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Forum History

 

The Forum was established by the Third Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe  (Warsaw, May 2005), to strengthen democracy, political freedoms and citizens' participation.

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Forum previous sessions

Forum_Democracy2011

(Limassol, Cyprus, October)

Interdependence of democracy and social cohesion.

New: Proceedings

"Radical measures taken in many countries to try to balance public budgets are both necessary and understandable” but  “Countries are running a high risk of seriously undermining the European model of social cohesion.”  declared Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland while opening the Cyprus Forum.

2010

(Yerevan, October)

Perspectives 2020 Democracy in Europe - Principles and Challenges

Proceedings

 

''The Council of Europe has a unique strategic role to play in strengthening good democratic governance at all levels in the European space''. Democracy, or rather good democratic governance, is now not only intrinsically linked to the respect of human rights but is also recognised as the most effective form of governance to ensure stability, sustainability and well-being.

 That was the main message of the 2010 Forum.

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2009

(Kyiv, October)

Electoral systems: strengthening democracy in the 21st century

(Proceedings)

 "In a genuine democracy, the citizen is sovereign and the voter decides" - that was the main message of the 2009 Forum, which highlighted the need for greater public involvement, with a view to increasing voter turnout and ensuring that all stages of public life are democratic..

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2008

(Madrid, October)

"E-democracy: who dares?"

 

The discussions addressed the impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs) on democracy.

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2007

(Stockholm, June)

"Power and empowerment - The interdependence of democracy and human rights"

 

This event addressed issues such as the role and responsibilities of the opposition, representative democracy at the local and regional level, empowerment of the individual and non-discrimination, respect for freedom of expression and association for civil society, and fostering democracy, human rights and social networks.

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2006

(Moscow, October)

"The role of political parties in the building of democracy"

 

The Forum reflected on  the role and responsibilities of political parties in finding democratic solutions to contemporary challenges, the interaction between political parties and with other actors in the democratic process, and the building and strengthening of democratic institutions.

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Launch meeting (Warsaw, November 2005)

"Citizens' participation"

 

 

The discussions addressed the state of contemporary democracy in Europe.

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Previous projects

("Making

Democratic institutions work")

 

Media and civil society: key actors in democratic elections
Workshop 3A

The role of the media in ensuring fair elections

Report by Corina Cepoi, Rapporteur

Introduction

The Workshop 3A focused on the role of the media in elections It was chaired by Konstantyn Kvurt, Executive Director of Internews Ukraine, a media non-profit organisation working with journalists and media organisations. Robert Parsons from France 24 moderated the session. After the Issues Paper was presented with the key points for discussion the three panel speakers covered specific areas of concern. Pierre Garrone (Secretariat, Venice Commission) talked about international standards for media and governments referring to a report on the issue prepared by Owen Masters, an expert for the Venice Commission. Barbi Pilvre (member of NENO) focused on the experience of Estonia in the field of public media obligations and pre-election agreements promoted by non-profit organisations1. Ljiljana Zurovac (Press Council, Bosnia and Herzegovina) presented the experience of Bosnia & Herzegovina and its Press Council, a new structure aiming to serve as a self-regulatory mechanism for journalists and media organizations.2

An overview of the existing international standards developed by organizations such as the Council of Europe/Venice Commission, OSCE/ ODIHR, Venice Commission and others to provide guidance to the media during election time was given. The issues addressed include:

    - Equal opportunities for electoral candidates in the media, especially the publicly funded media;
    - An informed public for an informed choice by the electorate;
    - Journalists’ protection in their professional capacity;
    - Press Councils as self-regulatory mechanisms;
    - Covering opinion polls before elections;
    - Interaction of media with election observers.

Guiding principles for the media during elections

The public media role was underlined as a crucial one in electoral periods. Publicly funded media outlets are normally the ones having the most detailed guidelines in elections and trying to adhere to them strictly. Of course, the situation differs from country to country but generally the advantages of the public media include:

    - organisation and broadcasting of public debates;
    - equal playing field for all political actors because of regulatory and self-regulatory mechanisms;
    - suspended or limited appearance of officials involved in the election campaign;
    - involvement of the ombudsman who can monitor and negotiate any conflict arising from the activity of the media outlet and the public, including electoral candidates;
    - predominance of hard news focused on events that influence the life of the citizens versus soft news where entertainment prevails.

Commercial media has fewer obligations with regards to the public as it is not financed from public taxes. Nonetheless, it needs to have general obligations during elections. The drawbacks of commercial media discussed at the session include:

    - focus of the programming not on issues affecting people’s lives but mostly on personalities;
    - commercialisation of the media when it is market driven and profit-oriented thereby limiting its information and educative role;
    - predominance of scandalous information;
    - availability of unregulated airtime for sale to political parties with varied-size budgets.

The need to regulate and monitor the media

The workshop emphasised that regulation does not mean censorship. The limits imposed on the media have to be appropriate without over-regulation that might limit creativity and mean avoidance of difficult issues. General rules need to be set up for the commercially driven media and detailed ones for the media funded from the public budgets. In any case, these rules and regulations have to include the right to reply of those mentioned in the news stories.

Developed democracies have relatively smoothly operating self-regulating structures lead by Press Councils while new democracies in Europe are only starting to set-up such bodies. In general, self-regulatory mechanisms work when journalists are taking responsibility for their actions. Examples were provided when Press Councils worked with journalists to remind them of professional standards. Additionally, Press Councils remind the media that citizens should be at the centre of events and not only politicians. Similarly, politicians are educated about journalists’ roles in society and judges are empowered with international standards in order to make fair decisions in cases involving journalists.

Media monitoring is essential to observe how well the media are performing and to address any deficiencies of media coverage of elections. Media monitoring should cover all segments of an election campaign and should take a long-term approach which includes:

    - the pre-election stage of a campaign;
    - the election day;
    - the post-election period.

Balanced reporting of an election campaign is possible and media monitoring can serve to highlight good practices as well as inadequate situations. Methodologies of media coverage of election have settled after years of trial and error and international and national monitoring teams should cooperate to share information and methodologies for the benefit of both parties. Both quantitative and qualitative methods are desirable, to be used in tandem with case studies analysing individual media behaviour.

The essential role of education

Good education standards can help to improve the coverage by the media of electoral candidates and elections. Professional journalists who follow high standards of reporting and ethical checklists can only emerge from high quality educational and training programmes. Long-term programmes, in formal and informal settings, are most effective for students of journalism and for working journalists. Teaching ethics is a key component of any education for journalists. Those journalists who have relevant advanced experience (from inside or outside the country) can be trained as trainers for less experienced colleagues. If proper education of students in journalism is set up and training of working journalists is organised there are more chances that reporters will make sound journalistic decisions in their work.

Investigative journalists can contribute to more interesting journalistic products in elections, so that all segments of society can access quality information from the media. Educating the public about media principles and consumption patterns, thereby highlighting that each society member is individually important could improve the electoral environment in general.

The key role played by new media

New media was at the centre of the debates of the 2008 Forum for the Future of Democracy which was devoted to electronic democracy. Nonetheless, as the new media becomes an instrument for political information, for citizens’ activism but also for public manipulation, it was also addressed extensively during this Workshop.

New media offer significant opportunities for alternative information in countries with restrictive regimes. While it can provide detailed information and offer widespread coverage, several groups of citizens might face problems of accessibility. Examples raised during the discussions include:

    - Older voters who may not be in a position to follow technological progress because of lack of training and/or financial means;
    - Certain minorities lack access to new media, for example Roma populations throughout Europe;
    - Disabled people may need special technical devices and often lack sufficient financial means;
    - Rural voters may not have access to new media because of poor infrastructure;
    - Migrant workers may be excluded from the host country as well as their home country’s events because they are in very poorly paid jobs and, in many cases, have no legal status.

New media illiteracy is also affecting many other sections of the population. People sitting in front of their computer have to assess whether the information is reliable and balanced or not. Despite the seemingly free flow of information on the internet, restrictive governments have found methods of controlling it via censors or even through cooperation with providers. While media education courses exist and citizens can learn how to weigh-up various types of media information, such training is not readily available with regard to new media.

The impact of new media on traditional media is still unclear. Whilst the issue is being debated, traditional media are proving to be slow to respond to the new challenges. In the meantime, citizens’ are taking the matter into their own hands by covering issues which traditional media misses or in zones where the mainstream media does not fully operate.

The fragile position of the media affects the free flow of information during elections and beyond. Journalists’ rights need to be respected so that they can freely access public events, report on issues of public interest and are not prevented from raising controversial issues. Attacks on journalists are pervasive violations affecting not only the profession itself but also the public at large.

Reinforcing the role of women in the media

Special attention was paid to the issue of women in the media and the need for a gender-balanced media. Regardless of the fact that most working journalists are women, men dominate media management3. Monitoring shows that the images, sources of information and issues covered by media are not presenting a gender-balanced view. Instead, media content is dominated by one-sided images of reality leaving aside many issues affecting women in society.


1 See NENO pre-election manifesto:www.ngo.ee/28222.

2 See Press Council of B&H website with some information in English: www.vzs.ba/en/.

3 Information obtained from a report prepared for the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) 2007 Congress.