Index on Censorship: journalists now under 'unprecedented' attack

Index on Censorship: journalists now under 'unprecedented' attack

Study finds growing hostility toward media around the world has lead to rise in assaults on individuals as well as press freedom

By Jane Martinson Monday 28 November 2016 02.00 EST

Journalists are facing an “unprecedented” wave of attacks around the world with increased hostility to the media leading to assaults on individuals as well as press freedom, according to a new report.

A series of crackdowns on media workers and news outlets in Europe as well as elsewhere has confirmed 2016 as one of the most dangerous times to be a journalist, according to the latest figures compiled by Index on Censorship.

The study found 406 verified reports of violence, threats or violations throughout European Union member states and neighbouring countries including Russia, Turkey and Ukraine in the three months to the end of September.

Melody Patry, senior advocacy officer at Index, said the year so far had been striking for the increase in reports as well as range of attacks, from threats to media freedom to attacks leading to death. “The attacks are unprecedented in both scope and scale.”

With a marked increase in attacks in Europe, long considered a bastion of press freedom, the latest research does not reflect increased violence in Asia or the US, which has seen an increase in assaults and abuse during a highly charged US election during which reporters were put in pens by President-elect Donald Trump.

“Hostility to the media is increasing globally,” said Patry. “When the credibility and legitimacy of media outlets starts to be questioned it can easily spread and the sentiment easily becomes one of distrust.”

As well as four murders, the Index report verified 54 incidents of physical assault, 107 arrests, 150 detentions and 112 reports of intimidation, which includes psychological abuse, sexual harassment, trolling or cyberbullying and defamation. The work of journalists was censored or altered 29 times and media professionals were blocked from covering a story in 89 cases.

Those campaigning to protect journalists suggest that the most extreme forms of violence have proliferated because of a feeling of impunity. Dunja Mijatović, an expert on media law and regulation and representative for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said: “With nine out of every 10 murders of journalists never solved, the vicious cycle of impunity still prevails. It has to be broken.”

Two journalists were killed in Ukraine: Pavel Sheremet, a journalist working for the online investigative newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda, was killed in a car explosion, and Alexander Shchetinin, founder of news agency Novy Region, was shot in the head in his apartment in Kiev. In Russia, Andrey Nazarenko, a cameraman for state TV channel Russia-1, was found dead in his apartment in Moscow with two bullet wounds.

In Turkey, soldiers shot and killed Mustafa Cambaz, a photographer, during the coup attempt on Turkey’s democratically elected government in July. Following the failed coup, Turkish authorities forced more than 2,500 journalists out of their jobs, arrested and prosecuted 98 under trumped-up criminal charges, detained 133 and seized or shut down 133 media outlets, according to Index.

The report’s 19% rise in the number of verified incidents in the third quarter compared with the previous three months is likely to represent an underreporting of the extent of the problem. Several attacks were reported under one case and there was also underreporting in some of the worst countries.

Patry said journalists in countries known as beacons of press freedom, such as the UK and France, feel “guilty” reporting threats. “There’s a real sense that it’s part of the job, that they should accept it and anyway it’s not as bad as it is in Azerbaijan.”

Among anti-press freedom laws introduced recently are the Investigatory Powers Act in the UK, or so-called snooper’s charter, which legalises a whole range of tools for snooping and hacking by the security services and allows the authorities to in effective identify journalists’ anonymous sources.

In France, the National Assembly passed an amendment where journalists would be subject to up to seven years’ imprisonment for protecting sources.

Just over a week after his election a group of 18 major journalism associations published an open letter to Trump, asking that the new administration take steps to protect freedom of the press in the United States. Index now wants to extend its mapping exercise to the US.

Recent attacks range from the death of David Gilkey, a photojournalist with National Public Radio, alongside his Afghan translator, Zabihullah Tamanna, in an ambush in Afghanistan in June, to the attack on Kyle Ludowitz, a photojournalist who was left with a fractured cheekbone after being attacked at an anti-Trump protest in California.

The Mapping Media Freedom project – run by the European Federation of Journalists, Index on Censorship and Reporters Without Borders and part funded by the European commission – has recorded more than 2,400 incidents threatening media freedom from its launch in May 2014. Launched amid concern over rising attacks on the media, Patry said this year has proved that it is “needed more than ever”.


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