Newsrooms across Europe are reporting increased violations of journalist safety, with incidents including physical, verbal, online and legal attacks, that are undermining the ability of public service media to cover major news events – with implications for European democracy.
A new EBU campaign launched today - #OurJournalistsOurFreedom – seeks to raise awareness of the scale of the issue and call for change.
In its ‘violations of press freedoms barometer’, Reporters Without Borders calculate that 24 journalists have been killed in 2022 alone - six of them in Ukraine – and two media assistants. We asked our Member public broadcasters about their experiences. These are just some examples that have instigated the campaign:
Eimear Lowe, Foreign Editor at RTE and Deputy Chair, EBU News Committee, says “We’ve noticed many more cases of verbal and physical intimidation. We’ve had to increase security around our campus, erecting fences to keep the public out, and we inform the police if any protests are planned. Now we wouldn’t allow a lone staff member cover a potentially difficult story. We always have at least a cameraman and a journalist.”
Anita Fichtinger-Eder, Foreign News Desk, ORF, similarly reports threats to journalists during Covid demonstrations, “We’ve seen physical attacks, including people spitting at journalists.”
Petra Zilken-Leitgeb, International Programme Coordinator for ZDF concurs, “We’ve seen increased attacks, a lot of them during protests against Corona restrictions. As well as verbal aggression, including foul language, we’re also seeing harassment of journalists in the digital sphere. We report each case, but legal action is often not effective because the sources of the harassment cannot be identified.”
NOS in the Netherlands has been forced to remove logos and branding from its outside broadcast trucks, because of targeted aggression including brake testing on the highway and vandalism. Marcel Gelauff, Editor-in-Chief at NOS News, says, “Our reporters frequently encounter name-calling and threats, especially on social media, and accusations of spreading fake news. It has become a big problem to cover demonstrations linked to the Corona policy of our government, to a point where we’ve had to keep a distance.”
One public broadcaster, who wishes to remain anonymous in case of reprisals, says, “At the pro-Navalny protests a year ago, the police started beating people with batons. Our correspondent was hit and injured.”
These threats to journalist safety have resulted in initiatives to create secure working conditions for journalists. Asun Gomez Bueno, Director of International Relations at RTVE and Deputy Chair of the EBU’s News Committee, is responsible for setting up an EBU Task Force, which aims to improve safety on the ground, online and in newsrooms. It is recommending a range of support, including a series of ‘how to act’ videos in the event of harassment, expert guides on procedures for reporting incidents, and help and support through access to professionals, including lawyers, counsellors and IT experts.
The work complements the specialist training offered by the EBU Academy, including the Hostile Environment Safety Training (HEST) courses, which particularly focus on equipping media workers, physically and mentally, for working in unsafe and unpredictable situations.
ZDF has increased collaboration with security teams on designated risk assessments, training, use of protective equipment and, in some cases, hiring security services. The broadcaster also cites: “Networking and linking with other public broadcasting organizations before and during such events is both supportive and helpful.”
NOS has instigated a Press Safety initiative that involves the Dutch Association of Journalists and the Society of Editors in Chief and works closely with the police and justice department.
ORF, who had experienced similar issues to NOS with visible branding and logos, had to take corresponding actions, “A workshop was organized to learn about de-escalation strategies and journalist and camera crews reporting on COVID demonstrations would do so only voluntarily; no branding was used on microphones, cameras or jackets; and journalists could ask for security teams to accompany them.”
Commenting on when its campus was overrun by demonstrators, RTE said “It was unpleasant - and unprecedented - for staff. We’ve had to install visible security measures. It's a shame as we see ourselves as a public resource, but we have to take measures to protect our staff.”
Liz Corbin is EBU Deputy Director Media and Head of News, “Reporting accurate, factual and trusted news depends on our journalists being able to report on stories safely and without hindrance. Unfortunately, we are seeing trends that point to journalists being seen, not as neutral observers, but as the enemy. Not only is this hugely distressing to our staff, it has severe implications for how we report a story. Or in some cases, if we report a story. It has to stop. Media freedom – and the provision of trusted, accurate news for our audiences – depends on it.”
The EBU has dedicated the week in the run-up to World Press Freedom Day on 3 May to highlighting these increased threats to journalist safety, and by extension media freedoms, under the hashtag #OurJournalistsOurFreedom.