The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom listed 12 threats against journalists in Malta in its 2021 Mapping Media Freedom Report.
The incidents cited by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) include a court official’s harassment of a journalist from The Shift who was covering a protest in Valletta, and the Speaker of the House’s decision to deny journalists access to tax declarations filed by MPs.
The report also highlighted a “wave of website spoofing attacks” that took place in August 2021.
In the span of a few days, the blog run by activist Manuel Delia and the online portals of the Times of Malta, Lovin’ Malta, Newsbook, TVM, Net News and Strada Rjali were all targeted by impostor versions of their websites that featured fake headlines and articles perpetuating disinformation.
The deteriorating situation in Malta is just one part of a grim picture of media freedom across the EU and the UK.
Three journalists were killed in 2021 — Peter R. de Vries in the Netherlands, veteran crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz in Greece, and radio presenter Hazım Özsu in Turkey — and a total of 626 incidents were registered, the largest share of which were “physical and psychological threats” (410), followed by 159 legal threats and 71 censorship threats.
The worst offending countries were Germany, Turkey and France, with 119, 92 and 57 threats respectively.
Some 26.5% (166 alerts) of the reported incidents were attacks against journalists, media workers, media companies and their family members.
COVID-19 played a significant role in the deterioration of media freedom across the continent, with anti-restriction protests and demonstrations becoming increasingly dangerous for media actors covering those events.
A total of 178 alerts were recorded during demonstrations, and another 105 threats were made online. Public threats accounted for 82 of the alerts registered in this year’s report.
“A key trend in the alerts was that the vast majority (76.5%) of COVID 19-related attacks were carried out by private individuals, in most cases those supporting anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine, and anti-green pass causes,” the report states.
In “one brutal incident” in Germany last December, two journalists were beaten up by neo-Nazis during a violent demonstration in Berlin organised by various COVID skeptic groups.
A high-ranking official of the Berlin-based German Journalists’ Union, Jörg Reichel, was assaulted and injured at another demonstration organised by the same groups after being “doxxed” in Telegram channels controlled by protest organisers.
Doxxing refers to a practice where the victim’s personal details, including home address and mobile phone number, are circulated online with the intent to expose the victim to potential physical aggression and/or threats.
The MFRR report refers to another incident in Cyprus involving “the storming of the building housing Sigma TV Station’s headquarters in Nicosia, when protesters vandalised the building and threatened the media workers on site”.
“In Slovenia, anti-vaccine protesters broke into the headquarters of the public broadcaster RTV Slovenĳa, disrupted broadcasting, and harassed staff,” the report adds.
Private individuals were responsible for 258 of the alerts issued in 2021, with police and/or state security forces responsible for 116 alerts and government or public officials responsible for another 77 alerts.
The MFRR is organised by a consortium of press freedom groups led by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), and including ARTICLE 19, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the Institute for Applied Informatics at the University of Leipzig (InfAI), the International Press Institute (IPI) and CCI/Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT).