Better protection for journalists

In 2017 the new Intelligence and Security Services Act (Wiv) was adopted. Like many others, Free Press Unlimited opposed the parts of this ‘dragnet law’ that affect the right of journalists to protect their sources.

Although we, along with others, managed to prevent intelligence services from sharing information ‘related to a journalist’ with their foreign colleagues, the dragnet law remains a real danger for journalists and their sources. That is why we continued to insist in The Hague on the importance of actual source protection and in 2018, with ten other organisations, we initiated proceedings against the unaltered introduction implementation of the Act. Unfortunately, the court rejected our demands at the end of June. Since our fundamental objections to the Act still exist, the coalition will continue with the main proceedings that it started against the Act.

Liquidation of investigative journalists

For the first time in 2018, investigative journalists held the majority on the summary lists of murdered journalists. This year, this worrying trend took top priority in the message from Free Press Unlimited to Parliament and to the United Nations: murderers may not go unpunished! Then after Free Press Live on 2nd November, we went to Parliament with the son of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the colleague of Ján Kuciak, where they shared their story during a special procedure. Paul Caruana Galizia and Martin Turĉek confronted the Members of Parliament with the fact that journalists are not certain of their lives even outside of warzones. Investigative journalists like Paul’s mother and Martin’s colleague were murdered because they were investigating fraud, corruption and violations of human rights by politicians and companies.

Fortunately, not only Free Press Unlimited is seriously concerned about this trend and its consequences for democracy in Europe and beyond. At the end of 2017, Sjoerd Sjoerdsma, Member of Parliament for D66, served a motion that was adopted, whereby in 2018 the government launched a fund for the (legal) protection of journalists worldwide. Our wish to make this fund also available for conducting strategic lawsuits, research and insurances, found support. During Free Press Live, Minister Blok of Foreign Affairs, announced that Free Press Unlimited could allocate € 1.45 million for legal assistance to journalists.

Gender (in)equality in the media

In 2018, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) evaluated the state of affairs in relation to previously made agreements by UN member states about women and the media. António Guterres, Secretary General of the UN, drew the sad conclusion: there has hardly been any improvement in the last eighteen years. Has women’s participation in and access to media improved, and how do media help strengthen the position of women? Reason for Free Press Unlimited to advocate for more attention from the CSW for the image-shaping role of media. With success: in the negotiation text with which the EU left for the CSW meeting, there was a powerful paragraph about the crucial role media can play in the fight against gender inequality. To reinforce our advocacy in the area of gender and media, we have now joined the Dutch gender platform WO=MEN.

Link between local and international

Free Press Unlimited is receiving increasing international recognition and appreciation for its influential work. Our partner satisfaction survey showed that appreciation from our local partners for the connections they establish through our network with international fora in New York, Geneva and Paris, is just as important. It is of course absurd that they are experiencing violence against journalists but have little access to the UN bodies that make agreements on this subject. Conversely, local media organisations are the missing link for UN organisations when it comes to the delivery of concrete data on violence against journalists.

Reliable data on violence against journalists

If you want to take measures to combat the violence against journalists, you need to know what you are talking about. Unfortunately, we noticed an enormous lack of reliable data among the various bodies (including United Nations agencies) that keep track of how many journalists have been threatened, tortured, imprisoned or kidnapped. This is because there is no clear definition of the type of violence and everyone is using their own methodology. In 2018, Free Press Unlimited attended two major meetings of UNESCO on Sustainable Development Goal 16.10 (access to information and protection of fundamental freedoms). It turns out that a lot of data are available only about the number of journalists killed, but that very little information is available about the other issues, i.e. arrests, abuse, torture, kidnapping and threats. How then can you measure whether countries are making progress in this area?

That provided a clear goal: good data collection on and better monitoring of violence against journalists. Since 2018, together with the University of Sheffield, we have been working on a method with which everyone can collect and store data in the same way. This should result in a better framework that enables local media organisations to record the violence in their own country in such a way that it provides reliable data that are comparable and therefore useful. That also makes monitoring violence against journalists, an important barometer for Sustainable Development Goal 16.10, much simpler.

Safety Coalition

The Safety Coalition, established on the initiative of Free Press Unlimited in 2017, now has 24 members. The aim is to be able to stand up firmly for the effective protection of journalists, through better cooperation between organisations similar to Free Press Unlimited. In Kenya, Mexico, Myanmar and Nicaragua, the coalition partners align their strategies with each other and draw up a plan per country together to increase the safety of journalists. We established a work group that collects information and cooperates in the area of gender and media. And after the question ‘what can media themselves do’ raised a great need for insurances for freelance journalists, now for the first time there is an international model policy for affordable basic insurance; a huge step forward when compared with the current lousy protection of freelancers.

The Safety Coalition also turned out to be an excellent platform for reacting quickly to the increasing lack of safety for journalists in Europe. Shortly after the murder of Ján Kuciak Free Press Unlimited sent a pressing letter to the European Commission (EC), in which we insist on better protection of journalists and prosecution of their murderers. The letter was signed by seventeen organisations, thirteen of which are members of the Safety Coalition.