Safety of Journalists Platform 2024 Report: Spyware against journalists, abusive lawsuits, and journalists in exile

ECPMF

05 March 2024

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Strasbourg/Thessaloniki, 05.03.2024 – The unlawful deployments of spyware against journalists, the use of abusive lawsuits against journalists to hamper their investigative work, and the precarious situation of many journalists in exile, notably from Russia and Belarus, are some of the main concerns expressed by the partner organisations to the Council of Europe’s Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists in their 2024 annual report.

Released under the title “Press Freedom in Europe: Time to turn the Tide”, the report assesses the major issues undermining press freedom – including threats and intimidations, detention, restrictive legislation, abusive lawsuits, media capture, and attack on public service media, and issues recommendations to address them.

 

On the occasion of the report’s launch, ECPMF Senior Legal Advisor Flutura Kusari said:

The report presents the most serious threats, obstacles, and challenges faced by journalists and media outlets across Europe. It is a reminder of how dangerous the profession of journalist is and how much it is invested to censor and curtail media freedom by using various methods such as spywares, physical threats or SLAPPs. As partner of the platform, we remain open to engage with member states to improvise media freedom.

In 2023, the platform partners published 285 alerts on serious threats or attacks to media freedom in Europe compared to 289 alerts in 2022. Although in 2023 the number of journalists killed and street violence against them decreased, the alerts on the platform show a growing diversity of threats, pressure and constraints under which journalists must do their work.

 

The report underscores that media freedom and the digital security of journalists continued to be threatened by the ongoing use of spyware technology to surveil journalists and media actors, and accountability for reported abuses continued to be evasive.

 

It also points out the unprecedented number of media workers in Europe – from Russia and Belarus in particular – driven into exile abroad due to physical risk to their life and liberty, legal prosecution, threats and intimidation, which often continue once they are in exile against them and their families.

 

Another trend highlighted in the report is that media freedom was hindered by abusive legal actions, including Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPPS), initiated by politicians and business actors based on national laws on the protection of reputation, aiming to harass journalists and media by exposing them to criminal convictions, the payment of high compensation for damages and heavy fines.

 

In 2023, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine continued to have significant effects on media freedom and the safety of journalists. Two journalists – Bohdan Bitik and Arman Soldin – were killed while reporting in Ukraine and several other journalists were injured. Another media worker, the security guard Pal Kola, was killed in an attack to the Top Channel TV station in Albania.

 

As of 31 December 2023, 59 journalists and media workers were in detention in Council of Europe member states – including the Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia – and 65 in Russia and Belarus, where the crackdown on independent journalists intensified. Russia returned to the practice of institutionalised hostage-taking by arresting the US journalists Evan Gershkovich and Alsu Kurmasheva.

 

In 2023, five cases of impunity for murder of journalists were added to the Platform, those concerning Sokratis Giolias and Giorgos Karaivaz (Greece), Alex Byabenin (Belarus), Milan Pantic (Serbia), and Yuri Shcheckochikhin (Russia). By the end of the year, there were 30 alerts of impunity for murder concerning 49 media workers active on the platform. The case of the Ukrainian journalist Viacheslav Veremii was declared closed.

 

In the report, the partners express their support to the Council of Europe Campaign for the Safety of Journalists “Journalists Matter”, launched in October 2023, and call on member states to carry out reforms of the police and justice systems to fully comply with the 2016 Committee of Ministers Recommendation on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors.

 

* This number includes alerts concerning Russia since the partner organisations decided to continue monitoring the state of media freedom and attacks against journalists after its expulsion from the Council of Europe in March 2022.

The Council of Europe’s Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists was set up by the Council of Europe in 2015, in co-operation with prominent international NGOs active in the field of the freedom of expression and associations of journalists, to provide information which may serve as a basis for dialogue with member states about possible protective or remedial action.

 

The 15 partners are the European Federation of Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists, the Association of European Journalists, Article 19, Reporters without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Index on Censorship, the International Press Institute, the International News Safety Institute, Rory Peck Trust, the European Broadcasting Union, PEN International, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, Free Press Unlimited and the Justice for Journalists Foundation.

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