International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists: Rethinking Challenges to Journalists’ Security

2 November marks the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists which draws attention to the unresolved cases of violence against journalists and highlights the importance of protecting the freedom of expression.

Nov 2, 2023

Journalists across the EU regularly face various forms of violence. The threats faced by journalists not only endanger individual reporters, but also challenge the freedom of expression, media pluralism, and the production of quality journalism. To efficiently ensure the security of journalists,  several systemic issues should be addressed.

State surveillance and police violence

The security of journalists in recent years has been violated by state surveillance, particularly through the abuse of spyware by governments, which endangers both journalists and their sources. This trend raises serious concerns about the safety of journalists from outside the EU who moved to the European Union to escape prosecution by the undemocratic regimes in their own countries. 

The security of journalists and their sources relies on the guaranteed protection of private data, a value that Volt is strongly adheres to.

Another significant threat is violence against journalists committed by the law enforcement officers. However, the attacks on journalists by the police are rarely investigated in an adequate fashion, allowing the perpetrators to avoid accountability. One of the latest examples of this trend are attacks on journalists committed by French police officers during a protest in Paris in July 2023. More attention should still be drawn to violent actions of law enforcement officers against journalists so that each case is thoroughly investigated and the violations do not remain unpunished.

A SLAPP in the face of the free press

In recent years, journalists across the European Union have been increasingly attacked by some politicians and businesses who weaponised laws and courts in order to silence the critical voices of reporters — an approach termed ‘strategic lawsuits against public participation’ (SLAPPs).

SLAPPs are dangerous to journalism in the long-term perspective for two reasons. First, the use of abusive lawsuits against the media can hurt investigative journalism, as media outlets may resort to self-censorship and avoid pursuing investigations if they risk being sued for defamation. Second, huge fines resulting from SLAPPs can be especially harmful to independent journalists and small outlets, such as student newspapers; thus, the use of such weaponised lawsuits becomes a threat to media pluralism. Both these processes can result in the decline of quality journalism and threaten the freedom of information, enabling powerful actors, such as politicians and big corporations, to dominate the public sphere.

The use of SLAPPs has been hard to combat because for a long time such lawsuits had not even been identified as a threat to the freedom of the press. However, this year, the Council of the European Union reached a common position on the draft of the anti-SLAPP law, but some members of the journalistic community consider the position ‘watered down’. The final shape of the legislation still awaits to be defined by the EU Parliament together with the Commission.

There is still work to be done, and Volt decisively advocates for the efficient anti-SLAPP legislation to protect the journalists from politically motivated lawsuits and ensure media freedom and pluralism.

Gender-based violence online

Violence against journalists is committed in the virtual space as well, with women journalists frequently being the targets of attacks online. The highest rates and most severe results of online violence are experienced by Black, Indigenous, Jewish, Arab and lesbian women journalists, as the attacks are typically fueled by misogyny, racism, homophobia, and religious bigotry. The acts of online violence against women journalists are a manifestation of larger issues, namely discrimination and hate speech. These issues should be combated by promoting adequate legislation to address hate crimes and discrimination based on one’s gender, sexuality, and skin color, as proposed by Volt.

In addition, the atmosphere of impunity on social media is facilitated by big tech companies who consistently demonstrate unresponsiveness and inaction on the reports of violence against women journalists, with many incidents never even being acknowledged. Companies should be held responsible for the harassment experienced by users on their platforms, and should develop efficient tools to investigate the cases of violence and prevent the harassment of women journalists. 

The free press should not be taken for granted

The security of journalists, both offline and online, is the most important foundation of the freedom of the press. It is crucial to keep in mind that to truly combat impunity for attacks on journalists, bigger problems with the current state of European democracies need to be addressed.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, and it is an important milestone to rethink the approach to protecting journalists. The 2024 European election is a valuable opportunity to take a more efficient course to ensure journalists’ safety, and, with the right measures, the impunity of violent acts against the press can be decreased in the following years.

Article by Daniel Nizhnik