The region of Western Europe includes Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, in addition to several smaller nations.
Western Europe might seem like a journalist’s paradise, compared to other parts of the world where press repression and violence are the norm. But the area is not without its media drama.
In the United Kingdom, for example, several reporters and photographers were attacked during rioting in London in the summer of 2011. The riots, which ignited after police shot a man being investigated in the city’s poorer northeast neighborhood of Tottenham, lasted three days and caused millions of pounds in property damage. The rioting prompted calls for tighter government control of social media and orders for media to hand over footage of the rioters.
A scandal over news organizations hacking into the private telephone voice mail of celebrities, crime victims and others also rocked the nation beginning in 2011 and continuing into 2012, prompting concerns about tighter media regulation by the government.
In 2009, the Overseas Press Club wrote in support of Suzanne Breen who had been ordered to turn over her notes after interviewing a member of the Real Irish Republican Army. The reporter argued surrendering her notes would amount to a death sentence for her and her family. A higher court ruled that she did not have to surrender the material.
Also, libel suits cost defendants in England far more than in continental Europe, the Committee to Protect Journalists found. British libel laws tend to favor the plaintiffs.
France saw tension rise between the government and the press in 2011 over leaked information involving allegations of illegal financing of the presidential party. In Italy, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi sought to revive a 2010 bill that called for the punishment of journalists who print information from leaked police wiretaps. The measure had already drawn criticism from the Overseas Press Club.
Law enforcement officials it Italy also harassed Frank Sfarzo, an Italian freelance journalist and blogger covering the Meredith Kercher murder trial, and forced him to close his blog.
And in Hungary, a 2011 law created a new regulatory agency with the power to tightly restrict the news media, including prohibitions against so-called unbalanced or amoral news coverage. The law was officially condemned by the European Parliament. Hungarian officials have pledged reforms, but European officials continue to express “grave concerns” about the media climate in the country.
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