transfer 25(4) » Journalismus

Protecting the Fourth Branch of Government

The Influence of the Rule of Law on the Safety of Journalists

Evidence suggests that journalists and media workers are increasingly being targeted by both state and non-state actors as a consequence of critical reporting.
This paper argues that the rule of law is pivotal to journalist safety and endeavors to explore whether this connection can be identified on an international scale. While previous research was limited to short timeframes, individual aspects of both the rule of law and the safety of journalists, and found contradictory results, this research paper takes a more comprehensive approach by analyzing a globally representative group of countries within a broader timeframe and using a more detailed definition of journalist safety that includes killings, imprisonments, and missing cases. In addition to analyzing the general connection between both concepts, this paper seeks to answer the question of which aspects of the rule of law are best suited to predict safety in extreme cases, and how the state of democracy – categorized by four regime types – influences the relationship.

Using three different databases – the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index 2020, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Database on Attacks Against the Press, and The Economist’s Democracy Index 2020 – a quantitative statistical analysis using SPSS 26 was carried out for the period of 1992-2021, applying different sample sizes and statistical approaches for each of the three research questions.
The statistical findings demonstrate a positive influence of a functioning rule of law on the safety of journalists in the respective countries. Due to the heterogeneous composition of the rule of law index and the types of attacks against journalists in the sample, no specific aspects of the rule of law were found to predict the safety of journalists in extreme cases. However, the data shows that “Flawed Democracies” and “Hybrid Regimes” (as defined by the Economist Intelligence Unit) react most sensitively to an increase in the rule of law index, showing substantially fewer attacks against journalists with an improvement in the rule of law. These findings prove that a functioning rule of law is instrumental to the safety of journalists and therefore indispensable for holding perpetrators accountable and ultimately protecting journalists from these harms and threats respectively. They highlight the need for renewed academic approaches and enhanced policy practices aimed at analyzing and improving the safety of journalists.