June 2018: 59 reports in EU member states, candidates and potential candidates

September 7, 2018

In June 2018, Mapping Media Freedom verified a total of 59 reports – many relating to the most serious categories of violations of media freedom – in 28 EU countries, five candidate countries and two potential candidate countries.

“The continuing high level of reported incidents in June shows that journalists throughout Europe still risk serious harm and restrictions just for doing their jobs,” Paula Kennedy, assistant editor, Mapping Media Freedom, said.

The most serious categories represented were: physical assault (7 reports), arrests/detentions (9), intimidation (16), criminal charges (6), defamation/discredit (3), online harassment (2) and censorship (5).

Physical assaults: An ongoing threat to journalists

There were 8 physical assaults recorded by MMF in June, all of which took place in EU member states. Germany and Poland saw 2 assaults each, while Italy, Croatia and Greece each had one. In Germany, journalists were assaulted by individuals attending a far-right and a neo-Nazi event. In Croatia, Zadar News journalist Hrvoje Bajlo suffered a broken arm and was threatened with death if he continued to write about officials accused of corruption. In Poland, a journalist who reported on official corruption was attacked. And an Italian reporter was attacked while covering a local election event.

Intimidation: Widespread and pernicious

There were 16 reports across the EU member states, candidates and potential candidates.  Most of the cases of intimidation — whether overt or implied — occurred in Romania (4). In one of the incidents, police officers attempted to pressure a journalist who had been detained while covering a protest in Bucharest to sign a document admitting to various charges.  Additional reports of intimidation were reported to the platform from Croatia and the Netherlands (2 each), with Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Slovakia, and Turkey accounting for 1 each.

Arrests/detentions: Turkey heads the field

Of the 9 verified reports of arrests/detentions of journalists, 6 related to EU candidate country Turkey, which continues to hold the world record for the number of journalists in detention. Ece Sevim Öztürk, editor-in-chief of the pro-opposition news website Çağdaş Ses, was arrested for social media posts in which she allegedly expressed support for the instigators of the July 2016 coup attempt. The other arrests/detentions took place in Belgium, North Macedonia and Romania (1 each).

Criminal charges: Many journalists face threat of jail

Turkey also took the lead in reports relating to criminal charges brought against journalists (5). This figure reflects both the continuing tendency to accuse journalists (especially those of Kurdish origin) of disseminating “terrorist propaganda” and the ongoing clampdown on freedom of expression in the wake of the failed 2016 coup. Following this event, many journalists were accused of being supporters of the controversial Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government claims was behind the coup. In June, the first hearing took place in the trial of Şirin Kabakçı, the former Konya bureau chief of the shuttered Zaman daily, who stands accused of “membership of FETÖ”, the name by which the government generally refers to Gülen and his followers. Serbian police filed a criminal complaint against a journalist accused of having falsely reported his own kidnapping.

Defamation and discredit: The power to undermine

There were 3 verified reports in June relating to journalists being the target of defamation and discredit –  a method of retaliation regularly resorted to by politicians whose affairs have come under uncomfortably close scrutiny. Two of these reports related to Italy; in one of them, a local politician accused a journalist of disseminating fake news against him. In Croatia, government minister Tomo Medved attempted to discredit a journalist who revealed that Medved’s son had been given a job in a state-owned company.

Online harassment: Virtual attacks

There were reports of online harassment from Bosnia-Herzegovina and the United Kingdom. In the former, the independent news website Avangarda.ba was made inaccessible for several hours by a DDoS hacking attack. In the latter case, Guardian and Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr reported that she had been trolled by pro-Brexit campaigners as a result of her investigation into possible links between the Leave.EU campaign and Russian officials.  

Censorship: Editorial independence threatened

Of the 5 reports filed to MMF in June involving censorship, 2 related to Spain, with 1 report each for Hungary, Romania and Cyprus. In the Spanish cases, the charges of censorship arose as a result of alleged biased news coverage at the Spanish public broadcaster TVE and allegations of political interference at the Galician public broadcaster TVG. In Hungary, the weekly conservative magazine Heti Válasz folded as a result of political and commercial pressure.

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