In 2016, a turning point was reached when the governments of the 47 Council of Europe member states declared in the Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation CM/Rec(2016)4 that the scale and severity of attacks, threats and harassment against journalists and other media actors across Europe was “unacceptable”. They stressed that, in view of the damaging effects on the functioning of democratic society, far-reaching measures were needed to strengthen protections and to eradicate impunity. In the Ministers’ words, abuses and crimes committed against media workers, which in practice are committed by both state and non-state actors, “are often met with insufficient efforts by relevant state authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice, which leads to a culture of impunity and can fuel further threats and violence, and undermine public trust in the law”. Yet the situation has still not improved.
Impunity means the failure by state authorities to identify, prosecute and punish all those, including the assailants and masterminds, responsible for crimes of violence against journalists. It is a pernicious offence and a betrayal of trust by public officials. Impunity gives rise to a suspicion of official collusion in or tolerance of unlawful acts and undermines public confidence in the authorities’ maintenance of the rule of law. Several judgments by the ECtHR have established that states must fulfil “positive obligations” to carry out effective investigations following the killing or disappearance of a journalist.
In 2018 there were 17 individual cases of impunity for murders of journalists.
In 2018 there were 26 impunity alerts on the Platform, including 17 individual cases of impunity for murders of journalists. Two of those murders took place in Azerbaijan, one in Montenegro, six in the Russian Federation, one in Serbia, two in Turkey and five in Ukraine. In addition, a separate impunity alert on Serbia, published in August 2018, identifies 14 more cases of killings, kidnappings and disappearances of Serbian and Albanian journalists between 1988 and 2005 that remain unresolved and which require renewed and independent investigations by the relevant state authorities.
The total number of unsolved journalists’ murders and disappearances in the Council of Europe area is unquestionably higher still, but the Platform records only those which have been submitted by the partner organisations since 2015. The 17 individual unsolved cases date back to murders that took place between three and 24 years ago. In most cases no progress at all has been apparent towards justice for the victims’ families. The most long-standing case is that of Dada Vujasinović, a Serbian reporter who was shot dead in Belgrade in 1994. In 2018 the partner organisations registered an additional impunity case related to the killing of Naji Jerf, a Syrian journalist and film-maker who was gunned down by unknown assailants in Gaziantep in south eastern Turkey in 2015. He had made documentaries about human rights abuses by the Syrian government and the Daesh group.
ECtHR rulings in landmark cases provide insights into patterns of behaviour on the part of law-enforcement and judicial authorities which are characteristic of a “culture” or “climate” of impunity. These include Gongadze v. Ukraine, in which the Court found that that the Ukrainian authorities ought to have been aware of the vulnerable position of the journalist Georgiy Gongadze, who covered politically sensitive topics and was murdered in 2000 outside Kyiv; it found Ukraine in violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights for failing to conduct an effective investigation; in Dink v. Turkey, the Court found similar patterns of behaviour by Turkish law-enforcement officials in the case of the murder in 2007 of the prominent Armenian-Turkish editor and journalist Hrant Dink; and in a July 2018 ruling the ECtHR found that the Russian Federation had “failed to take adequate investigatory steps to find the person or persons who had commissioned the murder” of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
A climate of impunity has started to take hold in parts of Europe.
Three new alerts were submitted in 2018 with regard to impunity for other serious attacks against journalists, and five alerts previously submitted to the Platform under “physical attacks” were moved into the impunity category because of the lack of progress in investigations after the passage of two or more years since the crimes were committed. Among the cases of unresolved violent assaults are those of website editor Marjan Stamenkovski, who suffered head injuries after being attacked in 2015 by a gang in “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, and Serbian investigative journalist Ivan Ninić, who was viciously beaten, also in 2015. Other impunity cases on the Platform relate to failure of the authorities to investigate police officers accused of targeting journalists with unnecessary violence during public protests in Armenia in 2014 and the unresolved case of Greek journalist Demitrios Perros, who was badly injured when he was assaulted while covering a public protest in Athens in 2016.
The partner organisations are acutely concerned that a climate of impunity has started to take hold in parts of Europe, as evidenced by the poor record of some Council of Europe member states in investigating and punishing crimes of violence and other serious crimes against journalists. The partner organisations are especially alarmed by the lack of substantial progress in identifying and bringing to justice the instigators or masterminds of recent murders and suspected murders of journalists in the Council of Europe area, including those in 2018 of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey and Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová in Slovakia; in 2017 of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta; and in 2016 of Pavel Sheremet in Ukraine. The partner organisations also note doubts raised about the thoroughness of the investigations into the 2018 murder of Viktoria Marinova in Bulgaria and the 2018 death of the Russian journalist Maksim Borodin in the Russian Federation, which police have declared a suicide without fully investigating the available evidence. The swift completion of transparent and effective investigations and prosecutions leading to the punishment of all those found responsible, as well as other unsolved killings of journalists, is essential if public trust in states’ commitment to protecting the safety of journalists and the rule of law is to be restored.
As of 31 December 2018, there were 92 active alerts on Turkey, including 110 cases of journalists in detention. 14 new alerts were submitted to the Platform in 2018 and Turkey has not replied to any of these alerts.
In 2018, journalists in Turkey continued to face extraordinary repression. Despite the official ending of the state of emergency in July 2018, Turkey remains the world’s largest imprisoner of journalists and has been rated as one of the worst performers in the world in terms of freedom of expression and media freedom.
In Turkey, over 200 journalists have been arrested or detained on account of their publications.
Since the attempted coup of July 2016, and under the state of emergency which was imposed thereafter, over 200 journalists have been arrested or detained on account of their publications. Arrests of journalists and media workers continued throughout 2018, in particular in the south east of the country.
The majority of arrested journalists face charges of membership in or propaganda of various groups considered terrorist organisations by the Turkish government, including the so-called FETÖ movement or the PKK. The broad interpretation of the concept of terrorist propaganda, including in cases concerning journalists where there was no incitement to violence, has been repeatedly denounced, including by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.
The use of prolonged solitary confinement against detained journalists is another issue, with journalists including Deniz Yücel and Nedim Türfent spending months alone, treatment tantamount to torture under ECtHR case-law. Evidence obtained through torture has also been deemed admissible by judges in trials against journalists.
In 2018, verdicts in the form of lengthy prison sentences were handed down in the first major mass criminal proceedings against journalists on terrorism-related charges under the state of emergency: Cumhuriyet; Ahmet and Mehmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak; and Zaman. The cases were characterised by gross violations of the journalists’ rights to liberty, a fair trial and freedom of expression. These trials illustrated the almost complete collapse of the rule of law in Turkey and highlighted major concerns relating to the role of the judiciary, its independence and relationship with the prosecution, lack of sufficient access to defence lawyers during pre-trial detention and during the trials themselves, insufficient pre-trial disclosure and lack of sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case to warrant continued detention and prosecution. The verdicts were met with a global outcry.
In January 2018, the Constitutional Court of Turkey ruled that the fundamental rights of journalists Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay had been violated by their detention and that the two journalists should be released from custody. Despite the judgment, criminal courts rejected the journalists’ request to be freed. Şahin Alpay was later released from pre-trial detention after a second judgment of the Constitutional Court, which concluded that his rights had been violated due to the non-implementation of the previous judgment, but the criminal courts refused to release Mehmet Altan.
Under Article 153 of the Turkish Constitution, all Constitutional Court rulings enter into force immediately and are binding for the legislative, executive and judicial organs, including the administration and officials. The decision of the lower court appeared to be the direct result of political pressure, amounting to interference with its independence and indicating a grave violation of the rule of law.
In March 2018, the ECtHR announced judgments on applications filed on behalf of Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay. The Court found that there had been violation of Article 5(1) (right to liberty and security) and Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Alpay had already been conditionally released on 16 March. Mehmet Altan remained in detention until 27 June. Both were conditionally freed, and placed under house arrest and travel ban. Verdicts on eight further cases of journalists in Turkey, granted priority status by the ECtHR, are still pending.
Journalists’ murders highlight rising threats to the rule of law within the EU
The murders of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta in 2017 and of Ján Kuciak and his fiancée in Slovakia in 2018 have dramatically raised public and official awareness in the EU of the twin crisis of journalist safety and impunity that has already taken root within the bloc as well as in other parts of the Council of Europe area.
In Caruana Galizia’s case, there has been a lack of credible indications
that the authorities are diligently investigating who planned and commissioned the killing.
Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb that exploded near her home in Bidnija, Malta on 16 October 2017. Three suspects were detained on 4 December 2017, but there has been a notable lack of credible indications that the authorities are diligently investigating who planned and commissioned the killing. That task calls for a thorough and impartial examination of leads arising from the journalist’s reporting on high-level financial crimes and other forms of wrongdoing, which often implicated leading political and business figures.
Slovak investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée,
Martina Kušnírová, were found dead from gunshot wounds in their house in Veľká Mača.
On 25 February 2018, Slovak investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, were found dead from gunshot wounds in Kuciak’s house in Veľká Mača, some 50 kilometres from Bratislava. At the time of his death, Kuciak had been collecting records on potential embezzlement of EU funds and suspected tax fraud linked to the construction of a luxury apartment complex in Bratislava.
In July 2018, the country’s General Prosecutor acknowledged that costly but unspecified “mistakes” had negatively affected the early stage of the investigation into the killings. On 28 September, the Slovak police arrested three individuals. Four people were later charged with the couple’s murder. Soon afterwards local journalists told visiting members of the European Parliament that there was renewed confidence in the investigation. However, at the time of writing, the individuals who planned and paid for the attack have not been identified or charged.
The EU and its member states must live up to their public commitments to safeguard media freedom and the safety of journalists, particularly when it comes to journalists such as Kuciak and Caruana Galizia, who reported extensively on allegations of financial wrongdoing that relate directly to the EU’s interests and/or competences, including the sale of EU citizenship, the embezzlement of agricultural subsidies, and cross-border fraud and money laundering. The Platform welcomes the important role of the European Parliament’s Rule of Law Monitoring Group as well as the Council of Europe’s Special Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly to Malta, Pieter Omtzigt, in seeking to bring further international scrutiny to the cases in Slovakia and Malta.
Italy is among the countries with the highest number of alerts posted on the Platform in 2018. Thirteen alerts focused on Italy, the same number as in the Russian Federation.
This figure shows how press freedom clearly deteriorated in Italy in 2018: the number of violations in Italy reported to the Platform more than tripled compared to 2017.
Italy is the EU member state with the highest number of active threats on the Platform.
Italy is also the EU member state with the highest number of active threats on the Platform, a total of 19. Since June 2017, the Italian authorities have not responded to any of the alerts posted on the Platform.
The growing violence against journalists in Italy is particularly worrying. Mafia and organised crime remain one of the biggest threats of journalists. In 2018, the Platform recorded three cases of journalists facing death threats, and it includes a number of active alerts on attacks and violence on journalists. Twenty one Italian reporters threatened by the mafia live under permanent police protection. In addition, several journalists have been intimidated and attacked by members of neo-fascist groups.
The majority of alerts recorded in 2018 have been submitted after the official installation of the new coalition government on 1 June. The government’s two deputy prime ministers, Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini, regularly express through social media rhetoric particularly hostile to the media and journalists.
Among other things, Deputy Prime Minister Salvini has threatened to remove police protection for investigative journalist Roberto Saviano, despite the known threats to his life from criminal organisations. Deputy Prime Minister Di Maio has insulted journalists and initiated a policy of abolition of public subsidies to the press.
According to the Italian Federation of Journalists' Unions, media professionals now face a new threat in the country: a constant risk of violence fuelled by the hostile rhetoric of members of the government and the ruling coalition parties.
The thirteen alerts on threats to media freedom in the Russian Federation in 2018 show that independent journalists and bloggers face intense physical, legal and financial pressures, as well as violations of their fundamental rights, marked often by impunity. The authorities have routinely failed to take remedial actions to prevent violence against journalists, including murders, physical attacks and threats, thereby enabling a climate of impunity that encourages further attacks. The alerts further shed light on the Russian authorities’ increasing control over the flow of information, which severely restricts the rights to freedom of expression, opinion and information.
On 15 April 2018, Maksim Borodin, an investigative correspondent for the independent news website Novy Den, died after falling from the balcony of his fifth-floor apartment. His reporting on local corruption, prisons and the involvement of Russian private military contractors in Syria had gained national attention in the weeks prior to his death. On 17 April, Novaya Gazeta quoted Novy Den’s editor-in-chief, Polina Rumyantseva, stating that Borodin contacted her three days prior to his shocking death saying that he detected surveillance both of the website’s office and of himself personally. Rumyantseva had encouraged Borodin to report this to the police but the authorities were never contacted, she said. Despite such circumstantial evidence, and without performing due diligence by thoroughly investigating suspected connections with his reporting, the Russian authorities stated that Borodin’s death was suicide.
Bills signed into law in 2018 provide the Russian authorities with additional tools
to restrict access to information, carry out surveillance and censor content.
Proposed legislation and bills signed into law in 2018 provide the Russian authorities with additional tools to restrict access to information, carry out surveillance and censor content. The state regulator’s attempts to block the application Telegram in April 2018 resulted in extensive arbitrary restrictions of freedom of expression and access to information, including mass collateral website blocking. An especially alarming development was the adoption by the Russian parliament of a law to extend the status of “foreign agent” to media outlets, individual journalists and other writers who publish information online and receive any kind of financial or other assets from abroad, creating a further chilling effect on freedom of expression and access to information.
The Constitution of the Russian Federation enshrines the rights to freedom of expression and privacy and prohibits censorship. As a state party to the European Convention on Human Rights, the Russian Federation has obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right to freedom of expression. The Platform partners call on the Russian authorities to repeal or amend laws stifling free expression, to prevent and protect against threats and violence against journalists, media workers, human rights defenders and activists, and to end impunity for such crimes.
The three alerts submitted on Hungary in 2018 illustrate the authorities’ progressive capture of the media landscape and its impact on media freedom.
Government exerts de facto control over most of the country’s media.
As a result of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s extensive reshaping of the media landscape since coming to power in 2010, the Hungarian government exerts sway over most of the country’s media. The few independent outlets that remain face a host of obstacles, including lack of advertising revenue, a restrictive regulatory environment, and public campaigns to discredit independent journalists. In 2018, prominent investigative journalist András Dezső faced a possible three-year prison sentence on charges of misusing sensitive personal information in a case that rights groups believed was linked to his independent reporting. He was let off with a reprimand in November. Meanwhile, Hungarian government spokesperson Zoltán Kovács continued to verbally attack Lili Bayer, a Politico correspondent, on social media and blog posts.
The structure and production of state and public news media in Hungary are strongly centralised and pro-governmental. Media coverage of the 8 April parliamentary elections was highly polarised and lacked critical debate, and the campaign was marked ”by a pervasive overlap between state and ruling party resources, undermining contestants’ ability to compete on an equal basis”. In November 2018, the owners of the vast majority of Hungary's pro-government media outlets announced that they were "donating" their companies to a foundation, creating a huge right-wing media conglomerate under the direction of a close ally of Prime Minister Orbán. The lack of transparency in the setting up of the foundation and the fact that the terms of the transfer of assets were exempted from external scrutiny, and cannot even be challenged by the Hungarian Competition Authority, has intensified concerns over media pluralism in the country. Two commercial radio stations were threatened with closure after the Media Council declined to extend their broadcasting license, amidst allegations of discrimination against outlets that are critical of the ruling Fidesz party.
The Platform partners call on the Hungarian authorities to respect, protect and promote freedom of the press, and to this end, to revise the country’s laws and practices to create an environment in which the media can function free from undue government influence and interference.
News media around the world increasingly rely on freelance journalists, fixers, photographers and video journalists for their stories and coverage. But as most freelancers work without the back-up, training and support provided to their staff colleagues, they are especially vulnerable to repression, abuse and arbitrary treatment, including judicial harassment.
Serious threats and obstructions affecting freelance journalists
included physical assaults by far-right groups and vicious smear campaigns.
Criminal charges, travel bans, smear campaigns and the denial of press accreditation are among the forms of harassment that freelance journalists are confronted with across the Council of Europe area. Serious threats and obstructions affecting freelance journalists registered in alerts to the Platform in 2018 included physical assaults by far-right groups and vicious online smear campaigns.
On 18 November 2018, two Ukrainian and one Canadian freelance journalists were violently attacked in Kyiv by right-wing groups participating in a counter-rally on Transgender Commemoration Day. According to the police, an investigation was opened into the attack on the Canadian freelance journalist, Michael Colborne. However, the authorities seemed less willing to investigate the attacks on the Ukrainian freelancers. Margareta Bondari, a freelancer working with Spilka magazine, was attacked by three men when she was leaving the site and was injured by pepper spray. Following the incident, she was targeted online by Yevgen Karas, the leader of the S14 ultra-right group. Bogdan Aminov, a freelancer working with Newsone TV channel, was also attacked and says his official complaint to the police has not been investigated.
In 2019, the Platform will introduce enhancements to its alert-logging system to allow partner organisations to better track, log and share information about serious threats to the safety and rights of freelance journalists. Member states are urged to take all appropriate measures to safeguard the rights of freelance journalists in order to prevent discrimination and unjust treatment.
Public service under attack all over Europe
In 2018, several countries that had been considered “safe harbours” for public service media (PSM) became places where it is under significant threat. Three principal means were used to weaken the independence of PSM in the Council of Europe region: reducing resources, restricting the outlet’s mission, and enacting new legislation or regulations.
Three principal means were used to weaken the independence of PSM in the Council of Europe region: reducing resources, restricting the outlet’s mission, and enacting new legislation or regulations.
A blatant case of attack through the shrinking of resources happened in Ukraine, where the new national public service broadcaster, UA:PBC, became operational in 2017. On 23 November, the parliament adopted a budget that assigned UA:PBC a sum of 1.005 billion Ukrainian Hryvni (UAH) for 2019, amounting to only 57% of the sum guaranteed by law and thus falling short of legal obligations for the second consecutive year. This amount was further reduced to 805 million UAH after debt payments. The budget trimming has obliged UA:PBC to reduce the reach of its coverage in parts of the country and to switch off analogue transmission. The problem of insufficient financial resources for PSM is also exemplified by alerts on Romania and on Bosnia and Herzegovina.
With regard to the restriction of PSM mandates, a most worrying case in 2018 occurred in Denmark, where the centre-right governing coalition, which relies on the external support of a right-wing populist party to pass legislation, imposed a new Contract of Service on DR, the national PSM. The new contract includes a number of restrictions to the PSM’s mandate and additional costs. Among other obligations, DR had to substantially limit its presence in the digital world, provide its programmes (at a price) to competitors for online use and reduce investment in sports rights. Another decision was to abolish the license fee and replace it with a direct contribution from the state budget, which exposes the PSM to the risk of politically-motivated funding decisions and a nearly 25% cut, within three years, of its funds. In September 2018, DR announced the closing of three radio and three TV channels and the laying off of around 400 staff. In the next five years DR will have to cut around 100 million euros from its budget.
Reducing independence via changes in legislation or regulation is the most common way to exert political interference over PSM, especially when governments wish to replace managers appointed by their predecessors.
In Lithuania, an enquiry was launched in Parliament about supposed misuse of public funding by the national broadcaster. In parallel, changes were made to the system of appointing its governing board which appears to lack safeguards against political influence. Similar problems, on a smaller scale, also occurred this year in certain established democracies, such as Luxembourg, where the director general of the country’s only PSM (Radio 100.7) resigned before the end of his mandate. Trade union representatives complained that the move was provoked by government interference and anomalies in the current system of regulation and supervision that allow undue official pressure on the director general and the radio’s journalists in order to obtain preferential news treatment.
The presence in this report of Denmark, Luxembourg and Switzerland – three countries with long-standing democratic traditions – is another indication that media freedom, independence and pluralism is under growing pressure almost everywhere.
 Recommendation CM/Rec(2016)4 on the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists and other media actors, 13 April 2016.
 Emin Huseynov v. Azerbaijan, 59135/09, 7 August 2015, para. 70 et al.
 Gongadze v. Ukraine, 34056/02, 8 November 2005, para. 175 et al.
 Mazepa and Others v. Russia, 15086/07, 17 July 2018, para. 69 et al.
 The official count of arrested journalists varies from one organisation to another, depending notably on the inclusion or not of pre-trial detentions and the definition and inclusion on the list of other media workers. For instance, the International Press Institute (IPI) counts 161 journalists in jail in Turkey, whereas the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) lists 159 journalists. As the exact figure of jailed journalists in Turkey is in a regular state of flux, in some cases there are also delays in registering cases to the Platform.
 In 2018, Reporters without Borders (RSF) ranked Turkey 157th of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. In January 2018, Freedom House ranked Turkey 154th in its media freedom index and classified the country as “not free” for the first time. Statistics kept by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) show Turkey to be the world’s leading jailer of journalists.
 Third Party intervention under Article 36, paragraph 3, of the European Convention on Human Rights, Doc. CommDH(2017)29, 10 October 2017.
 See e.g. Ilaşcu and Others v. Moldova and Russia (GC), 48797/99, 8 July 2004, para. 434 et al; Ramirez Sanchez v. France (GC), 59450/00, 4 July 2006, para. 125 et al.
 On the Albans & Ilıcak verdict, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye and OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir issued a joint statement, saying that “the court decision … critically threatens journalism and with it the remnants of freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey”; on the Cumhuriyet verdict: Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland, in his address to the 1315th Meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies _(2 May 2018) regarding Turkey, said to be “deeply worried by the chilling effect such heavy criminal sentences may have on freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey. Especially if the only evidence used to establish these serious crimes is their journalistic activities”; on the Zaman verdicts, Harlem Désir stated that the "severe charges were never proven during the investigation", and urged Turkey to free the journalists.
 Şahin Alpay, 2016/16092, 11 January 2018.
 Istanbul 13th Criminal Court, 11 January 2018.
 See e.g. Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, “Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and the rule of law, in Malta and beyond: ensuring that the whole truth emerges”, Introductory memorandum by Mr Pieter Omtzigt, Rapporteur, Doc. AS/Jur (2018)30, 20 June 2018.
 In January 2018, civil society groups in Switzerland close to the right-wing Swiss People’s Party launched a national referendum to abolish public financing of SSR, the country’s public broadcaster. However, in March, Swiss citizens voted overwhelmingly (by 71.6%) to maintain the license fee and SSR.