July 2018: 36 reports in EU member states, candidates and potential candidates

A photographer and a cameraperson were assaulted by several war veterans during a protest in the capital Sarajevo
A photographer and a cameraperson were assaulted by several war veterans during a protest in the capital Sarajevo (Photo: FAKTOR)

In July 2018, Mapping Media Freedom verified a total of 36 reports – many relating to the most serious categories of violations of media freedom – in 28 EU countries, five candidate countries and two potential candidate countries.

“Media workers face a wide range of threats as they perform their professional duties. In July, we verified one particular case in Bosnia-Herzegovina that ties in with a long-term trend, in which journalists were targeted by participants at protests. While reporting on demonstrations is always a difficult assignment, with journalists often on the line between police and protesters, we have seen an increase in cases of demonstrators directly targeting the media representatives who are covering the events. This is a reflection of the distrust of the news media being fomented by government officials around the world,” Paula Kennedy, assistant editor, Mapping Media Freedom, said.

The most serious categories represented were: physical assault (4 reports), intimidation (9), arrests/detentions (4), criminal charges (4), interrogation (1), defamation/discredit (6), online harassment (3) and censorship (4).

Physical assaults: Journalists’ safety a real issue

There were 4 physical assaults recorded by MMF in July, 2 in EU member states (France and Slovenia) one in the candidate state Albania and one in potential candidate state Bosnia-Herzegovina. In France, the parliamentary TV channel Public Sénat revealed that one of its journalists had been manhandled by Alexandre Benalla, a member of Emmanuel Macron’s security team during the presidential election campaign. In Slovenia, a TV crew from privately-owned Planet TV was assaulted by a former recruiter for Islamic State who had just been expelled from Italy after serving a prison sentence there. In Albania, a TV crew filming at a hydropower plant was assaulted by a security guard, while in Bosnia-Herzegovina, two journalists were assaulted at a war veterans’ protest in Sarajevo.

Intimidation: Widespread and insidious

There were 9 reports across EU member states, candidates and potential candidates. The country responsible for the largest number (4) was Bosnia-Herzegovina, where in one case a news editor at public broadcaster BHT 1 received death threats after issuing a memo calling on presenters to be impartial and professional by not wearing symbols on their lapels. There were also 3 reports relating to candidate country Serbia, where cases included the harassment of two journalists who reported on local authority spending irregularities. Additional reports of intimidation were reported to the platform from Sweden and the United Kingdom (1 each).

Arrests/detentions: Turkey still in the lead

The 4 verified reports of arrests/detentions of journalists all related to EU candidate country Turkey, which continues to hold the world record for the number of journalists in detention. In one case, Mustafa Gökkılıç, a former reporter for Habertürk TV, was arrested in connection with a 2012 investigation into senior officials at Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

Criminal charges: Journalists prosecuted for doing their job

Turkey also played a part in all 4 reports relating to criminal charges brought against journalists in July. This can be attributed to two factors: the ongoing clampdown on freedom of expression in the wake of the failed 2016 coup, and the continuing tendency to accuse journalists (especially those of Kurdish origin) of disseminating “terrorist propaganda”. In addition to 3 reports relating to the prosecution of Turkish journalists, the Turkish authorities also initiated judicial action against two Turkish Cypriot journalists who published reports critical of the Turkish leadership’s policies and the Turkish military’s actions in northern Syria.

Interrogation: Potential instrument of pressure

The one verified case of a journalist being interrogated by security forces during July related to an allegation by the editor of the Latvian language version of the Russia-based Sputnik news agency that he was questioned for 12 hours by the Latvian security police on his arrival back in Riga after a visit to Moscow. The Latvian security police dismissed Valentīns Rožencovs’ claim that he had been taken in for questioning as “fake news”.

Defamation and discredit: Professional integrity under attack

There were 6 verified reports in July relating to journalists being the target of defamation and discredit –  a method of retaliation resorted to by many politicians unhappy with the way in which they are represented by the media. Three of the reports related to the United Kingdom, with one of these arising from US President Donald Trump’s branding of several mainstream media outlets as “fake news” during his visit to Britain. The remaining cases of defamation and discredit related to Croatia, Macedonia and Poland (1 each). In both the Croatian and Polish examples, journalists were accused of being insufficiently patriotic in their coverage of the World Cup in Russia.

Online harassment: Virtual attacks

There were 3 reports of online harassment in July, one each from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, a Bosnian Serb activist posted threats against three journalists working for the Bosnian public broadcaster RTRS on Facebook, saying they should take care not to bump into him in the street. In Croatia, several journalists became the target of cyberbullying as a result of their critical reporting on the welcome accorded to the national football team on its return from the World Cup in Russia. And in Serbia, a journalist’s personal email address was revealed in an anonymous comment posted on a local news website that appeared to have originated with the local council office.

Censorship: State control intensifies

There were 4 reports relating to censorship verified by MMF in July: 1 each in Hungary, Poland, Spain and Turkey. The Polish report examined allegations of a blacklist operated by state broadcaster TVP. In Turkey, three pro-Kurdish newspapers and a TV station were shut down by virtue of a decree issued under the State of Emergency after they were deemed to represent a threat to state security.