From: Alice Taylor
Journalists at Risk Speak Out: ‘It’s the Politicians That Make Our Job Risky’

The Council of Europe has launched today its study on undue pressure on journalists in its member states and how they overcome fear in their mission to inform. 

Entitled: “A Mission to Inform: Journalists at Risk Speak Out”, the study includes interviews with 20 journalists including Daphne Caruana Galizia. She was assassinated with a car bomb just 10 days after she gave her interview, on 16 October 2017.

The study presents an in-depth analysis of the kinds of pressures journalists are under and how they cope with them. It also provides a number of suggestion for how Member States can better protect media workers. 

These recommendations include ending smear campaigns against journalists, ensuring politicians do not partake in pressure, smears, or attacks on journalists and publicly condemn those that do, bringing defamation laws in line with CoE standards, not using surveillance on journalists, and providing better protections for journalists wellbeing.

The report found four main types of threats and pressures that journalists were exposed to. These include physical, psychological, economic and judicial threats from both private and state actors.

All across Council of Europe member states journalists may encounter police intimidation and legal harassment; smear campaigns and bullying offline, but more recently predominantly online; pressures from political actors and editors; and economic pressures exerted by media owners and sponsors. Journalists also face detention, threats and physical violence.

The study drew on a separate survey that provided shocking statistics about the threats experienced by journalists. Some 69% reported psychological violence, 53% cyberbullying, 48% humiliation, 56% intimidation, and 43% smear campaigns. 39% said they had been surveilled, 43% had been intimidated by politically motivated individuals, and 50% by other interest groups. 

Female journalists were particularly vulnerable and receive threats of sexual violence, belittlement, and attacks on their appearance. 60% said they fear psychological violence, 4% said they felt they were at physical risk and over 60% were anxious about cyberbullying. Almost 70% said this impacted them on a psychological level.

Smear campaigns were noted as a concern, particularly with female journalists.

In her interview, Jessikka Aro said: “The biggest risk is that some person physically harms me after becoming agitated and mobilised by the fake news hate sites.”

Assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia added, “That’s the worst aspect for me. You know, it’s constant propaganda against me. It’s just terrible and unequal because they have a whole broadcasting machine and a political party, [against] me, one woman with a blog.”

Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova said that “It’s the politicians that make our job risky.” She added that whenever she is attacked for her journalism, “it means that I’m doing the right thing because if what I do makes crooks unhappy, I am doing the right thing.”

The study is dedicated to Caruana Galizia and all other journalists that have lost their lives during the pursuit of their work.