“Turn the tide”, says CoE human rights commissioner on press freedom

“All those who value democracy and a free press have a duty to do everything in their power to reverse the trend,” said Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović, during a European Parliament seminar on media freedom organized for Daphne Caruana. Galizia Prize 2022.

“In my work as the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, and previously as the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, I have witnessed firsthand how journalists and other media actors are under threat across Europe and beyond our continent.

The case law of the European Court of Human Rights grants the broadest scope of protection to individual journalists and the press. “But reality speaks of another truth… on average, a journalist is killed every two months on European soil. The picture globally is even more gruesome.

While some have been killed covering conflicts, others have been killed trying to bring criminal activity under public scrutiny. “Just like Daphne,” Mijatović said.

She pointed out that murders of journalists are the most visible part of the “risk iceberg” facing journalists. They face imprisonment, legal and financial harassment, gender-based violence and online threats.

“The media themselves are struggling to survive. Further instances of physical violence remain a widespread threat. As if that were not enough, detention, judicial harassment, intimidation and pressure on sources also oppress journalism in many European countries. This situation is further aggravated by the fact that investigations into murders and crimes against journalists often drag on for years and produce mixed or non-existent results,” said the Commissioner.

She added: “A climate of impunity inflicts additional pain on journalists and their families, shields perpetrators from accountability and facilitates further attacks on the profession. It also violates well-established human rights obligations that oblige states to protect the lives of journalists.

In cases where they fail to comply with this obligation, they still have a duty to conduct prompt, independent and effective investigations – which should be open to public scrutiny and accessible to victims’ families – aimed at punishing hitmen and masterminds of the murders.

“The recent 40-year sentence imposed on the hitmen responsible for Daphne’s murder is a step forward in the long fight for justice. But it’s not enough. It is now necessary to punish the masterminds of this heinous crime and to shed full light on the motives and the institutional responsibility that made it possible,” the commissioner said.

She made reference to the Caruana Galizia family, who she says were the driving force in ensuring this cold-blooded murder was fully investigated. “Although the work of Matthew, Paul and Andrew Caruana Galizia has been remarkable, seeking justice should not be the responsibility of a grieving family. It is the responsibility of States and their institutions, and of all of us, to ensure that there is no impunity.

His message was that everyone who values ​​democracy and a free press has a duty to do everything in their power to reverse this trend. “The institutions we work for and represent have a legal responsibility to protect the free press. We must join forces to keep threats against journalists in the spotlight and maintain pressure on authorities to provide protection, end impunity and improve legislation to protect media freedom.

She called for stronger action to counter hostility towards journalists and to address structural deficiencies in state institutions that should protect them.

The Commissioner said four key areas for action seemed crucial. States must end impunity for crimes against journalists, we must demand more action to implement existing standards, in particular the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, the Council Recommendation of Europe on the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists and other media actors and the EU Recommendation on SLAPPs.

“The Council of Europe is also preparing a recommendation to deal with the problem of SLAPPs. These complementary standards can help to better protect journalists against misuse of the justice system.

She also called for a change in political discourse regarding the press. “As I have often stressed, political leaders, opinion makers and influencers must avoid hostile speech and actions against journalists and must condemn all attacks, physical and verbal, against them. They must protect and not hinder the work of journalists.

The fourth area concerns support for initiatives aimed at protecting journalists. “I am referring here in particular to police protection systems, psychological support initiatives for journalists and their families who are victims of attacks, as well as national and international monitoring and reporting on media freedom and threats against journalists. journalists.”

Better support should be offered to these initiatives to share them and help them interact with similar realities in other countries and internationally, and build capacity to respond to threats to media freedom in a timely manner.

She stressed: “All these measures are within reach if there is political will. While it will probably be impossible to prevent all the dangers that journalists may face in their work, States have the legal, financial and political means to strengthen the safety of journalists.

The winner of Daphne Caruana Galizia Award 2022 are two journalists, Clément Di Roma and Carol Valade, for their documentary “The Central African Republic under Russian influence”.

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