MEDIA FREEDOM
Mapping Media Freedom: 2017 in review
20 Dec 2017
BY RYAN MCCHRYSTAL

This year saw 1,035 media freedom violations reported to Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom, a project that monitors media freedom in 42 countries, including all EU member states. To highlight the most pressing concerns for press freedom in Europe, Index’s MMF correspondents discuss the violations that stood out most.

Russia / 197 verified reports in 2017
“In November Russia adopted a new restrictive law against foreign media. It allows recognising foreign media as foreign agents, which makes them subjects of numerous additional checks and obliges them to mark the content as produced by a foreign agent. The vague and ambiguous wording means it applies to many outlets – from established media to email newsletters. Which media will be recognised as foreign agents will be decided by Russian Ministry of justice. However, US media such as Voice of America or Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty have already received warnings about possible restrictions on their work in Russia.” — Ekaterina Buchneva

Turkey / 132 verified reports in 2017
“Although 155 journalists are currently imprisoned in Turkey — almost all of them on trumped-up charges — the trial of journalist Nedim Türfent, who reported on security operations in Turkey’s Kurdish regions, is by far the worst violation as open experiences of torture at the hands of police officers were recounted by at least a dozen people in the case. This violation shows that torture is making a comeback in Turkey.” — Barış Altıntaş

More on Nedim Türfent’s case.

Belarus / 92 verified reports in 2017
The mass detention of journalists on Freedom Day in March was indicative of the Belarusian authorities’ campaign launched in 2017 on preventing journalists from performing their professional duties. The situation was provoked by mass protests across Belarus against introducing presidential decree on “social parasites”, which imposes a tax on the unemployed amid increasing economic crisis. The authorities have shown their real attitude to freedom of speech through real hunting on independent journalists and bloggers that are blocked from access to information, detained, jailed, and fined.” — Volha Siakovich

Spain / 66 verified reports in 2017
“The referendum on the independence of Catalonia, north-east of Spain, provoked an avalanche of incidents against reporters. On 1 October 2017, on the day of referendum considered illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court, various journalists were assaulted during police intervention in polling stations. Spanish public television RTVE was biased in favour of Spanish unity while Catalan public television TV3 was biased in favour of the independence. In the aftermath of the referendum, many reporters on the ground suffered insults and assaults usually during street rallies. Unionist protesters used to insult and assault Catalan media. Catalunya Radio glass door was smashed and TV3 car window broken. Catalan protesters chanted “Spanish press manipulators” during Spanish televisions live coverage and Crònica Global website headquarters vandalised with spray paints and posters. The Catalan political question brought a wave of intimidation against journalists, never seen in such numbers and scale in recent years.” — Miho Dobrasin

Italy / 57 verified reports in 2017
“In 2017 Italian journalists experienced a high level of conflict with the judiciary. Journalists are constantly possible targets of law enforcement raids, also in breaching the privacy of journalists’ sources. In July, Il Fatto Quotidiano journalist Marco Lillo’s house was searched because he published a scoop concerning the investigation on people close to Matteo Renzi, prime minister at time time, for a case of corruption at the most important contracting authority in Italy: Consip. Last but not least, Il Sole 24 Ore journalist Nicola Borzi had seized his computer and archives by the law enforcement because he revealed a “secret of State”, without any formal charge against the journalist. These events show how hard is making scoops in Italy. Moreover, journalists are constantly targeted with lawsuits, frequently used as threats against freelancers. Nowadays the big unsolved issue for Italian journalism is at court.” — Lorenzo Bagnoli

France / 54 verified reports in 2017
“In February, presidential candidate Fillon smeared media outlets who covered alleged corruption case. This was an important moment in the treatment of the media in France. When accused of corruption, conservative presidential candidate François Fillon refused to step down and chose to attack the media and journalists. Journalists covering his campaign saw their working conditions deteriorate and had supporters insulting and attacking them.” — Valeria Costa-Kostritsky

Azerbaijan / 47 reports in 2017
“While there on-going violations of press freedom in Azerbaijan such as the jailing of journalists, office raids, bogus charges and other forms of persecution of journalists, I chose the blocking of opposition and independent news websites in March because it is a sign of further deterioration of media freedom in Azerbaijan. If before there were deliberate slowdowns or DDoS attacks, changes in legislation give full authority to the government institutions wanting to shut down or limit access to the flow of independent and alternative news.” — Arzu Geybullayeva

Croatia / 33 verified reports in 2017
“In September, around 20 members of the Autochthonous Croatian Party of Rights (A-HSP), a far-right political party, which is led by Drazen Keleminec, burned a copy of weekly newspaper Novosti, regional broadcaster N1 reported. This is another example where nationalistic and conservative narratives are endangering media freedom. In this particular case a right-wing political party is targeting the others, in this case the others is an ethnically and linguistically minority weekly, describing them as enemies of the state. The widespread narrative that has resulted in several severe media freedom infringements in this EU country.” — Ilcho Cvetanoski

Macedonia / 27 verified reports in 2017
“During the April’s storming of the Assembly building in the capital Skopje, 23 media workers were physically assaulted, threatened or barred from reporting at the scene. This case perfectly exemplifies what happens when political elites intentionally demonize and dehumanize media workers that are critically observing theirs work by describing them as traitors and foreign mercenaries. In the eyes of the common people, they instantly became a legitimate target. This is a widespread trend in Southeast Europe.” — Ilcho Cvetanoski

Bosnia and Herzegovina / 21 verified reports in 2017
The case of Dragan Bursac is one of the many cases in Southeast Europe where journalists/media workers are threatened/attacked for challenging the mainstream nationalistic narrative. Namely, he was critical on the fact that a military leader, accused of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), is celebrated as a hero by the politicians and media.” — Ilcho Cvetanoski

Germany / 20 verified reports in 2017
“It is extremely concerning that journalists were assaulted and intimidated when reporting on protests in Hamburg. Journalists are there to do their job and it is important that they are able to tell the world what is happening at protests such as the ones in Hamburg.” – Joy Hyvarinen

Hungary / 20 verified reports in 2017
“There is an important change of tactics regarding censorship and defaming independent media in Hungary: instead of attacking the outlets critical to the government, the vast pro-government media started smearing individual journalists, trying to intimidate and discredit the few critical voices who are left in Hungary.” — Zoltan Sipos

Romania / 16 verified reports in 2017
“The national news agency AGERPRES might lose its independence after a draft law enabling the political majority to dismiss the director-general was passed by the chamber of deputies in Romania. If passed in the senate as well, such a provision would have the same impact as on the management of the Romanian Radio Broadcasting Corporation (SRR) and the Romanian National Television Corporation (SRTV): following each election, the SRR and SRTV administration boards can be dismissed before the end of their mandates to reflect the new political forces.” — Zoltan Sipos

United Kingdom / 17 verified reports in 2017
“In the United Kingdom, after the Grenfell tower fire, which claimed 71 deaths, Kensington and Chelsea council tried to ban journalists from attending their first council meeting. Five media organisations had to challenge this legally to gain access. This was a very important case illustrating how difficult it was to gain access and to expect accountability from the organisation which ran the council block.” — Valeria Costa-Kostritsky

Sweden / 15 verified reports in 2017
“The systematic campaign to smear and misrepresent journalists by Granskning Sverige was symptomatic of a wider attack on the legitimacy of liberal and left media by Sweden’s far-right movement, but the campaign detailed by the reporters at the Eskilstuna-kuriren newspaper was orchestrated and unlike anything seen before in the country.” — Dominic Hinde

Greece / 13 verified reports in 2017
“In February 2017, two journalists were harassed by far-right wing protesters, preventing refugee children from attending classes. This is very important, because it shows that although Greece’s economic and refugee crisis seem to have calmed down in the last year, the support for far-right wing organisations doesn’t show any sign of shrinking. This also concerns journalists in Greece, whose safety is in danger every day.” — Christina Vasilaki

The Netherlands / 12 verified reports in 2017
“The Netherlands is considered to be one of the countries where media freedom is widely protected. However, cases like the rape threats levelled at a journalist in May show that media workers are subjected to all sorts of threats. In this case it were rape threats by a popular right-wing weblog. This creates an atmosphere in which it’s conceived normal to use comments and social media to discredit and threaten a journalist. It also highlights the dangers and risks that female journalists face.” — Mitra Nazar

Bulgaria / 11 verified reports in 2017
“In November, it became known that members of an organised crime group from Vratsa planned to murder Zov News website publisher Georgi Ezekiev. The increase of violent incidents and serious threats towards journalists in 2017 is alarming in Bulgaria, a country that already has the worst press freedom status in the European Union.” — Zoltan Sipos

Serbia / 11 verified reports in 2017
“Serbia’s free media had a dark year with many incidents, threats and violence coming towards them. In May, journalists were assaulted during clashes at the presidential inauguration. This is just one of many cases, but it clearly demonstrates just how critical the state of the media is because they happened during the presidential inauguration. The assaults were committed by supporters of the government with a lot of police around. The impunity these assaulters meet is worrying for the lack of condemnation by authorities and the message they clearly want to send to critical journalists.” — Mitra Nazar

Malta / 8 verified reports in 2017
“The most worrying incident regards the murder of anti-corruption, investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. While this murder gripped the attention of international media and European authorities including the European Commission and Parliament, it is still shocking for every journalist that in a democratic, EU country, journalists’ lives could be in danger because they are doing their job, exposing high-level corruption in political, business and criminal elites.” — Christina Vasilaki

Kosovo / 6 verified reports in 2017|
“Kosovo’s media have been shaken up by two attacks on Insajderi investigative journalists. Insajderi is home to the best investigative journalists in the country, covering corruption and crime topics that nobody else dares to touch. Journalist Parim Olluri was beaten up outside his home in Pristina on 16 August. He needed medical assistance in a hospital. Nobody has been held responsible for the attack. Two months later, his colleague Vehbi Kajtazi was hit on the head in a cafe in downtown Pristina on 13 October. One person was arrested on the spot. We are talking about two violent incidents to Insajderi journalists within a period of three months. This shows that Kosovo’s journalists continue to face violence, even in very public places like cafe’s and neighbourhoods they live. For this reason there are just a few brave journalists who dare to touch sensitive topics, which is a worrying sign for the future of journalism and truth finding in the youngest country in Europe.” — Mitra Nazar

Montenegro / 6 verified reports in 2017
“Attack on journalist’s property is one of most common ways of intimidation. This is not only case for Montenegro, but also for all other countries in the region. What is striking is that intentional setting on fire of journalist’s vehicles is one of most common ways of limitation of media freedom in Montenegro. In recent years there have been several burnt vehicle in this small EU candidate country.” — Ilcho Cvetanoski

Portugal / 5 verified reports in 2017
“Similarly to what’s happening in other countries, Portugal has seen a rise of questioning towards journalism, those who work in the media industry and their work. Besides motivating a new and stimulating debate between journalists and their readers/viewers/listeners, this has also opened the gates to instances of abuse, cyberbullying and slander. The most significant example of that is that of Público’s journalist Margarida Gomes, whose work ethic was put in question by Facebook groups and public officials, who both used false information regarding her personal life to denigrate her work.” — João de Almeida Dias

Latvia / 3 verified reports in 2017
“In Latvia it was a quiet year for press freedom. However, the sudden and swift dismissal of Sigita Roķe, the head of public service Latvian Radio for alleged economic irregularities was seen as a pretext for dismissing her for efforts to disengage the radio from sponsorship agreements with the city of Ventspils, whose politically influential mayor has is on trial for money laundering and corruption. The dismissal raised questions about the political neutrality of Latvia’s media watchdog, the National Electronic Mass Media Council.” — Juris Kaza

Ireland / 3 verified reports in 2017
“Compared to the long list of countries in Europe where it is getting progressively dangerous for reporters to do their work, the situation in Ireland is relatively benign. There are renewed concerns over source protection, and the strict libel regime. However, the most serious concern is regarding media ownership. Index on Censorship published a detailed report on this in August 2017. One significant media takeover – Independent News and Media buying up Celtic Media – fell through after the Government ordered a statutory investigation following objections.” — Flor Mac Carthy

Estonia / 3 verified reports in 2017
“In March, journalists for Estonia’s largest daily in circulation Postimees, sent a letter to the owners and managers to complain about interference with editorial freedom. This event is a disturbing example of the interference attempts from media owners and advertisement department that had grown to the level that journalists of a daily, that prides itself with a long history and high-quality content, had to resort to an unprecedented united protest letter to fight it. Interference in journalistic decision making and content from outside or inside sources is in general the worrisome threat.” — Helle Tiikmaa

Belgium / 2 verified reports in 2017
“In Belgium, a journalist who had published a story on surveillance in Bruxelles’ metro was interrogated on her sources by the police, in clear breach of the principle of sources confidentiality. The case also reminds us of the risk for journalists covering surveillance.” — Valeria Costa-Kostritsky

Denmark / 2 verified reports in 2017
“The killing of Kim Wall by the inventor and entrepreneur Peter Madsen was a headline news event around the world. Stabbed to death and dumped at sea whilst interviewing Madsen on board his home-built submarine, her body was recovered after an extensive marine search. Although not typical of any wider trend, her murder was so brutal it raised significant questions about the safety and ethics of female freelancers working alone without support or safeguards.” — Dominic Hinde

Finland / 2 verified reports in 2017
“In March the Finnish government introduced restrictive changes to the functioning of the public broadcasting company Yle, which entailed putting the state-owned company more firmly under politicians’ decision-making power. The proposal was driven by the True Finns, a nationalist party that have repeatedly complained about Yle’s liberal views and non-sceptical approach to ‘multicultural Finland’. In the official briefing, stated the following: “The proposal is to strengthen the role of the Administrative Council so that they can decide on Yle’s journalistic strategy and regulate the permanent expert consultation process”. The council referred is mainly composed of politicians. — Katariina Salomäki

Iceland / 1 verified report in 2017
“Iceland has been rocked by political scandals and collapsing governments twice in the space of a year. In October it came to light that the prime minister had used financial confidentiality legislation to stop the investigative newspaper Stundin from publishing details of his offshore financial dealings in the run-up to the 2008 financial crash. Iceand’s main newspaper Morgunbladid is controlled by another former Prime Minister, also a member of the powerful Icelandic independence party, and Stundin has consistently sought to expose the Icelandic financial and political elite where other titles have remained silent.” — Dominic Hinde

Mapping Media Freedom

Index on Censorship monitors press freedom in 42 European countries.

Since 24 May 2014, Mapping Media Freedom’s team of correspondents and partners have recorded and verified more than 3,700 violations against journalists and media outlets.

Index campaigns to protect journalists and media freedom. You can help us by submitting reports to Mapping Media Freedom.

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Ryan McChrystal

Ryan McChrystal

Assistant Online Editor at Index on Censorship

Ryan McChrystal is Assistant Editor, Online at Index on Censorship, where he provides support for the news and online team in addition to creating content. He has previously held various editorial roles, including as a local reporter, a market reporter and most recently as a features writer at an SME-focused magazine. He graduated in history and politics from Queen’s University, Belfast.

Contact: [email protected] | public key
Ryan McChrystal

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