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Journalists Face Threats in European Union, says Media Watchdog

A report marking World Press Freedom Day by the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders focuses on the risks facing journalists within several countries of the European Union (EU). Tendai Maphosa has the details in this report for VOA from London.

The Reporters Without Borders report acknowledges that genuine press freedom exists within the European Union. But it notes with concern that threats and actual attacks on journalists, attempted murder by non-governmental groups, assaults and harassment of families still happen. Reporters Without Borders spokesman Jean-Francois Julliard told VOA journalists face the most risk in Spain and Italy.

"In Spain it is Basque country where a lot of the journalists work under protection of the police and a lot of journalists were obliged to leave this area to continue to work in Madrid or other big towns because they were threatened by ETA the terrorist organization. In Italy the situation is very tense in Sicily and in other southern regions because of the mafia. A lot of journalists who want to expose the work of the mafia take some risks and one of them was almost killed during an attack. There was a bomb under his car, fortunately the police discovered the bomb before he entered his car," he said.

Julliard added that journalists in new member states of the EU such as Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Cyprus face more threats than those in older countries. Like in Spain and Italy, mafia-type criminal gangs or ultranationalists often commit the attacks.

Reporters Without Borders says some countries have also witnessed reversals. In France for instance, journalists are exposed to physical reprisals when they cover unrest in the suburbs particularly in Paris. Since the November 2005 riots scores of photographers, cameramen and reporters have been physically manhandled. Until then, it was in Corsica that journalists were at risk.

Julliard noted that even where freedom of expression is a practice, journalists may come under political and economic pressure. He gave the example of a French weekly that was forced to pull a story about President Nicholas Sarkozy's ex-wife.

"We know that the withdrawal of the story was because of pressure of the owner of the newspaper who is a very close friend of Nicholas Sarkozy so it was linked to political pressure but also economic pressure because it was not directly from the state but it was from the owner of the newspape," he said.

Reporters Without Borders also records cases of journalists being targeted by religious fanatics. The Danish cartoonist who drew the controversial Muhammad cartoon in 2006 was the target of a murder plot uncovered by the Danish intelligence earlier this year. He has now been forced to live under the protection of the Danish secret services, changing his residence every two weeks. In Northern Ireland, threats of violence continue against investigative journalists despite the deal that ended sectarian violence and the formation of a power-sharing regional government in 2007 by the Catholic Republicans and the Protestant Unionists.