War in Europe, war on journalism

This year’s annual Council of Europe report on the safety of journalists documents a record high number of attacks on journalists and a continued degradation of press freedom across the continent.

The 2023 report – War in Europe and the Fight for the Right to Report – documented 289 alerts concerning 37 countries, with journalists being murdered, imprisoned, physically attacked, legally harassed, and subjected to smear campaigns throughout 2022.
This included a 60% rise in the number of imprisoned journalists since 2021. As of 31 December 2022, 127 journalists were reported in detention – 52 in Turkey, 32 in Belarus, 22 in Russia, 14 in the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine, 4 in Azerbaijan, and one each in the United Kingdom, Georgia, and Poland.

The AEJ joined the 15 partner organisations of the CoE Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists in a statement noting “a range of new and established methods of silencing independent journalism, including surveillance and spyware, legal harassment, arrests and detention, media capture, restrictive legislation, and continued cases of impunity.”

The partners said this annual report “casts doubt on CoE member states’ commitment to upholding obligations on freedom of expression, the protection of journalism, and the safety of journalists under the Council of Europe’s statute and the European Convention on Human Rights” and illustrates “a clear and urgent need for the Council of Europe, Member States, and other European institutions to address the threats facing journalism in Europe with swift and coordinated action.”

They noted that while 2022 was “scarred by Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine” in which at least 12 journalists and media workers were reported killed and 21 injured while working, “the implications of the war on media freedom also go far beyond the deaths and injuries of media workers on the ground. Russian disinformation has flooded the media landscape in Ukraine and across Europe and Russian authorities have imposed draconian censorship rules to brutally silence independent voices at home.” 

The 2023 annual report included the following key findings: 

  • Apart from the journalists who died on active duty as a result of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the Platform recorded one journalist killed in the exercise of his functions (Güngör Arslan in Turkey), compared to four who died the previous year outside of a war zone. None of the 26 active alerts on the Platform regarding impunity for murder cases moved to “progress” or “resolved” status.
  • The use of legal action to intimidate and silence reporting remains a favourite tool for certain politicians, business tycoons, and other powerful figures, with at least twenty defamation and other types of legal proceedings documented on the Platform.
  • Harassment and smear campaigns online and offline continued unabated as private citizens and public officials tried to intimidate journalists and coerce them not to cover sensitive stories.
  • New restrictive legislation was adopted or proposed in several member states, including Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, muzzling journalists and impeding their ability to exercise their profession.
  • The number of member states’ responses to these was disappointingly low: replies were filed for 48 alerts – a paltry 16% reply rate.

CoE Platform on safety of journalists launches annual report
CoE Platform 2023 annual report
AEJ joins other Platform partners in statement
CoE Platform for journalists
CoE media freedom reports
AEJ UK reports on war in Ukraine