Declining Press Freedom in Europe

By Harriet Finlayson, GEC intern, 3rd year Politics and IR student, University of Kent

Press freedom in European states has been subject to increasing scrutiny in recent years.  The global Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the threat media freedom in Europe is truly under. A recent report by the partner organisations to the Council of Europe Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists, reveals a worrying picture of the current status of press freedom in Europe and the threat journalists currently face.

The report, written by a coalition of journalist groups and press freedom NGOs, stated that the damage inflicted on the practices of free and independent journalism in 2020 were “extraordinary”. The report attributes this damage to the emergency laws and regulations put in place in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

These regulations included the setting of penalties for inaccurate reporting which is a response to the rise in misinformation and so-called ‘fake news’. Although these regulations in some cases were warranted and allowed the media to correct inaccurate information, in other cases governments took advantage of the laws to put pressure and subdue critical and independent media.

Further, there was also an increase in the restriction or denial of access of the press to information regarding and surrounding the pandemic. This especially impacted independent media outlets, who were discriminated against in favour of media that was less critical and more favourable to the government. There has also been a rise in reported acts of violence and harassment towards journalists, with as recently as this month a high-profile Greek reporter being murdered. The report details that a record number of physical attacks, harassment and intimidation incidents have been reported. This includes during demonstrations in “France, Greece, Italy, Poland, the Russian Federation, Serbia, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom.” Which demonstrates how press freedom is under attack across the continent.

Some of these new laws and regulations, which have come into force during the Covid-19 pandemic, infringe on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights: Freedom of expression, which states that everyone has the right to freedom to have opinions and to impart information without interference by a public authority. The report details how Article 10, and the Convention as a whole, should be respected during emergency measures like the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report suggests that there should be independent oversight of journalism in Europe to protect and uphold freedoms. ,There should also be legal protection for journalists that experience and face harassment. However, the report states that some of these procedures have previously been proposed and approved by the Committee of Ministers Recommendation on the safety of journalists, which was adopted in 2016 by the Council of Europe, though these recommendations were never put into practice.

The report comes after NGO Reporters without Borders lowered the media freedom ranking for European states, including Germany, Poland and Hungary.

Please see below for further information:

Annual Report by the partner organisations to the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists:

Reporters Without Borders Media Freedom Index: 

Blog posts express the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Global Europe Centre or its affiliates.