In the past 12 years alone, more than 1 000 journalists have been killed because of their work. In nine out of ten cases, those responsible for these crimes have not been brought to justice. Often impunity for these crimes against journalists is a sign of a wider problem, but threats, violence and harassment against journalists are also an attack on one of the cornerstones of democracy: freedom of expression.
Freedom of expression and journalist safety have long been – and continue to be – priority issues for the Swedish Government. Sweden attaches great importance to drawing attention to threats and hate speech against journalists globally, online and offline. This is the case not least on 2 November, which is the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.
But the measures required to draw attention to threats and hate speech against journalists globally must be taken every day. It is not just a matter of preventing impunity for crimes against journalists; the matter of journalist safety is complex and covers many areas and measures. Sweden is working to strengthen journalist safety by strengthening accountability for the use of violence and threats of violence and harassment. This is a matter of both reactive and proactive measures to combat and prevent violence. As part of tackling these challenges nationally, the Government presented a national action plan last year to increase journalist safety. The action plan focused on three areas:
- Knowledge – new research leads to better understanding of the situation and its consequences.
- Support – the plan contains proposals to provide better support to the groups directly affected: journalists, artists and elected representatives. Support to civil society and important public bodies is also included.
- Strengthen the legal system – with legislative proposals that strengthen the protection of journalists. The new acts contain proposals to clarify and modernise criminal legislation on unlawful threats, harassment and defamation. Most of the new acts entered into force on 1 January 2018.
In addition to the plan of action, Sweden provides support to various international projects and institutions to combat threats against journalists. One example is the pilot study conducted by the Institute for Further Education of Journalists on the situation for journalist safety in a number of countries. In addition to showing that threats against journalists are considerable, the pilot study also found that threats are made via social media and that, if nothing is done about them, they can undermine the conditions for independent journalism.
Another important project supported by Sweden is Safety of Female Journalists Online (#SOFJO), which is run by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. The project, which was initiated in 2015, has resulted in a number of recommendations to combat threats and hate speech against women journalists on the internet. In addition to these recommendations, the office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media leads the way in the international work to draw attention to and push opinion on this issue.
Through Swedish development and reform cooperation, Sweden also supports in many ways freedom of expression and the ability of journalists to carry out their important work, not least in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.