Increasing attacks on journalists are threatening press freedom in Germany, a new report has warned.
The 2021 Press Freedom Index, issued by Reporters Without Borders, says attacks on journalists sky-rocketed from 13 in 2019 to 65 in 2020. As a result, Germany lost its “good” classification in the index and dropped two places in the global rankings.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t been really surprised about the results, because what we see is an increase in attacks against journalists in Germany and Europe,” the deputy press officer at the German Journalists Association (DJV) Paul Eschenhagen said. “The shift is definitely a matter of concern for us.”
Attacks against reporters took place primarily during demonstrations against pandemic restrictions, the report says, and were often carried out by proponents of extremist and conspiracy theorists united by mistrust in the media.
The report emphasised that, beyond physical attacks, media workers were often harassed, insulted and threatened and, in some cases, massively hindered from their work.
“Some, of course, not all of those people on those demonstrations are not only attacking press freedom, but they are also attacking democracy itself, “Mr Eschenhagen said.
The environment for journalists in Germany is now said to be “satisfactory”, and on a par with that in Romania and Burkina Faso. The basis of the Press Freedom Index is the evaluation of various aspects of journalistic work along with the numbers of assaults, acts of violence and imprisonment against media workers in 2020.
Although the situation for journalists in Germany is still relatively positive compared to many other countries, “every attack against journalists is one too much, “Mr Eschenhagen said. “I think many politicians are aware of the problem. But there is still much to do.” He does not think Germany needs better laws, but rather better law enforcement specialised in press freedom and attacks on journalists and more awareness of the problem.
Attack on the press is an attack on democracy
Freedom of the press is crucial for functioning democracies, particularly for Germany, according to Dr Andreas Ziemann, professor at the Bauhaus-University in Weimar. For the sociologist and media scientist, the press has a unique function, acting as a mirror through which the government can see how the population thinks and reflect upon itself.
While in many countries are the governments who restrict press freedom, such as in China, the report says it is a certain segment of society in Germany, the so-called “Querdenker” or “lateral thinkers”, who put press freedom, freedom of speech and democracy under threat, attacking reporters and preventing them from doing their work.
Mr Ziemann described the current trend in Germany as paradoxical. He said:
“On the one hand, they [anti-corona demonstrators] are allowed to walk, to give a free speech on whatever they think and so on, and all this is only possible in or on democratic structures. On the other hand, they use these democratic structures to be more or less anti-democratic.”
Germany is in line with the global trend
On May 3rd, International Day of Press Freedom will shed light on the global situation and the fundamental importance of free reporting for democratic societies. There is much to be concerned about, the index warns.
In more than 130 of the 180 countries ranked by the organisation, the press is entirely or partially blocked. The coronavirus pandemic, which has been used as a pretext to preventing journalists from reporting, has exacerbated the situation.
Only a few countries worldwide can boast of being guarantors of press freedom and of providing a good journalism environment. These include Costa Rica, Netherlands and Portugal. As in the previous year, Norway and Finland are at the top, followed by Denmark. Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea bring up the rear.
According to the barometer of press freedom, 303 journalists, 12 media workers as well as 100 bloggers and citizen journalists are currently in custody. Six journalists and four media workers have already been murdered during this year alone.