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Pressure on press freedom from protestors and police


22 March 2021

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Pressure on press freedom from protestors and police

By Jane Whyatt

One of the most high-risk assignments for a journalist or camera crew in Europe is to cover a protest. In 2020, more than 1 in every 4 press freedom violations (25.9%) recorded on Mapping Media Freedom happened during demonstrations.

How this is experienced in real life was vividly described in the Media Freedom Rapid Response summit by Tamara Filipovic Stevanovic of the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia, Monique Hofmann of the German journalists’ union dju in ver.di and French journalists’ union leader Emmanuel Vire of the SNJ-CGT. Hundreds of incidents on the Mapping Media Freedom website give details of physical injuries and psychological scars. Many more are clearly going unreported, at least in Serbia.

Panellist Tamara Filipovic Stepanovic  of the Serbian journalists’ union NUNS commented:

“Political will is still something that we miss”

outlining a key flaw in the relationship between the media and the state in protecting journalists.

Current themes in France are the demonstrations against proposed new restrictions – including the Global Security Law – whilst in Germany the “Querdenken” anti-lockdown marches and motorcades put media workers at risk of infection as well as hostility.

In the chair, Jantine van Herwijnen of Free Press Unlimited emphasised the importance for democracy of the right to freely report on dissent and political gatherings.

Do police protect journalists or persecute them?

At the panel discussing relationships between journalists and the forces of law and order, the Chair Renate Schroeder of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) was very clear and outspoken about the difficult and partly dysfunctional relation between police and media “not only in Bulgaria, but also in Northern Europe – in fact: everywhere.”

With contributions from Larissa Rausch, a Germany correspondent of Agence France-Presse, freelance photographer Ameer Al Halbi and reporter Stoyan Tonchev of Bulgaria’s news portal, it quickly became clear that police do not respect the rights of media workers. Whether through acts of violence, unlawful detention, confiscation of journalistic equipment or arrest, police officers across Europe have chipped away at media freedom, threatening the safety of journalists and media workers and creating an environment that obstructs their work. The panellists described the impact of these incidents, and Larissa Rausch pointed to the need for a Europe-wide initiative to prevent further violations.

How to become a media freedom watchdog

Encouraging people to report incidents of violence, harassment censorship or other press freedom violations is a major part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response mission. So the Summit devoted a hands-on specialist workshop to raise awareness of how to submit details of press freedom violations to the project, and what happens after they are submitted.

Antje Schlaf, Mapping Media Freedom consultant at the ECPMF and Benjamin Bock from the Institute of Applied Informatics at University of Leipzig (InfAI) explained in detail how to take part in the monitoring:

“A threat to a journalist is a threat to media freedom. Aggressors should be blamed and shamed”

emphasised Antje Schlaf, pointing out that harassment and aggressions should not be normalised.

In 2020, Mapping Media Freedom (MMF) published 378 alerts documenting violations of media freedom across 29 countries in Europe, targeting 1159 journalists, media workers, outlets or other relevant actors.  This provides a clear, accurate picture of the threats journalists face and the overall health of the media freedom landscape, but still more contributors are needed to speak out in defence of media freedom.

All alerts are verified by the MFRR monitoring partners, European Federation of Journalists and the International Press Institute, but the MFRR depends on alerts being shared from journalists, media workers, campaigners and members of the public from across Europe. The workshop introduced the platform and showed how you can use it to upload alerts and search for other published alerts.

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