by Nathalie Weatherald
Full justice has been achieved in fewer than 5% of murders of journalists since 1992, with four unsolved cases in the EU, the media freedom association the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) found in its 2023 Global Impunity Index.
The CPJ released its annual Impunity Index ahead of the UN’s International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists on Thursday (2 November).
“As journalist murders continue to go unpunished in nearly 80% of cases globally, in both democracies and authoritarian countries, the message is clear: journalists are fair game,” said CPJ President Jodie Ginsberg.
“Murder is the ultimate form of censorship. Swift, transparent, independent local investigations are critical, and political will can change the course of justice to stem the pervasive impunity in cases of journalists killed for their work,” Ginsberg continued.
While the top 12 countries in which murderers of journalists are likely to go free are non-European, the report noted that press freedom is under increasing pressure in the EU although it is typically considered one of the safest places for journalists to work.
Full justice is yet to be achieved for Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, assassinated in a car bombing in 2017, and Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak, who was killed with his fiancee at their home in 2018, the report said.
Likewise, Greece is yet to hold anyone accountable for the killing of broadcaster Socrates Giolias in 2010.
In 2021, Dutch reporter Peter R. de Vries was fatally shot as he left a TV studio.
While it remains unclear whether de Vries was targeted because of his work, Dutch crime reporter Paul Vugts – the country’s first journalist to receive full police protection because of work-related death threats – told CPJ of the “chilling effect” de Vries’ death had. Nine suspects are still awaiting trial.
Regression in media freedom in the EU
The European Commission’s 2022 Rule of Law report, the Mapping Media Freedom platform and Media Pluralism Monitor all highlighted concerning rollbacks of media freedom within the EU.
“Combatting entrenched pressure on and threats to journalists in Europe – and setting an effective example for governments around the world – still requires improved and sustained action from Brussels,” said an April report on press freedom by the CPJ, entitled ‘Fragile Progress’.
In 2022, the European Commission proposed the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), which seeks to protect journalists across Europe through the introduction of new rules on state advertising, transparency of ownership, audience measurement and protection of journalistic sources and communications, as well as safeguards for public service media, via the legal approach of regulation of the internal market.
The EU’s Anti-SLAPP Directive, which seeks to create EU-level protections to safeguard journalists against vexatious lawsuits designed to silence their work, is currently in the final haul of inter-institutional negotiations, so-called trilogues.
A record 161 abusive lawsuits were filed in European countries in 2022, the highest number mapped in a single year.
“Overall, the EU’s shift still needs to be translated into meaningful action within member states,” the CPJ said.
Four in five murders of journalists remain unsolved
The 2023 impunity index documents 261 journalists who have been murdered in connection with their work between September 2013 and August 2023. Of these, 204 cases – more than 78% – have not seen anyone held to account for these murders.
Syria, Somalia, Haiti, South Sudan and Afghanistan take the top five spots.
Conflict, corruption, insurgency, inadequate law enforcement, and lack of political interest in punishing those willing to kill independent journalists are all reasons cited for the impunity.
“As impunity becomes entrenched, it signals an indifference likely to embolden future killers and shrink independent reporting as alarmed journalists either flee their countries, dial back on their reporting, or leave the profession entirely,” CPJ said.
Attacks against journalists since the outbreak of the Israel-Gaza conflict are not included in the statistics, as the 10-year index period ended in August 2023.
At least 31 journalists and media workers have been among the more than 9,000 killed since the outbreak of the Israel-Gaza conflict as of 1 November, according to CPJ. Of these, 26 were Palestinian, four Israeli, and one Lebanese.
Over 22 years, CPJ documented 20 journalist killings by members of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), for which no one has ever been charged, despite a series of IDF probes.
“Impunity in these cases has severely undermined the freedom of the press, leaving the rights of journalists in precarity,” their report states.
*first published in: Euractiv.com