BY MOGENS BLICHER BJERREGÅRD / PRESIDENT OF THE EUROPEAN FEDERATION OF JOURNALISTS
More than 75 journalists are behind bars in Europe, and more journalists are under detention, and some are waiting for court cases. This situation is not only appalling, for the journalists sentenced to jail just for doing their job, it is also deeply problematic and deteriorating for press freedom as all sort
of violation on journalists has a chilling effect on their journalism.
Last but not least, it is undermining our democracies and creating a big risk for the future of Europe in peace. Through many years now, Turkey has been considered as the biggest jail for journalists which unfortunately is still the case with 50 journalists and media workers in jail according to the last update from the European Federation of Journalists. Upon that we should add a number of bloggers, writers and human rights defenders. For years, we have all been active on this case, and how it is time to step up developing new initiatives and mechanisms to change the situation in Turkey.
Today Belarus is challenging the Turkey on this deplorable development. With random arbitrary charges, the Belarusian dictatorship sentence their journalists to jail. 10 have got verdicts, and many more are awaiting their trial or simply next steps to happen. Like we, in Turkey, have seen journalists being arrested, charged and jailed for tweets or fabricated accusations, journalists in Belarus risk being prisoned for telling the truth, as happened for a young female journalists informing the public that a killed citizen was not affected by alcohol as accused for. Her “crime” was to reveal personal information.
Russia and Azerbaijan are two other countries with jailed journalists in Europe. However other countries are using other tools to silence journalists. The so-called SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) keep hundreds of journalists busy dealing with their own cases stealing their time to do serious journalism.
A third and dangerous method to silence journalists and free media is the word, namely when in particular presidents and prime ministers verbally attack journalists. We have seen that in several Central Eastern European countries. Such words matter because political leaders by their rhetoric de facto legalize hatred on journalists which always is the first wave before physical attacks and in worse case killings.
During all our history authoritarian regimes have suppressed free media, being in control of the word that always has been the first victim in any conflict or war. On the other hand, free and independent journalism is a prerequisite for thriving democracies, and therefore we from the European Federation of
Journalists highly welcome the EU Democracy Action Plan addressing the violation of free media.
Thus, we in Europe on the World Press Freedom Day 3rd May should follow-up on the action plan encouraging our governments to step up guaranteeing journalists their freedom; providing national action plans for the safety of journalists by including all stakeholders that should be part of the solution; supporting the EU in an anti-SLAPP directive; ensuring self-regulatory mechanisms in all European countries; introducing arms’ lengths principles asking both politicians and oligarchs to stay away from the newsroom.
However, we must go high. As journalists we have always stayed on our values not being mixed up with politics but remaining as the extremely important watchdog in any society. Without compromising our role, we for the future must be more aware of the developing of our democracies. We are already taking part in the so-called Media Literacy, and now with our role in mind, we should go high and play our role, be responsible in what we could and should call Democracy Literacy.