Journalists in central Europe face ever more threats

Analysts of the Reuters Institute use the example of the murdered Ján Kuciak to show how far threats to journalists can go.

(Source: Sme)

Journalism is getting ever harder in central and eastern Europe. Journalists often face threats, lawsuits and court cases, as well as personal attacks by the politicians and entrepreneurs they write about.

This is what is said by the latest Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism report, entitled Fighting Words: Journalism Under Assault in Central and Eastern Europe. The report focuses on Slovakia to a large extent. Its authors state that they have mapped the working conditions of journalists in 16 countries. Slovakia belonged among the four states that they paid most attention to, along with Bulgaria, Poland, and Czechia.

The goal of the report is to highlight how democratic norms and press freedom are being undermined within the region and come up with possible solutions. The report identifies six major areas of concern for journalists: anti-press rhetoric, online and offline attacks, media, a deteriorating legal environment, protecting sources, and lack of collaboration and solidarity.

Attacks not just from politicians

The main reason for the special attention the institute paid to Slovakia is the murder of investigative reporter Ján Kuciak, killed in February 2018 in his own home in Veľká Mača alongside his fiancée Martina Kušnírová.

The authors of the report stress that the people who have been charged with ordering and executing the murder have since been brought to trial. The Specialised Criminal Court has been holding the main trial in the murder case since January 2019.

Analysts of the Reuters Institute use the example of the murdered Ján Kuciak to show how far threats to journalists can go.

“It is clear that many of the journalists surveyed are dismayed by the vehemence of attacks they receive for their work, not just from politicians but also from other journalists,” says the report author Meera Selva. “There is a real need for solidarity among journalists and it is also vital that news editors understand the pressures their reporters are working under.”

The analysis also looks at the Press Code amendment the Slovak parliament passed in November 2019. Under the new rules, politicians have the right to reply to texts published in the media and if a media refuses to respect that right, they will face a fine of €5,000.

Online target

The report stressed that as many as 63 percent of the surveyed journalists stated that they have been the target of verbal assaults from a politician they were writing about. It also turns out that journalists are ever more frequently faced with assaults in the online space, also by so-called trolls or fake accounts.

While 46.5 percent of journalists surveyed said they "felt online attacks had worsened in the last four years", nearly 37 percent said they had received more threats.

"Female journalists often bear the brunt of these online attacks," the report authors noted.

Media trends in Slovakia

The Reuters Institute was established in 2006 and it is an international research centre for the study of journalism. Since 2012 it has been publishing a large report about the state of digital media in the world.

The latest, Digital News Report 2019, shows that in Slovakia, TV and the Internet remain the most popular sources of news, while print newspapers are the least consumed.

“Smartphone use is growing but many people still access news using a laptop or desktop computer,” the report reads.

The report mentioned podcast as another growing source of news in Slovakia.


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