Strasbourg, 7 March, 2005
Question: Which standards and principles of the Council of Europe are of practical significance for Ukraine today? Could you give us an example?
Karol Jakubowicz: “The principles of fairness, balance and impartiality in the coverage of election campaigns by the media should apply to all types of political elections in Member States”, says a recommendation of the Committee of Ministers concerning media coverage of election campaigns. During the recent presidential elections in Ukraine, monitoring by international organizations would not have found highly disproportionate amounts of airtime being given to one candidate, and highly biased coverage of the other candidate, if this had been complied with.
Question: If Ukraine decided to reform the media system, which kind of advice could it find in the Council of Europe?
Karol Jakubowicz : In the last 15 years the Council has devoted a lot of effort to helping the new member states develop their media legislation. Of course, the desire and determination to respect the principles and standards of guaranteeing freedom of expression and of the media must come from within the country concerned. But we know the value of international documents, because they are not formulated by one or another party to political battles inside the country, but by the international community which is not involved in those battles. That gives them more credibility and authority.
Question: Free discussion of political and other issues can mean criticism of politicians and public officials.
Karol Jakubowicz: In a 2004 Declaration, the Council of Europe says that political figures seeking elected office “have decided to appeal to the confidence of the public and accepted to subject themselves to public political debate”. They are therefore subject to close public scrutiny and criticism over the way in which they carry out their functions. We also state that there must be freedom of satire. Of course, politicians and public officials remain protected against insult and defamation, and also against invasion of privacy, as individuals.
By the way, Ukraine is among the countries where the greatest number of journalists had been subject to physical aggression over the last years (2001 Recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly). We all hope any cencorship, and in particular censorship by murder or physical intimidation, will be rooted out in all European countries.
Question: Do the principles of free political debate apply to the Internet, as well?
Karol Jakubowicz: Yes. Public authorities should not, through general blocking or filtering measures, deny access by the public to information and other communication on the Internet, regardless of frontiers. This does not prevent the installation of filters for the protection of minors. Member States should encourage access for all to Internet communication and information services.
Question: How can media pluralism be achieved?
Karol Jakubowicz: Public should have information on who owns the media, so as to enable them to form an opinion on the value to be given to information, ideas and opinions disseminated by the particular newspaper or station. This is what the 1994 “Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers on Measures to Promote Media Transparency” requires. A 1999 Recommendation lists different ways in which ownership and content of the media could be regulated.