“Journalists are targets but it is freedom of opinion and the right of citizens to be informed that are under attack”, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Desir, said in Vienna while presenting his annual report.
While the greatest challenge facing journalists and media actors was staying safe, what was under assault was the role of the media in democracy, he added.
The report, covering the period from November to 4 July, highlights the fact that in that period of time two journalists were killed – Vadim Komarov and Lyra Mckee. There were a further 92 attacks and threats, including one bombing, three shootings and seven arson attacks against journalists.
Malta is mentioned in the report as Desir refers to his public statement welcoming the “significant verdict” by the Appeals Court on two libel cases filed by Patrick Dalli, husband of Equality Minister Helena Dalli. Two parallel judgments by Judge Anthony Ellul quashed the €10,000 fine awarded by the first court to Dalli, saying “A journalist has a duty to investigate and report on matters of public interest”.
In his report, Desir also refers to the honour he felt when hearing from the son of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. He commended Matthew Caruana Galizia, and others, “who continue courageously their work.”
He urged the 57 member states of the OSCE, including Malta, to “refrain from intimidating, threatening or condoning – and to unequivocally condemn – violence against journalists”.
Desir focused his report on threats, incidents, legal issues and other matters that impact journalists and media freedom throughout OSCE member states. He noted that female journalists face the majority of online violence, harassment, and intimidation, both as women and as journalists.
He asked all participating states to “combat impunity for attacks against journalists” and to “ensure that all cases are properly, effectively, and fully investigated, asking them to implement the Ministerial Council Decision on Safety of Journalists that was presented in December 2018.
The Decision highlighted the need of member states to observe their commitment to freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and freedom of expression. It also reaffirmed that “independent media are essential to a free and open society” as well as being an integral way of holding the government to account and safeguarding human rights.
It also noted alarm over targeted campaigns against journalists that increase the risk of threats and violence, as well as instances where “political leaders, public officials and/or authorities intimidate, threaten, condone, or fail to condemn violence against journalists.”