The OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir warned on Thursday that “the press is in danger in too many places in the OSCE region”.
Desir presented his biannual report to the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna.
The report warned that the coronavirus pandemic has aggravated the situation by amplifying existing trends and adding problems, including the dire economic situation many media are currently facing.
“Threats to media freedom and the work of journalists are on the rise. It is the responsibility of States to ensure better protection for journalistic work, to combat impunity of crimes committed against journalists, to respect the independence of the press and freedom of expression, and to support pluralism and not to stifle it,” Désir said.
In his report, Desir said that he intervened in a number of cases of attacks, threats and other incidents against journalists and the media in Serbia and that he was informed by the authorities that some measures had been taken.
“I issued a public statement expressing my concern at the absence of the independent media outlet N1 among the channels offered by cable operators affiliated with the Telekom Serbia network. The decision of the cable operators to cease its transmission was reportedly justified by legal and economic disagreements with the group owning the channel. I highlighted that it is essential to preserve media plurality in the country through safeguarding the role of independent and critical media outlets,” Desir said in the report.
Désir noted that in the past seven-and-a-half months of this reporting period (21 November 2019 – 2 July 2020) he intervened on a total of 132 individual cases related to the physical safety of journalists and more than 200 individual cases related to the legal situation of journalists, their legal safety, including 104 detentions and 20 new court proceedings or developments in trials against journalists.
“The fact that so many journalists are facing prosecution, condemnation and detention for just reporting on issues of public interest, expressing critical views, or ensuring a plurality of opinions remains one of the greatest challenges for the OSCE region,” said Désir. The Representative called on participating States to improve their national legislation to protect journalists and come up with strong economic support to the media.
“This crisis is a direct threat to media pluralism and will restrict the sources of information for the public, exactly at a time when the public needs accurate, local, relevant and reliable information the most. This is a democratic emergency,” Desir said.