Media freedom under threat in Europe

London,  08/12/11  – Ahead of human rights day (10 December 2011), Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, launched the publication Human rights and a changing media landscape at a press conference in London, hosted by ARTICLE 19, on Thursday 8 December 2011.

“The defence of all human rights depends on media freedom and pluralism. This makes it urgent to counter government restrictions and monopoly tendencies,” said Thomas Hammarberg at the launch.

“Journalists are murdered or threatened with violence, state authorities seek to control broadcast media and prevent access to government information. At the same time we have seen that unrestrained commercial ambitions can encourage a culture of illegal and unethical activity in the newsroom – as the News of the World phone hacking scandal demonstrated with shocking clarity.”

The Commissioner invited eight experts to give their personal assessments of six topics and how they relate to human rights: social media; protection of journalists from violence; ethical journalism; access to official documents; public service media; and media pluralism.

“Together these contributions give an indication that there is a need for stronger protection of media freedom and freedom of expression in Europe today,” said the Commissioner at the launch, which took place at Article 19 in London.

In his foreword Thomas Hammarberg highlights the role media plays in exposing human rights violations and in offering an arena for different voices to be heard in public discourse. He argues that public service broadcasting is important to ensure media pluralism and counteract monopolies. He also underlines that every case of violence or threats against a journalist must be promptly and seriously investigated – impunity encourages further murders and has a chilling effect on public debate.

The phenomenon of social media presents us with a range of fresh challenges. Blogs, video and social networking sites have become key forums for political debate and organisation – so much so that they have provoked counter-responses from some repressive states. While there is a need to ensure better protection of personal integrity in social media, the right to freedom of expression must not be undermined.

The traditional media have felt the pain of the global economic crisis. Thousands of jobs have been eliminated, leaving little space for research, checking and original investigation – and training. The term ethical journalism is highly relevant in this context. The media community needs to develop a system of effective self-regulation – based on an agreed code of ethics - and a mechanism to receive and respond to complaints.

“I hope this book will serve as a spotlight on current challenges. There is a strong need for a serious public debate on media developments and their impact on human rights”, said the Commissioner.

Human Rights and a changing media landscape can be ordered from: book.coe.int (Council of Europe Publishing)

Read the publication Human rights and a changing media landscape
Thematic page on media freedom


Press contact in the Commissioner’s Office:
Anki Wood, +33 (0)6 61 14 78 35; anki.wood@coe.int    

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