Fighting Words: Journalism Under Assault in Central and Eastern Europe

The report by Meera Selva, published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism on 22 January 2020, identifies the pressures currently being applied to independent journalists working in central and eastern Europe.

The publication shows that the autonomy and independence of the media across much of Europe is under threat from politicians, who launch verbal attacks on journalists, but also from other journalists, who discredit and smear colleagues working for rival publications.

The report arrives at a time when several countries in central and eastern Europe have dropped fast down various press freedom indices, most notably Poland and Hungary. In Slovakia, the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová created a public uproar that led eventually to the resignation of the prime minister and several ministers, but it also highlighted the physical threats facing journalists who investigate corruption and organised crime.

Read the report online or download it from the Reuters Institute website.

The region’s media landscape is also marked by rising job insecurity for journalists, along with increased polarisation in the media landscape. Outlets are characterised as being starkly pro- or anti-government and the journalists who work for them are also essentially made to pick a side.

In this climate, many journalists seek solidarity and support to continue their work, but do not always find it.

This paper ends with a discussion of what can be done to support journalists. Possible solutions range from recognising the pressures journalists are under and working peer-to-peer, in professional networks, and inside organisations to ensure they have the mental tools to handle that pressure, to building on collective responses and calling on media associations and professional associations, both domestically and internationally, to highlight the factors that hamper independent journalism.

There is also a call for more media organisations to rethink their relationship with the public. While journalists have tended to be reluctant to advocate for themselves, this report argues that this is a moment when journalists must remain politically independent but be prepared talk about the value they provide in society, to convince the public not only to pay for good journalism but to support it when it comes under fire.