Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of every democratic society. However, threats to media freedoms in European democracies are greater and deeper than we think. “The safety of journalists is deteriorating in over a third of European states” Thorbjørn Jagland, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe wrote in his annual report published in May. The situation is becoming dramatic and it is not limited to just a “handful of states,” he stated.

There are many talking points around the issue of media freedom in Europe. Reporters Without Borders (RWB), in its 2015 findings, reported that “government interference in the media is a reality in many European Union countries” and stated that it is made easier by the concentration of media ownership in a few hands. RWB added that media pluralism in many European countries is also undermined by the lack of transparency in the allocation of state aid to the media. The situation is worsened by the financial problems faced by many media outlets, who rely on advertising and are often silenced by organisations which provide advertising revenue.

National security is a legal tool used by governments to illegitimately crack down on the media. France in December 2013 adopted a law which permits authorities to avoid requesting a judge’s permission when ordering surveillance for “national security” or combating terrorism. Moreover journalists’ legal safeguards were reduced by a 2014 new anti-terrorism law.

In the United Kingdom investigative journalism is threatened under the guise of fighting terrorism: authoritative watchdog organisations reported that in 2013 the police gained access to 1700 News UK’s employees’ phone billing records.

‘‘Europe’s media freedom is in danger,’’ said Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, President of the International Federation of Journalists (EFJ). ‘‘In recent years, journalists, whether in Ukraine, Turkey or the United Kingdom, have been witnessing increasing attacks on their professional rights.’’ EFJ reported that since 2013, in Ukraine 200 journalists have faced attacks whilst many were intimidated and detained. It also warned that in Turkey, 34 journalists are still in prison for undertaking journalism.

Democracy cannot be taken for granted. Politics should no longer interfere and pressure media outlets in order to influence media content. The protection of national security cannot be used as an excuse to intimidate and silence the press. Media’s independence and pluralism is at the foundation of a free society and vital for the defence of all human rights. Instead we should do more to protect journalists. Europeans have to be vigilant about these trends and defend journalist’s safety, their work is democracy’s lifeblood.