Far-Right Nationalism and Populism in Europe: Assaults on Press Freedom

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The official Press Release can be accessed here.

 Executive Summary

This study examines press freedom in twelve European countries in the context of the threat posed to the watchdog role of independent journalism in democracies by far-right and populist political parties. The countries examined are: Austria; Bosnia & Herzegovina; Bulgaria; Croatia; France; Germany; Hungary; Italy; Montenegro; Poland; Romania; and Serbia. The time period covered is 2012-2016, inclusive, which marks a rise in support for far-right and populist parties in a number of European countries.

Although particular attention was paid, in the research, to reports of physical assaults on journalists, we utlisie a broadened interpretation of the term ‘assault on the media’ to include legal action, threats, intimidation, verbal and online abuse, the leverage of employment precarity, abuse of monopolistic media positions by state and private actors.  

Key Findings

  • Impunity is commonplace when it comes to assaults of any type against journalists. Rarely are perpetrators brought to justice. In some instances, it is alleged that police do not take appropriate action. In other cases, the law does not provide for effective protection.
  • Rises in the number of assaults are usually accompanied by increased concerns about the democratic health of a country.
  • Online abuse is disproportionately directed at women.
  • Media monopolies / oligarchies in the hands of actors, both public and private, some of them affiliated with populist / far-right ideologies, constitute an increasing threat to independent journalism.  
  • The ability of far-right / populist politicians and parties to circumvent the mainstream media by reaching large numbers of supporters directly, online, in particular through social media, is creating echo chambers for political ideologies and in particular for vilification of the mainstream press as, for purveyors of ‘fake news’.
  • Most of the countries examined have experienced a drop in international press freedom rankings across the time period researched; the decline in ranking is particularly evident in countries that have witnessed a systemic rise in populist / far-right support.
  • Economic dependence on the state and other actors endangered and compromises independent journalism, especially in times of prolonged financial crisis.


  • Governments must make greater efforts to combat the climate of impunity when it comes to assaults of any kind against journalists, including those perpetrated by figures affiliated with far-right / populist ideologies.
  • Independent regulatory oversight mechanisms must be strengthened to ensure that illiberal political ideologies and an often-concomitant assault on press freedom, cannot be furthered by media monopolies.
  • Police and other security bodies must be sensitised to the rights of journalists covering any form of activity, including demonstrations, by political parties, including far-right / populist ones.Legal instruments must be developed to provide for more effective protection of journalists and the intersectionality factor (ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation) in assaults against newspeople.
  • Mechanisms of monitoring must be overhauled with a stronger and effective collaboration among stakeholders in national and international levels; data must be gathered, crossreferenced and publicised widely on a regular basis in addition to reports provided by existing organisations.
  • Establish independently audited and publicly controlled central funds for independent journalism and media, to enable the separation of the state from the media as the sole or core funder, in times of crisis.