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MFRR partners welcome European Commission’s Recommendation on protection, safety…

MFRR partners welcome European Commission’s Recommendation on protection, safety and empowerment of journalists

The partner organisations in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) welcome the European Commission’s Recommendation on ensuring the protection, safety and empowerment of journalists and media professionals in the European Union, presented today. The document is a testament to the Commission’s much-needed engagement in the defence of press freedom and media pluralism as critical elements of the Union’s foundational values in the face of increased attacks and threats to journalists and media workers across the region in recent years. At the same time, it serves as an indictment of the lack of meaningful action by a number of member states and candidate countries who, despite the existence of clear laws and standards to improve the safety of journalists and media workers such as those set out in Council of Europe Recommendation 2016(4) among others, have done too little to turn the tide on this worrisome trend.

The Commission’s Recommendation includes a host of measures that, taken together, should drive member states to improve journalists’ safety and put a halt to an emerging climate of impunity, if they are duly implemented. We welcome the repeated call on the member states’ authorities to engage with the media community and seek the views of journalists, media workers and civil society on ways to prevent and address threats and attacks. Furthermore, as partner organisations in a Europe-wide response mechanism, we particularly appreciate the recommendation to set up national independent response and support mechanisms to provide legal advice, psychological support and shelter for journalists and media workers who face threats and attacks. It is evident that the needs in this regard far outstrip capacity, and local action is needed to close this gap: with the MFRR, we have documented no less than 482 incidents in the EU between January 2020 and June 2021, affecting 1256 persons or media entities in 24 member states. Considering moreover that nearly one out of every three incidents occurred during demonstrations, the particular attention paid to this context in the Recommendation is appropriate. Equally welcome is the call for better social protection for journalists and the specific focus on the distinct protection needs of women journalists and those belonging to minority groups or reporting on equality, and those working in non-standard forms of employment, all of whom are particularly at risk.

The key to the Recommendation’s success will lie in effectively following up on its outcomes and holding the member states to account if their implementation is lacking. We call on the Commission to closely involve journalists and media workers, their unions and associations, and civil society in developing the key performance indicators and in the subsequent monitoring of the implementation. In the meantime, we call on the EU’s member states and candidate countries to heed the Commission’s recommendations and step up their action to ensure the protection, safety and empowerment of journalists and media workers.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
Slovenia Flag - credit: Balkan Photos Library

Slovenia: MFRR calls for firm response after storming of…

Slovenia: MFRR calls for firm response after storming of public broadcaster RTV

Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) partners today strongly condemn the attack on the Slovenian public broadcaster RTV Slovenija (RTVS) by Covid-19 deniers and anti-vaccination protesters last Friday.

At around 8:30pm on 3 September 2021, protesters broke into the RTVS studio in Ljubljana. The group of about 20 protesters, believed to be from the OPS group (Aware Residents of Slovenia), entered the building and managed to break into a newsroom. The group’s main demands are to share their views about the Covid-19 pandemic on RTVS platforms, and for RTVS to halt its coverage of the health crisis and vaccination program. The group was demanding greater airtime on RTVS platforms to share their anti-vaccine views and an end to what they said was “censorship” in the broadcaster’s coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Friday’s attack follows four months of demonstrations outside RTVS offices. While protesting outside the building, the group reportedly insulted and harassed staff. RTVS filed official complaints to the Ljubljana Police Centre during this time and police have launched an investigation.

After breaking through the security area and once inside the building, maskless protesters roamed the halls making demands and giving speeches denouncing RTVS through a microphone. No one was injured and the Ljubljana police said they would investigate the incident and act accordingly. RTVS filed a restraining order against the OPS members.

In a press release, the management of RTV Slovenia said that in their “violent intrusion into the premises of Television Slovenia, the protesters grossly abused the right to peaceful protest.” The press release said that security around the building would be strengthened and talks with relevant authorities will be planned.

Manica Janežič Ambrožič, the RTVS news programme editor, said it was an “unacceptable attack on the media, journalism and democracy”. Andrej Grah Whatmough, RTVS director general, condemned “in the strongest terms” a “grave attack”. Whatmough added that the management had been trying to raise the issue for months, but that because the area outside the RTVS building was public property little could be done by the authorities to stop the protesters assembling.

In a statement, the Slovenian Association of Journalists (DNS) denounced an attack on democracy and deplored a general deterioration in the safety of journalists in the country: “The escalation of hostility directed against journalists has been occurring and cultivating in society for some time. The Association has been warning for a long time that hostility on social networks and incitement against journalists and the media we are witnessing can turn into physical violence, which turned out on Saturday with the attack on RTV Slovenia.”

The Media Freedom Rapid Response partners join the Slovenian journalists’ organisations in calling on the authorities to send a clear signal that attacks on journalists, media workers and media outlets are unacceptable. The signatories call for a prompt investigation into this case and a firm response brought to those responsible.

Signed by:

  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • International Press Institute  (IPI)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
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MFRR urges swift police action over Molotov cocktail attack…

MFRR urges swift police action over Molotov cocktail attack on home of Dutch journalist

The undersigned organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today express serious concern over the Molotov cocktail attack on the home of journalist Willem Groeneveld in Groningen last night. We welcome the prompt response of the Dutch authorities to carry out a police investigation. Our organisations call on the authorities to analyse the safety measures that were in place, to establish the motive of the attack and to bring those responsible to justice.

Coming so soon after the fatal shooting of Dutch crime reporter Peter R. de Vries in Amsterdam in July, this potential attempted murder represents another serious attack on media freedom in the Netherlands. This requires a swift response to protect the safety of journalists. We urge the Dutch authorities to address this broader trend by starting a rigorous investigation into the circumstances and factors behind the recent increase in attacks on journalists within the country.

At around 2.45am on the night of 18-19 August, multiple Molotov cocktails were thrown through a window into Groeneveld’s apartment. After he and his partner awoke to the sound of smashing glass, they were able to extinguish the flames and no one was injured. The journalist said “several” explosives were thrown.

The identity of the attacker or attackers is currently unknown and police are currently analysing CCTV footage and speaking with witnesses. No indication of the motive or whether it was connected to Groeneveld’s journalistic work has yet been established by the authorities.

In recent months, Groeneveld, who is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sikkom, a youth platform that publishes news and investigative journalism about the city of Groningen, has faced pressure and intimidation over his reporting on local landlords and other issues. He is also a contributor to Dagblad van het Noorden, a daily newspaper.

In 2019, five stones were thrown through the windows of his Groningen home and in June Groningen city council denounced intimidation of the journalist by a local real estate entrepreneur. Bicycles were dumped in front of his house in response to an article he wrote and his address and phone number then appeared on Facebook, a practice known as “doxing”. Whether the doxing is connected to the attack remains unclear. Groeneveld had been receiving police protection for a while when the Molotov cocktail hit his house.

Thomas Bruning, the general secretary of the Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ) is right; the nature of this incident means authorities must consider treating it as attempted murder. It is an attack on Willem Groeneveld, but also the entire Dutch journalistic community. This is even more concerning considering the Netherlands is ranked among the best countries in the world for the freedom of the press.

It is vital therefore that the Netherlands lead by example. The MFRR have reported the issue to the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists and the Mapping Media Freedom platform will continue to monitor this case closely.

Signed by:

  • Article 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
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Disturbing pattern of violence and harassment at COVID-related protests…

Disturbing pattern of violence and harassment at COVID-related protests across Europe

The partners in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) are highly concerned by a barrage of attacks and harassment of journalists by protesters at demonstrations across Europe in recent weeks against new government measures taken in light of the Coronavirus-pandemic. They fit a disturbing pattern observed throughout the region of increasing violence, harassment and intimidation of journalists and media workers at COVID-related protests, rooted in growing anti-media sentiment that fuels anger and distrust:

  • In Germany, Jörg Reichel, the regional manager of the German journalists’ union dju in ver.di, was brutally attacked on the margins of an unauthorised “Querdenken” demonstration in Berlin on 1 August. He had documented physical assaults against media workers at the protest and journalists being insulted, threatened, and spat upon. Reichel’s regular monitoring of the increasing hostility at demonstrations had already made him the target of threats and defamation by “Querdenken” followers, and his name and photo had been circulated in their Telegram channels.
  • In France, on 31 July, two AFP journalists were insulted, booed and spat on by groups of demonstrators during one of the protests against the health pass in Paris. As a result, the agency decided to suspend its coverage of the demonstration. At a rally in Belfort, protesters attempted to break into the offices of regional newspaper L’Est Républicain and the premises of Radio France Bleu Belfort Montbéliard, where they also insulted and intimidated a journalist and technician and threw eggs at the building’s façade, referring to the media spreading “government lies”. The same day, the windows of regional newspaper Dauphiné Libéré in Annecy were tagged with words and slogans insulting the work of the editorial staff, including references to World War II-era collaboration. Journalists were also targeted at earlier protests against the COVID-pass. On 24 July, two journalists working for France Télévisions were insulted, pushed and chased by several individuals protesting in Marseille. On 22 July, two journalists working for commercial channel BFM TV were verbally abused while covering a demonstration in front of the Senate in Paris. Reporter Igor Sahiri described the incident as a “torrent of hatred” and said the altercation would have turned violent had they not been accompanied by two security guards. They were forced to leave the rally. And on 17 July, a photographer for Radio Bip/Média 25 was assaulted at a protest against the COVID pass in Besançon. When he recognised one of the protesters, the latter punched him in the face, adding that “we’ll get you in the end” and “it’ll be like this every week, we’ll kill you, leftist.”
  • In Italy, numerous journalists and reporters covering demonstrations against the COVID-19 “green pass” were attacked, insulted and threatened by protesters. On 24 July, Saverio Tommasi of Fanpage.it was attacked at a protest in Firenze. Tommasi was kicked in the leg, had water thrown at his back and was insulted and threatened by protestors, who also attempted to steal his equipment. He described the attacks as “repeated, continued and violent”, adding that “they wanted to stop me from working”. On the same day, the National Federation of the Italian Press (FNSI) reported verbal and physical attacks on journalists working for public broadcaster RAI and dailies Il Secolo XIX, La Repubblica and Genova 24 in at least six cities: Milan, Genova, Firenze, Rome, Bologna and Turin. While the exact number of incidents was not recorded, numerous journalists’ associations across the country condemned hostility, both on the streets and online, against reporters in their region, including in Emilia Romagna, Liguria and Lombardia.
  • In Spain, a reporter for Antena 3 TV was threatened and insulted while she was covering a demonstration in Madrid against mask-wearing and vaccinating minors on 24 July. Journalists and media workers of Telemadrid and LaSexta were booed and called “murderers”.
  • In Slovakia, protesters against vaccine rules attacked, jostled and insulted a reporter and camera operator working for privately-owned TV Markiza, obstructing and damaging their camera.
  • In Cyprus, on 18 July, a large crowd of demonstrators against new COVID-19 measures, including introducing a SafePass and mandatory vaccination, attacked TV station Sigma TV, attacking dozens of staff, vandalising the headquarters and setting cars outside on fire.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken in response to it have underscored the need for a free, pluralistic media that can convey critical information to the public and independently report on far-reaching government intervention in many aspects of public and private life. It is worrying to see that journalists and media workers are more and more perceived as enemies of the people during protests, when journalism’s mission is precisely to give them a voice.

In light of the many serious incidents outlined above, we call on governments across the European Union to improve the protection of journalists at protests, including full-throated condemnation by politicians and public figures of violence and harassment of journalists and media workers and capacity-building of law enforcement personnel in coordination with representatives of the journalistic profession. Furthermore, there is an evident need to improve media literacy to generate a better understanding of the press’ essential role in a democratic society. In addition to action by member states, we call for a strong recommendation on the safety of journalists by the European Commission that includes concrete measures to improve the implementation of existing law and standards in this regard, in particular Council of Europe Recommendation 2016(4).

Signed by:

  • Article 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
Peter R. de Vries (Photo: DWDD) Library

Death of Dutch journalist Peter de Vries a sad…

Death of Dutch journalist Peter de Vries a sad day for Europe

IPI expresses sorrow at loss of courageous crime reporter

The IPI global network for press freedom today expressed deep sorrow over the death of Dutch crime journalist Peter R. de Vries and renewed calls for all those responsible for his murder to be held accountable.

de Vries, 64, had been fighting for his life in hospital after being shot five times including once in the head in the center of Amsterdam at around 7.45pm on July 6. He passed away surrounded by loved ones, according to a statement by his family.

“The death of Peter R. de Vries is yet another heartbreaking moment for Europe’s entire journalistic community”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Our thoughts go out to his family and friends, with whom we stand in full solidarity and support. Peter was a respected and fearless crime reporter who spent his career exposing criminal acts and fighting to ensure those responsible faced justice. He was a committed servant of the truth, who was determined to ensure that even the oldest crime could not go cold. It is vital that Dutch authorities now show the same exhaustless energy in investigating, prosecuting and convicting all those behind his own murder.

“Tragically, this is the second time this year that a crime journalist has been gunned down in broad daylight in the European Union. This killing illustrates a sad reality: that even journalists working in a country with one of the highest levels of press freedom in the world are not safe. All EU governments must do more to stem the tide of attacks on journalists that we’ve seen over the last few years. Ultimately, ending impunity for those who dare carry out these crimes is one of the most effective ways to do so.

“Sadly however, those behind the murder of Greek crime journalist Giorgios Karaivaz in April remain at large. While some of the gunmen and middlemen in the assassinations of Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak and Maltese investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia have been convicted, those who ultimately ordered their deaths continue to evade justice. Those behind this heinous attack on Peter cannot be allowed to do likewise.”

In a statement, his family said: “Peter fought to the end but was unable to win the battle. He died surrounded by the people who love him. Peter lived by his conviction: ‘On bended knee is no way to be free.’”.