The press and information office (Pio) on Monday launched a five-year campaign titled ‘Journalists Matter’ starting with a discussion on how protecting journalists is paramount to protecting democracy.
“This campaign is an opportunity for all member states to go a few steps further towards free and pluralistic media, quality news, a healthy media ecosystem, and healthy democratic processes and societies,” director of the Pio Aliki Stylianou said.
The campaign is part of the Council of Europe’s campaign for the protection and safety of journalists which will run from 2023 to 2027.
“We have to establish safe havens for journalists to be able to do their work,” said Patrick Penninckx, head of the information society department of the Council of Europe.
Matthew Caruana Galizia, son of Maltese murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and Herman Grech, editor-in-chief of the Times of Malta were also speakers at the event.
The purpose behind the EU-wide campaign is to establish country-specific mechanisms that are bottom-up and can enable journalists to operate freely without fear of attack. They will be based on four pillars: prevention, protection, promotion of information, education and awareness.
Penninckx raised a number of red flags over issues present-day journalists face. “I thought state propaganda was a thing of the past.”
He added there are a number of tools used to threaten journalists ranging from murder but also harassment, lawsuits and threat. The speakers also addressed what has been dubbed as the ‘chilling effect’ where journalists effectively self-censor out of fear for consequences on their job, career and life.
“The best journalists I know don’t work in journalism anymore,” Grech highlighted.
Galizia, who is currently the director of the Daphne Caruana Galizia foundation, said the five-year court case over his mother’s murder reflects the state of affairs in Malta. “We have yet to see any justice for the corruption that my mother was investigating.”
“Unless we tackle corruption, these murders will keep happening.”
Asked whether the ambitions of the project may be too hopeful, Penninckx said European institutions were well aware of the challenges posed to media landscapes. He cited the killing of Dutch journalist Peter R de Vries as well as the recent scandal behind Greece’s Pegasus spyware which has been found to be used against journalists.
“We focus discussions on what the challenges are but we need to discuss what can be done about this,” Penninckx highlighted.
To this end, the mechanisms will be setup from the bottom up involving a number of actors. The European Commission will then follow up in two years to assess what progress has been carried out.
Governments need to provide the legislative framework that can allow journalism to take place and ensure its enforcement, while civil society also has a key role to play, he added.
This is linked to media literacy which can enable members of the public to be critical of the news they read. Additionally, the framework for proper journalism training as well as effective justice systems need to be in place, he added.
Grech raised the issue of present-day “bubbles” that people submerge themselves in, particularly on social media. “The minute we as a society disagree with someone, we call them names. We don’t open our minds to what other people are saying.”
He noted that although the methods of media censorship since 1930 Nazi Germany have changed, the attacks are still ever present. “Attacks have become more nuanced.”
The editor-in-chief also highlighted that Galizia’s murder created a movement of collaborative journalism across borders. At the same time, he noted in Malta there has been a decrease in the number of young people interested in going into journalism.
Grech is the director of the play ‘they blew her up’ which will be performed on Tuesday evening at the Nicosia municipal theatre. He said he wrote the play out of anger over what had happened and what was still happening.