Attacks on journalists covering protests increase says new report

Physical attacks on journalists have increased dramatically over the past year, according to the latest annual report from the Council of Europe Platform on media freedom in Europe.

The platform, of which Index on Censorship is a partner, reports on serious threats to the safety of journalists and media freedom in Europe in order to reinforce the Council of Europe’s response to the threats and member states’ accountability.

The new report, Defending Press Freedom in Times of Tension and Conflict, reveals that the number of cases involving the safety and physical integrity of journalists has jumped by 51% year-on-year, with 82 cases reported to the platform.

Many of the attacks on journalists have taken place during public protests.

“Violence against journalists during street protests is fed by a wave of media bashing and an avalanche of hate speech on social networks – very often prompted by political figures – which directly target journalists, questioning their independence and legitimacy and therefore making them more vulnerable to physical aggression,” the report says.

Overall, the number of alerts in all categories published by the CoE platform has sky-rocketed to 280 in 2021, up from around 200 in 2020 and more than double the level reported in 2016. Of the 280 alerts, 110 related to the harassment and intimidation of journalists.

Index’s policy and campaigns manager Jessica Ní Mhainín

Speaking at the launch of the report, Index’s policy and campaigns manager Jessica Ní Mhainín highlighted cases of impunity in CoE’s report.

“Impunity for crimes against journalists refer to failure of states to identify, prosecute and punish anyone including the assailants and masterminds involved in committing a crime against a journalist,” she said. “Cultures of impunity contribute to self-censorship by making journalists more vulnerable to pressures out of fear of reprisals or harm.”

Some 35 cases of impunity have been registered on the platform since 2015 and two new impunity cases – those of Turkish journalist Uğur Mumcu, murdered in 1993, and Turkish-Cypriot journalist Kutlu Adalı, murdered in Cyprus in 1996 – were added to the impunity category during the year.

“In 2021, we welcomed the Slovak Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the not-guilty verdicts of the suspected masterminds of the 2018 murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. The case will be heard in the Specialized Criminal Court later this year,” said Ní Mhainín.

Last year also saw the publication of a 438 page-report from the public inquiry into the assassination  of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, which concluded that the state of Malta “must bear responsibility for the assassination because it created an atmosphere of impunity”.

“We once again call on the Maltese authorities and the Commission of Experts to implement the recommendations of the Public Inquiry,” said Ní Mhainín.

Russia, Turkey and Ukraine account for 60% of all the cases relating to impunity on the platform. Last October marked the 15th anniversary of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s murder.

Ní Mhainín said, “The masterminds of her murder are still at large, sending the incredibly dangerous message that killing a journalist is a low-risk crime.”

Yet impunity is not restricted to these countries.

A BBC Spotlight investigation has uncovered serious concerns over the police investigation and the failure to prosecute those behind the murder of Irish journalist Martin O’Hagan, who was killed in September 2001 for his reporting on paramilitary activities in Northern Ireland. The concerns raised in the programme, which aired on 2 March 2022, came in the wake of several Police Ombudsman reports that uncovered collusive behaviour between the police and loyalists in Northern Ireland. According to the BBC’s investigation, police did not act on important information – including individual names – that were handed over to them within 48 hours of the murder. The journalist’s family are now taking legal action against the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Ministry of Defence.

“Press freedom is the canary in the coal mine – it is a key indicator of the clear and worrying degree of democratic backsliding that is taking place across Europe,” said Ní Mhainín. “That’s why we once again call on Council of Europe member states to ensure that the highest priority is given to conducting thorough and transparent investigations into all crimes against journalists and we remind member states of the 2016 Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers which requires states ‘adopt appropriate criminal law provisions to prevent impunity’”

Ukraine: International outrage at violence against journalists

International organisations have expressed their grave concern at the violence carried out against journalists and media workers covering the on-going protests in Ukraine.

According to the OSCE more than 40 journalists representing national and international media outlets have been physically assaulted and injured whilst covering the public protests in Kiev. Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, spoke today of her worries of the magnitude of violence.

“I am especially concerned that in most of the cases, the beatings were reportedly conducted by the law enforcement officers who attacked the journalists and disregarded their press identification. Violence against journalists cannot be tolerated”, Mijatović wrote in a letter to OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) has also spoken out against the violence, urging the President and government of the Ukraine to stop the unlawful actions taken against their colleagues: “Being in the centre of events is a journalists’ job, but not a reason to try brutal force on them. We call on the authorities to investigate each incident of attack on our colleagues, and to ensure normal conditions for journalists’ work. Absence of reaction to the violence looks like connivance.”

According to the BAJ cameramen, correspondents, photographers and journalists from organisation including Euronews, the Associated Press and Insider have all been attacked by officers of security squads whilst covering the protests.

Any response by the OSCE has been complicated by the fact that Ukraine is the 2013 Chairman of the international security organisation. A statement issued today by the international Civic Solidarity platform, as participants of the OSCE civil society parallel conference, stated: “violence, threats, the beating of activists and journalists causing serious injury, arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances and court restraining orders that restrict the freedom of peaceful assembly – these form only a partial list of the phenomena we have witnessed in recent days not only in Kiev, but in other Ukrainian cities as well.”

Protestors have been calling for the resignation of the government since November after the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, refused to sign a deal on closer EU ties.

This article was posted on 2 Dec 2013 at