Debate warns against attacks on journalists, calls for solidarity

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Ljubljana – An online debate on the dangers of journalist work held as part of a media festival organised by the Association of Slovenian Journalists (DNS) on Wednesday heard that attacks on journalists may range from physical attacks to very sophisticated forms of political insults. Journalist Ervin Hladnik Milharčič called for solidarity.

Jamie Wiseman, advocacy officer at the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, based in Vienna, said that the safety of journalists in many ways reflected the democratic standards of a country.

Speaking at the debate as part of the Naprej/Forward! festival, he warned that in recent years, political pressure on journalists was becoming increasingly systematic and sophisticated.

He mentioned Belarus as an example, noting that the authorities there were destroying the freedom of the press in a systematic and utmost brutal way.

Slovenia is recently seeing obvious changes in the direction of the Hungarian model of controlling the media landscape.

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In light of recent violent protests in Ljubljana, the debate focussed on the safety of journalists at protests.

“Every area has its own culture of journalism and its own culture of protests,” said Hladnik Milharčič. He said the Slovenian culture of protests was like “going to mass for which we don’t expect to turn violent”.

He said political protests “where you are not actually sure what they are all about such as the last protest in Ljubljana are particularly dangerous”.

He pointed to Poland, where he said journalists were being “physically blocked”, which called for journalist solidarity and help.

Security expert Branko Lobnikar said that in theory police were expected to protect both protesters and journalists at protests. But he warned that a UNESCO report had detected a rise in illegal use of police force against journalists even though police officers and journalists should defend human rights at protests together.

Lobnikar, a professor at the Faculty of Security Sciences, agreed that Slovenia had a tradition of non-violent protests, which do not pose a danger to journalists. But he expressed concern that the political authorities could undermine the police autonomy, which could change police conduct at protests.

“It must be said out loud that journalist work is important and that journalists must be kept safe,” Lobnikar said.

The German Press Council has recently called for protection of journalists at protests, which Lobnikar thinks has a major symbolic and practical value.

One of the guests at the debate was photojournalist Borut Živulovič, who was injured by one of the violent protesters at the 5 November protests in Ljubljana.

He said police had not tracked down his attacker yet. But he praised the Slovenian police for being “highly professional” towards photojournalists at protests so far, which was why he had never felt threatened. Hladnik Milharčič echoed this.

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