European government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have restricted the ability of journalists to report freely, a report published Wednesday by the Council of Europe’s Safety of Journalists Platform has found.
The report, written up by a coalition of press freedom NGOs, journalists federations and media alliances, says that “in 2020, extraordinary damage was inflicted on the practice of free and independent journalism” as a result of emergency regulations. Some of these laws infringed Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the report claims.
Government practices criticized by the report include the setting of penalties for reporting deemed inaccurate and the denial of press access to information regarding the pandemic.
There has also been an increase in acts of violence or harassment against journalists, which the report says are insufficiently deterred, mentioning the impunity surrounding high-profile cases such as Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s 2017 killing, for which only one man was sentenced last February.
The document sets out a series of proposals to protect press freedom in the face of the challenges of the past year, emphasizing independent oversight of journalism and legal protection for reporters who face harassment and intimidation. Some of these measures have already been approved when the Committee of Ministers Recommendation on the safety of journalists was adopted by the Council of Europe in 2016, but not put into practice, the report says.
This report comes after Reporters Without Borders lowered the media freedom ranking for several European states last week, including Germany, Poland and Hungary, and a Civil Liberties Union for Europe report last month found the pandemic weakened rule of law in the EU.
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