Brussels is urging member states to “protect” journalists from the recent spike in killings and widespread online threats.
The executive of the European Union on Thursday asked its member countries to better protect journalists in the face of an upsurge in physical attacks and online threats against media professionals.
According to the European Commission, 908 journalists and media workers were attacked in the 27-nation bloc in 2020.
A total of 23 journalists have been killed in the EU since 1992, with the majority of killings taking place in the past six years.
“No journalist should die or be injured because of their work. We must support and protect journalists; they are essential for democracy,” said Vera Jourova, Vice-President of the Commission for Values and Transparency.
“The pandemic has shown more than ever the key role of journalists in informing us. And the urgent need for public authorities to do more to protect them.
Killings of reporters remain rare in Europe, but murders of journalists in Slovakia and Malta in recent years have raised concerns about the safety of reporters in developed democratic societies.
Earlier this year, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen voiced her support for investigative journalism following the murder of Peter R de Vries, a prominent Dutch journalist who reported on underworld violence in Netherlands.
The committee’s non-binding proposals include recommendations for EU countries to ensure fair and effective investigations and prosecutions, and to provide protection to those at risk, with a focus on women journalists.
According to the EU, 73% of female journalists have experienced online violence and the commission said EU countries should “support initiatives to empower female journalists and professionals from minority groups and those dealing issues of equality”.
The bloc’s executive branch has also proposed the creation of support services, including helplines, legal advice and psychological support.
He insisted on the need to ensure the safety of reporters during demonstrations, where most of the attacks take place.
“Member states should provide regular training to law enforcement authorities to ensure that journalists and other media professionals can work safely and without restrictions during such events,” the commission said.
Noting that digital and online security has become a “major concern” due to online attacks but also the risks of illegal surveillance, the executive also encouraged EU countries to improve cooperation between media and cybersecurity bodies.
“Appropriate national cybersecurity agencies should, upon request, assist journalists seeking to determine whether their devices or online accounts have been compromised, to obtain the services of cybersecurity forensic investigators,” the commission said.
The proposals were unveiled just months after the rule of law commission’s annual report concluded that democratic standards were eroding in several member countries.
The report notably singled out Slovenia, which currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the European Council, for attacks on the Balkan nation’s media.
“It’s not just Slovenia, we see the very aggressive rhetoric in some other member states,” Jourova said, adding that the EU will continue to put pressure on member countries where continued problems are spotted.