the fundamental idea, both with authorities and with the public, that having free and pluralistic media is the only way our democratic societies can thrive.
Q: Your period of office coincides with a global COVID-19 pandemic, which brings extra restrictions on freedom of the press in many countries. What is your message to governments and to journalists and media workers with regard to these additional curbs?
A: The COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with great difficulties, on many levels. The illness struck me last year, and it was a terrible experience. I fully understand that we need to do all we can to protect the health of every one of us. At the same time, however, I am very worried that this crisis amplified existing tendencies that hamper the freedom of expression. The distrust against media that provide news that do not fit people’s “bubble”, for instance, has grown substantially in the past year. At the same time, many authorities used this crisis to fulfil their desire to strongly cut back on critical voices. We should therefore be very vigilant when authorities come up with new decrees, and we should ensure that such emergency measures are proportionate and removed once they no longer serve a legitimate purpose.