World Press Freedom Day 2018: A Dramatic Dip in Freedom of the Press and Journalist Safety

The World Press Freedom Day 2018, proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom and to raise consciousness about the state of press freedom throughout the world, tragically coincides this year with the dreadful terrorist attacks in Afghanistan where, once again, journalists in the line of duty lost their lives. In what has been defined as the deadliest day for media workers in the country since the fall of the Taliban, Monday 30 April, a coordinated double suicide bombing in Kabul and a shooting in the eastern Khost province killed twenty five people, ten of which were journalists and media workers. By a cruel irony, the second attacker was acting as a journalist, wielding a camera when he blew himself up.

According to the data of Reporters Without Borders, the ten journalists killed in the Afghanistan attacks brings the number of killed media workers in 2018 to 24, which amounts to about half of the total figure of journalists killed in 2017.

If the deaths of journalists working in areas affected by ongoing conflicts is painful, the death of media professionals due to targeted assassinations is shocking, because it represents a threat to the democratic foundations of western societies, where “freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose”[1] (George Orwell, 1946). Europe is not exempt from attacks to press freedom, as recent cases demonstrate. In February, the Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak, who was working on an article uncovering links between the Italian Mafia and high-level government officials in the country, was shot dead while at home with his partner Marina Kušnírova, also killed.

A few months before, in October 2017, the Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who exposed many cases of corruption and other crimes involving leading Maltese politicians and business people, was killed by a car bomb near her family home. While the official investigation for the case is still running, a consortium of 18 media organisations, is investigating the murder and continuing the work of Caruana Galizia. The Daphne Project, is led and coordinated by a Paris-based organisation, Forbidden Stories, whose mission is continuing the work of killed, imprisoned, or otherwise incapacitated journalists. For five months, reporters from 15 countries and major news organisations from around the world have collaborated to give a continuing voice to Caruana Galizia’s work, prematurely and unjustly silenced, widening the reach of her investigations. The results of this collective endeavor are now being closely analysed by the European Commission.

If paying a tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty is part of the spirit of the World Press Freedom Day, then probably the best tribute is supporting initiatives that strongly reaffirm freedom of expression and pluralism of the media as a cornerstone of our democracy in line with the idea that “Even if you succeed in stopping a single messenger, you will not stop the message”[2].

Our concerns are also held for journalists and colleagues in Turkey where, particularly after the attempted coup of July 2016 and the prolonged state of emergency, free expression, media and press freedom have been severely limited to an unprecedented extent. According to the Platform for Independent Journalism P24, consulted today, 174 journalists and intellectuals are currently in prison https://expressioninterrupted.com/census/.

As the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom of the European University Institute in Florence, we are committed to give our contribution to the realisation of freedom of expression and pluralism of the media, fundamental rights and the principles enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and common good of our democracies. Our main contribution takes the form of the Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM), a tool developed by our Centre to assess risks to media pluralism in the 28 EU member states and in candidate countries, based on extensive data collection and analysis. The aim of the MPM is providing useful information for policymakers, researchers, and civil society in order to better understand the threats to media pluralism in different media contexts and to plan relevant media policy or advocacy measures, where needed.

As for the 2017 MPM, Turkey is the country that shows the highest risks in most of the Monitor indicators and in particular in the area of “Basic protection”, which includes freedom of expression and the right to information; the status of journalists, their protection and ability to work. It must be noted that, as a general trend, the MPM 2017 data shows deterioration in the working conditions of journalists, decreasing job security and low wages. Moreover, journalists are harassed and threatened, in almost all the countries covered by the Monitor. In some countries (e.g. Italy) journalists are often intimidated by criminal organisations.

CMPF is processing the data collected under the MP2017 project. The full results will be soon available here http://cmpf.eui.eu/media-pluralism-monitor/

 

[1] George Orwell: ‘The Prevention of Literature’. First published: Polemic, No. 2. GB, London, 1946.

[2] https://www.forbiddenstories.org/case/the-daphne-project/