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Roberta Knoll

#ReportIt: “I had never felt so threatened while doing my work” – reporting on climate protests in Germany

By | Features, Germany, ReportIt

By Katharina Schipkowski

In the early morning before sunrise, about two hundred people arrived in a local train at a very small railway station in Rhineland, near Europe’s biggest coalmine, Garzweiler. It was dark and raining and the people started moving quickly in a single line towards the fields, because they hoped to make progress  before the police turned up.

Ende Gelände is a well-organised protest event organised by climate activists against coal. Since 2015, the activists have brought thousands of young people to Germany’s coal producing area in North Rhine-Westphalia to occupy and obstruct the coal-infrastructure for one weekend.

For the police it is a largescale and resource-heavy operation. However, as it happens every year they should know what to expect and have the opportunity to learn from previous years’ experiences. Irrespective of that, they  bring thousands of officers to the field in response to the protest. That morning, the activists managed to arrive at the mine  – the police officers arrived too late and there were too few of them to prevent the protesters from gaining access.  However, with batons and fists they forcibly stopped some activists who where about to break through a police line.

Private property or situation of public interest?

For journalists this is a critical moment – do you follow them into the mine or not? The mines and power plants are private property, owned by the large German coal producer, RWE. Being a journalist doesn’t automatically allow you to enter unless there is a situation of public interest that requires media coverage. As a journalist you have to weigh up the arguments in that split second – private property versus public interest – and if you decide that public interest  trumps the other, you follow the protesters and go down. Of course, RWE workers and even the police officers can come to a different conclusion by weighing up the options and arguments differently. This then opens up the possibility of being forcibly arrested, detained or charged, alongside the protesters you are covering. If RWE does take you to court, a judge must decide if your decision was justified. Here is yet another person weighing up the decision you made, trying to walk in your shoes, with no guarantee they would make the same decision you did. RWE is still pursuing a lawsuit against a German photojournalist who was reporting on the blockade of a power plant during climate protests in 2017. RWE wants 2.1 million euros compensation from him and five activists.

But the law is not the only thing you have to think about in that moment. The other consideration is the violence deployed by the private security workers employed by companies such as RWE. When I arrived at the site of the coalmine just behind the activists, I saw about ten white RWE security vehicles arrive. The security guards jumped out of the cars, ran towards the activists and journalists and started to beat them and pull them down to the ground. One of them tried to beat the camera out of a colleague’s hand and push him down. Another came towards me, pushing me back trying to force me to stop filming. He also tried to take my phone away from me. I had never felt so threatened while doing my work before. I even called out to a nearby police officer  asking him to do his job and protect us from the violent security guards.

I had never felt so threatened while doing my work before.

This is just a snapshot of how threatening the situation was. As a reporter covering mass civil disobedience or secretly-planned protest actions, it is clear to me that the police do not really value press freedom. In fact it is the opposite: as a reporter you have to go out of your way to convince the police officers  that you are not an activist. If you fail to do this you are at risk of physical violence. The violence is not always intended, even if the injury is severe:  during the Ende Gelände action a journalist was taken to hospital because she was in the way when a police horse shied. She suffered two broken ribs.

In the Dannenröder Forest, press freedom is not a matter of course

In the Dannenröder Forest, the point of action of the German climate justice movement right now, press freedom is not a matter of course. Activists have been occupying trees  for more than a year to preserve the forest and prevent the construction of a highway, which would destroy parts of the ancient and ecologically-valuable mixed deciduous and coniferous forest. On 1 October, police officers and tree fellers started to forcibly evacuate the protesters and destroy the tree houses where they had been living. In the beginning it was very difficult for journalists to report from there because the police wouldn’t let them enter the eviction zones, calling it  a danger zone. They blocked the entire area with warning tape and only let photographers and reporters enter one small area, many meters away from the occupied trees. After a public outcry and complaints from journalists this policy has changed; now the blocked area has been reduced in size, enabling photographers to at least be able to see what they are shooting.

Still the situation remains  dangerous for reporters. Recently a colleague reported from Dannenröder Forest that a riot police unit intentionally attacked journalists when they were reporting on confrontations between activists and journalists.

Even if you are lucky enough to never have been directly affected by police violence against journalists, you know the stories of colleagues and behave differently compared to a place where press freedom was not just a law but reality, everywhere, at any time.


About the author

Katharina Schipkowski works as a journalist and editor in the daily newspaper taz.die tageszeitung. She lives in Hamburg but likes to travel to other places to report about social movements and climate justice.


ReportIt calls for all people to stand in solidarity with at-risk journalists and media workers by reporting all violations of media and press freedom to Mapping Media Freedom. Help us fight the normalisation of threats against journalists and stand up for media freedom by taking part here:

#ReportIt: Is Italy more interested in keeping secret pacts with criminals, rather than protecting journalists?

By | Italy, Malta, ReportIt

[Leggi la versione italiana qui sotto.]


By Nello Scavo

The worst enemy of journalists and journalism is not crime, but the state lie. A state that lies when faced with journalists’ investigations is a state that legitimises those who threaten and intimidate journalists. A state that favours and stimulates acts that discredit and marginalise journalists sets the foundations for the legitimising of  acts that threaten and silence  journalists everywhere.

A year ago in my newspaper, we published evidence of “secret negotiations” between Italian national institutions and Libyan militias involved in the trafficking of people, oil and drugs. Since that day, we have not received any co-operation from government officials who have preferred to remain silent or lie.

There was a series series of lies, omissions, deception – even silence

Most of the clarifications are still missing. The only certainty that is known is that the commander al-Milad – known by the alias ‘Bija’ – was still officially at the helm of the so-called Zawyah Coast Guard until only a few weeks ago. This was made possible by the agreements of the Tripoli-Rome-Brussels axis that did little to prevent the leaders of the Libyan mafia from capitalising on the certainty and retaining the full freedom to manoeuvre. Bija had arrived in Italy as an officer of the Zuara Department Coast Guard, but the Italian authorities were already aware of Bija’s conduct. The Italian Ministry of Defence had published a report, dated 10 May 2017, which explained that Bija had “controlled smuggling activity from West Tripoli to the Tunisian border since 2015”. However, only one day after the publication of the report, on 11 May 2017, Bija was in Italy, in Sicily, to take part in one of the meetings established after the signing of the Memorandum of Undertanding between Rome and Tripoli to combat “illegal immigration and human trafficking”, signed on 2 February 2017 and renewed on 2 February 2020.

In our reporting over the following months, we revealed their connections with the international smuggling of oil, arms and drugs, in connection with Italian mafia.

Ultimately this means that Italian political decisions had indirectly supported organised crime both in Italy and Libya.

But there are questions that the Italian government has never answered. Who were the members of the Libyan delegation that arrived in Italy in 2017? Neither Tripoli nor Rome has come forward with information regarding the composition of the delegation who travelled to Italy for a series of meetings in Italy aimed at stopping the migration flow, without obtaining in return a commitment to end the abuses in Libyan prison camps. It was only from analysing published images from the meeting, alongside the limited official information shared by anonymous sources that we could determine that at least 13 people had arrived from Libya. Documents also in our possession make it clear that they were emissaries from the Tripoli Ministry of the Interior and other departments of the government of Prime Minister al-Serraj. An official photo shows them in Rome at the command of the Italian Coast Guard. So why not disclose their names and assignments? Another question that needs to be answered is: who decided on the make-up of the delegation? Sources from the Italian government at that time (it was 2017), as well as their successors in government claimed that the Libyan delegation was invited by the International Organisation for Migration. However, the UN agency disputes this, stating that they had no role in the composition of the Libyan delegation, which was selected by unknown authorities in Tripoli and accepted by Italy.

There is also something else: who circulated the false news about Bija’s forged documents?

Anonymous Italian government sources quoted by press agencies immediately after the publication in my newspaper of the images taken in Sicily declared that Bija must have deceived the consular authorities in order to enter Italy. Instead, as was later proved, he had arrived with an authentic passport and a regular visa granted by the Italian Embassy in Tripoli. This requires an answer to another question: what was the agenda of the Libyan delegation?

Months after the journalistic revelations, the mystery remains: which ministries were visited and which officials  met with Bija, and why?

Should we give the Italian government the benefit of the doubt? In 2017, did Italian authorities know who Bija was? However, perhaps we should not be so generous as it was declared by government sources in “off the record” briefings that at the time Bija was not being pursued by the United Nations. This was contrary to the findings of a number of journalists, media outlets and reports from humanitarian organisations, Yet, only a few days before the visit to Italy, the High Studies Centre of the Italian Ministry of Defence identified Bija as one of the leading human traffickers who is also involved in the smuggling of hydrocarbons (oil).

I wanted to summarise the salient questions regarding this case because the silence that comes from unanswered questions was intended to discredit the work of journalists. But it went further; the silence was a clear message to their Libyan counterpart and everyone who was watching that secrecy was to be defended at all costs – not transparency nor openness. Every time this attitude of government institutions is repeated, journalists’ lives are in serious danger.  If it is a choice between protecting reporters and obscuring the actions carried out by the criminals, too often the State chooses the latter.

It happened to Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, it happened to Ján Kuciak in Slovakia and to Anna Politkovskaya in Russia. The tension between secrecy and transparency, silence and answers represents the common denominator of crimes against journalists. Without this awareness, no initiative to protect free information can be successful.

Because, after all, it is not the safety of a single journalist that is threatened, but the right of an entire community to be freely and frankly informed.


About the author

Nello Scavo has written for the newspaper Avvenire since 2001. Over the years, he has investigated organised crime and global terrorism, reporting from areas such as the former Yugoslavia, Cambodia and Southeast Asia, the countries of the former USSR, Latin America, Turkey, Syria, the Balkan route, the Horn of Africa and the Maghreb. In September 2017 he entered a Libyan migrant smugglers’ prison, describing the conditions of the trapped migrants.

Since October 2017 he has been living under police escort, due to threats from Libya and Malta in relation to mafia groups in Italy. He has won several Italian journalistic awards, including the Prize for Freedom of Information.


ReportIt calls for all people to stand in solidarity with at-risk journalists and media workers by reporting all violations of media and press freedom to Mapping Media Freedom. Help us fight the normalisation of threats against journalists and stand up for media freedom by taking part here:


#ReportIt: Le autorità italiane hanno più interesse a mantenere i patti segreti con i criminali che a proteggere l’informazione?


Il peggiore nemico dei giornalisti e del giornalismo non è il crimine, ma la menzogna di Stato. Uno Stato che mente davanti alle inchieste dei giornalisti, è uno Stato che legittima chi minaccia e intimidisce i giornalisti. Uno Stato che favorisce e stimola il discredito,  l’emarginazione, fino a legittimare con i suoi complici silenzi l’eliminazione fisica dei giornalisti.

Un anno fa con il mio giornale abbiamo pubblicato le prove della “trattativa segreta” tra istituzioni nazionali ed esponenti delle milizie libiche coinvolti nel traffico di esseri umani, petrolio e droga. Da quel giorno non abbiamo ottenuto alcuna collaborazione dagli esponenti di governo che invece hanno preferito tacere o mentire.

La serie di menzogne, omissioni, depistaggi, perfino di omertà, conferma quanto sul «caso Bija» ci sia molto ancora da scoprire. La maggior parte dei chiarimenti manca ancora. Unica certezza, il comandante al-Milad, noto con il “nome de guerre” Bija, fino a poche settimane fa era ancora ufficialmente al timone della cosiddetta Guardia costiera di Zawyah, per merito degli accordi sull’asse Tripoli-Roma-Bruxelles. Negoziati che non hanno impedito ai capi della mafia libica la piena libertà di manovra. Bija era arrivato in Italia come ufficiale della Guardia costiera del dipartimenti di Zuara, ma le autorità italiane erano a conoscenza della condotta di Bija già prima delle Nazioni Unite e il Ministero della Difesa italiano aveva pubblicato un rapporto, datato 10 maggio 2017, in cui si spiegava che Bija aveva “controllato l’attività di contrabbando dall’Ovest di Tripoli al confine con la Tunisia dal 2015”. Tuttavia, solo un giorno dopo la pubblicazione del rapporto, l’11 maggio 2017, Bija si trovava proprio in Italia, in Sicilia per prendere parte ad uno degli incontri stabiliti dopo la firma la firma del Memorandum of undertanding tra Roma e Tripoli per combattere “l’immigrazione illegale e il traffico di esseri umani”, firmato il 2 febbraio 2017 e rinnovato il 2 febbraio 2020.

Nei mesi successivi abbiamo svelato le loro connessioni con il contrabbando internazionale di petrolio, armi e droga.

Ma ecco alcune domande a cui il governo italiano non ha mai risposto. Chi erano i membri della delegazione libica giunta in Italia nel 2017? Né da Tripoli né da Roma è mai stata divulgata la composizione della rappresentanza partita dal Paese nordafricano per una serie di incontri istituzionali in Italia finalizzati a bloccare il flusso migratorio, senza ottenere in cambio la fine degli abusi nei campi di prigionia in Libia. Incrociando le informazioni da fonti ufficiali, che continuano a implorare l’anonimato, e analizzando le immagini pubblicate, si è avuta la certezza che dalla Libia fossero arrivate almeno 13 persone. Documenti anche in nostro possesso chiariscono che si trattava di emissari del ministero dell’Interno di Tripoli e di altri dipartimenti del governo del premier al-Serraj. Una foto ufficiale li ritrae a Roma presso il comando della Guardia costiera italiana. Perché allora non divulgare i loro nomi e i loro incarichi? Altra domanda: da chi sono stati selezionati i componenti di quella delegazione? Fonti del governo italiano di quell’epoca (era il 2017) e altre del governo attualmente in servizio hanno sostenuto che i libici sono stati invitati dall’Organizzazione mondiale delle migrazioni (Oim). Ma dall’agenzia Onu assicurano di non aver avuto voce nella scelta dei componenti libici, individuati da Tripoli e accettati dall’Italia. C’è anche altro: chi ha fatto circolare la falsa notizia sui documenti contraffatti di Bija? Fonti anonime del governo italiano, citate da alcune agenzie di stampa, subito dopo la pubblicazione delle immagini scattate in Sicilia e pubblicate dal mio giornale hanno dichiarato che Bija avrebbe raggirato le autorità consolari. Invece, come poi è stato dimostrato, lui era arrivato con passaporto autentico e un regolare visto concesso dall’ambasciata italiana a Tripoli. Ancora:  quale è stato il programma di viaggio della delegazione libica? Anche su questo a distanza di mesi dalle rivelazioni giornalistiche il mistero permane.  Quali ministeri sono stati visitati? Quali funzionari ha incontrato Bija? A quale scopo?

Infine: l’Italia nel 2017 poteva non sapere chi fosse Bija? È stato dichiarato da fonti governative “off the records” che all’epoca Milad, accusato da inchieste giornalistiche e report di organizzazioni umanitarie, non era perseguito da provvedimenti Onu. Eppure, solo pochi giorni prima della visita in Italia, il Centro alti studi del Ministero della Difesa italiano lo indicava tra i capi del traffico di esseri umani coinvolto anche nel contrabbando di idrocarburi.

Ho voluto riassumere gli interrogativi salienti di questa vicenda perché tutti questi silenzi hanno avuto lo scopo di screditare il lavoro dei giornalisti, ma soprattutto le menzogne e le omissioni sono state un chiaro messaggio alla controparte libica. Come se le autorità italiane avessero maggiore interesse nel custodire i patti segreti con i criminali, anziché proteggere l’informazione. Ogni volta che questo atteggiamento delle istituzioni governative si rinnova, la vita dei giornalisti è messa in serio pericolo. Perché tra l’impegno dei reporter e le azioni compiute dai criminali, lo Stato dimostra di scegliere i secondi.

E’ successo a Daphne Caruana Galizia,è accaduto a Ján Kuciak come ad Anna Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaja. E’ questo il comune denominatore dei delitti contro i giornalisti. Per questo motivo sono molto grato per l’amicizia e il supporto di Ecpmf a tutti i giornalisti in pericolo.

Senza questa consapevolezza, nessuna iniziativa di protezione della libera informazione può avere successo. Perché, in fin dei conti, non è minacciata la sicurezza di un singolo giornalista, ma il diritto di una intera comunità ad essere liberamente informata.

Informazioni sull’autore

Nello Scavo scrive per il quotidiano Avvenire dal 2001. Nel corso degli anni ha pubblicato inchieste sulla criminalità organizzata e sul terrorismo globale, lavorando da aree come l’ex Jugoslavia, la Cambogia e il Sudest asiatico, i Paesi dell’ex URSS, l’America Latina, la Turchia, la Siria, la rotta dei Balcani, il Corno d’Africa e il Maghreb. Nel settembre 2017 è entrato in una delle prigioni clandestine libiche, descrivendo le condizioni dei migranti intrappolati.Dall’ottobre 2017 vive sotto scorta a causa delle minacce provenienti dalla Libia e da Malta per l’inchiesta che ha svelato la presenza del trafficante di uomini Bija ad un incontro con le autorità italiane. Ha vinto diversi premi giornalistici italiani, tra cui il Premio per la libertà di informazione.

ReportIt chiede a tutte le persone di essere solidali con i giornalisti e gli operatori dei media a rischio, denunciando tutte le violazioni dei media e della libertà di stampa a Mapping Media Freedom. Aiutaci a combattere la normalizzazione delle minacce contro i giornalisti e a difendere la libertà dei media partecipando qui:

#ReportIt: We need to learn lessons from attacks at protests in Serbia

By | ReportIt, Serbia

by Zoran Kusovac

In July 2020 during public disturbances in Belgrade, some reporters were physically attacked by protestors and police, because of their perceived position, in terms of the ownership of the media outlets they work for. The executives of one organisation decided to give them physical protection. Unaware of decades of experience in using media safety consultants, they engaged a local security company that sent some tough-looking guys, big-muscled bouncers who were indistinguishable from the extremists who targeted their employees and did not know even the basics of dealing with riots and targeted mass attacks. These “protectors” were more of an invitation to violence than a deterrent. Tragedy was avoided by pure chance.

The safety of reporters in the field is one of the main concerns of responsible news editors and media executives. It is a difficult task; the very nature of the job demands that they operate in life-threatening situations. Balancing the contradictory demands of safety and coverage is even more difficult in the current technological and professional environment.


Technology adds a new paradigm of threat to media freedom

The twenty-first century brought modern digital technologies at affordable prices, opening up huge possibilities for the media. Live reporting is no longer the exclusive domain of traditional TV and radio broadcasters. The Internet and the availability of cheap multifunctional gear opened it up to all sorts of entities: newspapers, magazines, radio stations, telephone companies, social media, governments, bloggers, influencers… All of these post photographs and video that are taken by operators who have to be as close as possible to the action in order to capture fighting, shooting, explosions and beatings,  – risking life and limb. New multi-use gadgets, from ubiquitous cell phones to photo cameras that also shoot video and broadcast it live have helped to blur the distinction between “the media” and new, non-traditional content providers.

At the dawn of the era of 24-hour TV news channels, technology was expensive and very few could afford it. In 1991, at the beginning of the wars in former Yugoslavia, a set of broadcast-quality TV reporting equipment, cost at least 50,000 euros with half as much again also required for an edit suite; a satellite uplink station costing upwards of 1 million euros was needed to go live. Financial limitations effectively reduced the number of people exposed to the most acute dangers, at least in broadcast media.

This pricey gear was also complex, requiring long operator training. It comprised learning on-the-job that gave media organisations a chance to teach their staff the principles of media ethics and operational awareness in various real-life situations. But it proved not to be enough. Scores of journalists died in the line of duty in Croatia, Bosnia, Chechnya, Rwanda and other 1990s conflicts and executives and editors realised the need for specialised training and physical protection. Well-to-do media sent their frontline staff to hostile environment training courses and hired security advisers, companies that provided competent ex-soldiers and former police officers who accompanied journalists, assessed the dangers, came up with procedures to minimise risk and physically stood close to reporters in wars, revolutions and riots. It worked remarkably well, at least for a time. Until technology created a new dangerous paradigm, the one in which we now live and work.

Two decades into the 21st century, most media workers reporting on dangerous situations are again in a very precarious position.

Some of the lessons learned have been forgotten; part of the awareness, paid for in the blood of many a journalist, has been lost.

Education:  the most effective prevention against attacks to media workers

No point in pondering over why we painted ourselves into that corner. The reasons are many and include the fact that technological progress does not always translate into the well-being of the operators; the changing nature of media and media-like content providers; the failure of both industry and society as a whole to effectively raise awareness of safety issues and come up with viable tools to at least stop this dangerous decline and ultimately rectify the unacceptable situation.

The most effective affordable remedy and prevention measure is education. It should focus on two main groups:

The first is obvious: people on the ground, media workers who come into close contact with hooligans, rioters, paramilitaries, criminals, police, armies and increasingly with ordinary citizens whose grudges are vented against poor news-gatherers. Some of our colleagues are often not even recognised as members of the press; in refusing to accept their status, many wish to prevent them from carrying out their principal democratic task of informing the public of events they witness. International organisations and watchdogs need to engage with this problem,  to clarify their status. They could issue them with proof-of-status, as many are not formally employed or even accredited by the outlets who use their output. To qualify for the recognition as bona-fide members of the media and some sort of a press pass, candidates should participate in at least a basic course in journalistic ethics and a practical safety-awareness programme.

The second group is, sadly, often forgotten: owners and executives of outlets directing and using the work of those field journalists. Many of them do not have a journalistic background nor any experience in dealing with dangerous situations. I confronted a number of new media executives in several countries and all were genuinely shocked to hear details of the risks their ultimate content-producers face on the ground. Even when they wanted to act, they had no knowledge nor anyone to lean upon and sometimes made mistakes that could have put their staff at even bigger risk.

Educating these two groups, the media soldiers in the field and their colonels and generals, must be taken as an urgent task for all organisations that can in any way contribute, from financing to organising and facilitating. COVID-19 has taught us that achieving that goal does not require huge and expensive infrastructure: it can be done online, in interactive workshops. But it must be done decisively and without delay.


ReportIt calls for all people to stand in solidarity with at-risk journalists and media workers by reporting all violations of media and press freedom to Mapping Media Freedom. Help us fight the normalisation of threats against journalists and stand up for media freedom by taking part here:


Photo: Jerome Delay

About the Author

 Zoran Kusovac is a journalist, editor and media executive with 30 years’ experience in the media. He has worked as a junior reporter, a producer, bureau chief and creator and director of the first fully digital TV station in South-Eastern Europe. He worked for Sky News,Fox News, Jane’s Information Group, The Times (London) and others, mainly in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Middle East and South-East Asia. In his own words his most noteworthy professional achievement is that in over 20 years of leading and directing journalists in wars, rebellions, civil unrests and many violent events, his teams did not suffer any serious casualties, but achieved remarkable coverage. Admittedly, luck also played an important part.


Photo: by Global Panorama // // CC BY-SA 3.0


#ReportIt: When state funding discredits the press – The Romanian media is facing a financial and moral dilemma

By | COVID_19, ReportIt, Romania

By Dumitrița Holdiș, Project Manager at the Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ) Bucharest, Romania and non-resident fellow at the Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Hungary.


Like every other branch of the economy, the media industry in Romania was severely impacted by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Similar to other eastern European countries, Romania introduced firm measures to contain the virus in the spring of 2020 and the restrictions, which included a strict lockdown lasting for two months, had an immediate constricting effect on economic activity and created panic amongst economic actors. Although funding for the Romanian media often relies on “grey” funding from public institutions and municipal authorities the media is nevertheless heavily dependent on market mechanisms, like advertising. Thus, the signs of a crisis in the sector were looming.  Even business giants like Coca-Cola announced in March that they were suspending all marketing activities, including advertising, due to the crisis, and media companies were reporting severe drops in advertising income. Ironically, this was happening at a time when Romanians were practically becoming one with their television sets. Audience numbers for all TV channels and news programmes skyrocketed, online news portals were seeing record number of users and journalists were our proxies for the outside world. The media industry was becoming more “essential” yet it was losing income.

Associations representing the industry intervened and lobbied the government to come up with steps to save the press, as it did with other branches of the economy. The solution proposed by the government and embraced by a large number of organisations was to set up a so-called public information campaign with the twofold purpose of promoting safety measures, such as keeping social distance and wearing masks, and of supporting the media industry to recover from the crisis. The campaign was set to last four months, from May to September, and was funded with roughly 40 million euros. Later, the fund was supplemented and reached 50 million euros and the campaign was extended to the end of 2020. The money was awarded based on audience points – each point was worth roughly 90 euros – and institutions applying for funds had to declare a projected or estimated number of viewers for the government ads.

According to this logic, the biggest winners in the scheme were the big media players, such as private television channels which are already dominating financially the media market or media trust funds that own televisions, online media outlets and radio stations.  In a report recently published by the Center for Independent Journalism, it is estimated that a quarter of the money is about to go to the top 25 big players in the market, in a country where there are thousands of media organisations. The report also argues that the logic of distribution encourages and rewards ‘click-baiting’ and focuses heavily on traffic and indiscriminate audiences to measure success. Moreover, by rewarding the big market players, the government was doing the exact opposite of saving the press: the local press, the small independent media outlets, the written press was receiving almost no aid through this scheme.

Although generally hailed as a saving grace by the industry, the “advertising fund” as it is known in Romania, immediately raised critical voices. Smaller, independent media organisations came out publicly to denounce the fund and to raise questions on the effects it will have on public trust in the media. 2020 is an exceptional year all over the world. But in Romania it was more so as two important elections, local and parliamentary, are taking place this autumn. Seeing the government disburse money to the press in an electoral year, without any checks and balances, is not a flattering image. The Romanian public is notoriously distrustful of the media. Political figures contributed to discrediting a nosy press once the pandemic started affecting the country. Questions on the mismanagement of the crisis, on the poor allocation of funds for the health care system, on the number of casualties and infections were repeatedly reduced to accusations of false news or bad intentions. Now, the same government is funding the press to spread its message. Fears of self-censorship, political pressure and an erosion of credibility led some media outlets to publicly refuse to apply for funding.

“When the watchdog of democracy is fed by those in power, don’t expect it to bark too loudly”

wrote Dan Tăpălagă of G4Media, a small Bucharest-based online news site.

It echoed the fears of many journalists. But the money was a breath of air for many media organisations struggling to pay salaries, to fund reporting or to simply pay the rent.

A more complex effect of this funding scheme is related to increasing distrust in the government, the media, and also the reality of the pandemic. Covid denial is rife in Romania and distrust in public institutions and political leaders is fuelling such sentiment. The media is not just an industry or a branch of the economy and it should not be treated as such by any state. The effects of blanket distrust in the means of mass communication are visible in the scant respect the public has for anything communicated by the government. And if this discredited message is one that could save lives, the implications are lethal. The media sector can and must be supported in this time of crisis, but support should not cost the media its credibility.


ReportIt calls for all people to stand in solidarity with at-risk journalists and media workers by reporting all violations of media and press freedom to Mapping Media Freedom. Help us fight the normalisation of threats against journalists and stand up for media freedom by taking part here:

#ReportIt: Mental Health – Protecting the wellbeing of journalists and media workers across Europe

By | Mapping Media Freedom, ReportIt

For World Mental Health Day (10th October 2020) ECPMF Helpdesk Manager, Katrin Schatz outlines the steps needed to protect the mental health and emotional wellbeing of journalists and media workers across Europe and what the Media Freedom Rapid Response can do to support

 In this piece, ‘women’ refers to all people who identify as women.

Given the nature of their work, according to research cited by the DART Center for Journalism and Trauma, between 80 and 100% of journalists and media workers have been exposed to traumatic events as part of their work from a range of different sources. They are often witnesses to traumatic events, ranging from armed conflicts, natural disasters and homicides to everyday tragedies like crime scenes, traffic accidents and domestic violence. As witnesses, while the trauma might not be experienced first-hand, it can still be felt vicariously and affect the journalists’ mental, physical, and emotional well-being.

As the situation of press and media freedom worldwide is deteriorating, this puts journalists and media workers further at risk from a wide range of direct and indirect physical, legal, psychological and digital safety threats. For instance, the majority of journalists have been exposed to intimidation and online harassment, solely for carrying out their work. For women, non-binary and LGBTI journalists as well as journalists of colour these attacks can be especially consistent and vicious.

The majority of journalists have been exposed to intimidation and online harassment, solely for carrying out their work.

Since the beginning of 2020, the Mapping Media Freedom platform has recorded 227 threats against press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. 122 (54%) relate to harassment and/or psychological abuse, such as intimidation, threats, sexual harassments and smear campaigns, as seen in the abuse directed at Florence Hainaut in Belgium and Miroslava Byrns in North Macedonia. Further to this, having to source and fund legal representation and participate in court cases related to legal threats, such as SLAPPs and defamation can affect a media professionals’ mental health.

The mental health of journalists is too often overlooked

Being constantly exposed to trauma, either first or second-hand, in-person or online, takes a toll and can have a significant impact on a person’s emotional health and willingness to continue their work safely. The psychological impact of this work can take various forms and is experienced differently by each individual due to the context, severity and frequency of exposure. Anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and insomnia are common diagnoses, with further symptoms such as increased alertness, numbing and disassociation, intrusive memories, concentration problems, and overreaction to everyday events being associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.

This is a cultural issue as well. Stress is very much considered as part of the profession; the default state of contemporary newsroom culture. Irregular schedules, tight deadlines and potentially dangerous reporting environments are typical aspects of a career in journalism across Europe. This is further entrenched by diminishing resources for in-work support, fewer staff to alleviate pressures on individuals and insecure working contracts. The normalization of such working conditions, when twinned with stereotypes concerning bravery and grit can undermine the process of journalists and media workers acknowledging underlying mental health issues and seeking necessary support.

COVID-19 is affecting journalists’ mental health

In June 2020, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and the University of Toronto interviewed 73 journalists from international news organizations covering the pandemic. Early results state that around 70% of the respondents suffer from some levels of psychological distress, with further responses suggesting that 26% have clinically significant anxiety compatible with the diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, symptoms of which include feelings of worry, feeling on edge, insomnia, poor concentration and fatigue. Around 11% of respondents report prominent symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which include recurrent intrusive thoughts and memories of a traumatic COVID-19-related event, a desire to avoid recollections of the event, and feelings of guilt, fear, anger, horror and shame.

While these symptoms warrant immediate attention to support the journalists and media workers themselves, this is also a severe threat to the information society needs to understand and cope with the current public health crisis across the globe. By protecting the health of journalists and media workers we are protecting the health of our democracies and societies.

Media professionals need more support than ever coping with work related trauma

Journalists are as vulnerable to psychological trauma as they are to physical, digital and legal threats. Thus, psychosocial safety is of crucial importance and should not be seen as separate to other dimensions of safety. Approaching these threats holistically and preparing accordingly enhances the overall safety of journalists.

Psychosocial safety is of crucial importance and should not be seen as separate to other dimensions of safety.

Resources exist to ensure journalists can access the support they need. For instance, the Dart Center at Columbia University in New York is a resource hub on the topic of journalism and trauma. It provides guidance on how to report ethically on tragic and/or traumatic incidents as well as to protect oneself from their harmful effects. Further to that, many organisations publish guides and provide trainings related to mental health issues for journalists.

Where self-care is not sufficient and local support mechanisms are lacking, journalists can access psychological support through international organisations. Journalists based in EU Member State and Candidate Countries can receive financial assistance through the practical support fund of the Media Freedom Rapid Response:


ReportIt calls for all people to stand in solidarity with at-risk journalists and media workers by reporting all violations of media and press freedom to Mapping Media Freedom. Help us fight the normalisation of threats against journalists and stand up for media freedom by taking part here: