Joint Statement of the informal OSCE Group of Friends on Safety of Journalists

As delivered at the Permanent Council, Vienna, 9 May 2024

Madam Chair,

I am delivering this statement on behalf of the informal Group of Friends on Safety of Journalists, which consists of the following participating States: Austria, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

World Press Freedom Day is celebrated every year on 3rd May, to mark the first in a series of UN adopted declarations that affirm international commitments to encourage media freedom, promote the independence of journalism and pluralism of the media. This Day is also an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental human right to freedom of expression.

Creating an environment for journalists and other media actors to work safely and freely, is a building block for any democratic society respecting rule of law and human rights. Journalists, media actors, writers, and human rights defenders play a key role in maintaining freedom of expression and holding Governments to account.

However, online and offline threats, spread of false information, disinformation campaigns, adverse impacts of AI, and the use of national security concerns as a pretext for disproportionate restrictions on media freedom, pose additional pressure on the safety of journalists and media freedom in the OSCE region.

Additionally, with a great number of elections this year and the important role media freedom and the safety of journalists play in the context of these processes, OSCE Participating States need to ensure a safe environment for all of them and take necessary steps to implement OSCE commitments on media freedom and safety of journalists, both online and offline, especially in light of the worrying trend of disproportionate online targeting of women journalists.

Madam Chair,

More than two years into Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine the situation for media freedom and the safety of journalists is dire. Since the start of the war, at least 17 journalists and media actors were killed in the line of their duty, and many more lost their lives in the shelling of civilian areas. Despite this, journalists and media actors continue their work to report from Ukraine under dangerous and difficult circumstances.

We call on Russia to release all journalists that are imprisoned only because they were doing their job, both in Russia and in the occupied territories of Ukraine.

According to the Press Freedom Index, Russia is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries regarding the media freedom situation, as the number of journalists and media workers in the country who are imprisoned and prosecuted continues to grow. Over 1,500 journalists have fled Russia since its invasion of Ukraine, and almost all independent media organizations have been banned, blocked or declared “foreign agents” or “undesirable organizations.”

We echo the Representative on Freedom of the Media, Ms Ribeiro, who in her statement dated 8th March, condemning the imprisonment of RusNews journalists Roman Ivanov and Maria Ponomarenko, warned against „the ongoing abuses targeting the safety of media workers, media freedom, and overall freedom of expression within the Russian Federation.“

In Belarus, which ranks an abysmal 167th on the Press Freedom Index, more than 35 journalists are currently in prison, either awaiting trial or serving lengthy sentences. It is deeply worrisome that in these countries the exploitation of the media to spread relentless state-sponsored disinformation and labelling independent media outlets and media organizations as “extremist”, “undesirable” or “foreign agents”, do not abate.

We call on Russia and Belarus to immediately cease this practice and remind them that by depriving their citizens of access to free media and information they violate human rights and the OSCE principles and commitments.

Madam Chair, dear colleagues,

Freedom of expression and free media are threatened across our region and beyond. As Participating States, we have committed to ensure the protection, safety, and freedom of journalism by adopting Milan Decision in 2018.

On World Press Freedom Day, we pay tribute to the journalists who lost their lives in line of their duty, and salute those ones who continue to do their work risking their lives to keep us informed.

Thank you.