EC to EU countries: Protect media people better; No sanctions envisaged

EK, EU zastave
Source: Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP

The European Commission (EC) issued the first recommendation for strengthening the safety of journalists and other media professionals on Thursday, a day after Ursula von der Layen, the EC President, called for better protection of journalists and the media in her address on the situation in the European Union.

However, the media professionals warn that the recommendations won’t have many effects without specific measures against those who don’t comply.

The pressures to which the media and journalists are exposed are becoming stronger and more extensive, from attacks by officials and authorities on independent media, primarily in Slovenia, Poland and Hungary, but also in other EU countries, to the demonstrators’ attack on media houses across the EU.

„Last year, more than 900 journalists and other media professionals were attacked in the EU. Attacks include injuries, insults, harassment – both online and offline – and destruction of equipment. That is unacceptable. No journalist should die or be injured because they are doing their job. Today, we are proposing measures that they should take,“ Vera Jurova, an EC Vice President, said.

The basic message is addressed to state bodies to establish national support systems from physical to psychological and „vigorously investigate and prosecute all crimes.“ If necessary, offer personal protection to vulnerable journalists.

The Commission also calls on the Member States to cooperate better and indiscriminately with the media and calls for all media to be given non-discriminatory access to information, including news conferences and documents held by authorities.

The list of published recommendations refers to the protection of journalists in dangerous situations, such as demonstrations or protests, internet security, digital empowerment and empowerment of women minority groups’ journalists.

The EC announced a series of debates with member states, media, and their associations but acknowledged that it could not force any member state to comply with these recommendations.

„We will monitor the situation and put constant pressure on the states if we see that things are not improving. It is essential for the member states themselves not to hurt or kill journalists. The example of Slovakia shows what it looks like when a country loses its reputation. It is in the interest of the member states to protect journalists if they want to be seen as democratic countries. I believe in that, „Jurova added.

The profession is satisfied with the initial recommendations, but journalists, especially in countries where they are under more pressure, say that they are not enough.

They also do not trust that authorities in certain countries will easily agree to the proposals and are concerned about the lack of a mechanism to ensure the implementation of the recommendations.

They remind that the Hungarian Prime Minister persistently violates the rule of law and regulations on migrant issues; his Polish counterpart refuses to abolish the so-called LGBT community free zones; Slovenian Prime Minister cancels independent media funding and verbally attacks them…

Until clear sanctions are established for those who endanger the safety of journalists, the scope of such recommendations remains limited, the media professionals argue.