“We call on governments to translate their public commitments on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists into working realities backed up by effective safeguards,” Index on Censorship and thirteen other organisations say in the newly launched Annual Report of the Council of Europe Platform.
According to the report, a total of 201 media freedom alerts were published on the Platform in 2020, the highest annual total recorded in any year since the platform was launched in 2015. Online harassment, physical attacks, surveillance, and strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) are among the themes covered in the report, which draws on the media freedom alerts that were submitted to the platform over the course of 2020.
Although the United Kingdom’s National Action Plan is cited as an example of good practice, the UK is primarily mentioned in less favourable contexts in the report. The UK is mentioned, alongside Russia and Italy, as having one of the highest numbers of reported attacks on the physical integrity of journalists. Northern Ireland is mentioned as a particular area of concern, as journalists continue to face violent threats there on a recurring basis.
The UK was also mentioned in the context of SLAPPs. In May and June 2020, five Maltese media outlets received letters from a UK-based law firm demanding the removal of articles under threat of legal action, and in November 2020 legal action was filed in London against Swedish outlet Realtid as a result of their investigative work. “The UK has been identified as the foremost country of origin of such vexatious actions, and this practice threatens to bring the UK and its legal profession into disrepute in the eyes of the world,” the report says.
“SLAPPs are just one of the issues that demand immediate attention from the UK and other Council of Europe member states, from the Council of Europe itself, and from the European Union,” said Jessica Ní Mhainín, Index’s Policy and Campaigns Manager, who was involved in the creation of the report. “We need to stand behind our independent journalists and to ensure that they can carry out their work without interference. We will not be able to protect our democracies, our rule of law, and our human rights if we cannot protect our free press.”