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Hearing on questions concerning freedom of expression and information and the fight against terrorism (14 May 2002, 9.30am-1pm)
1. On the morning of 14 May 2002, the Council of Europe's Steering Committee on the Mass Media (CDMM) held a hearing on questions concerning freedom of expression and information and the fight against terrorism. The following persons participated in the hearing: Mrs Inger ETZLER, Senior Producer, Sveriges Television (SVT), Chairperson of the Intercultural Working Group of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU); Mr Xavier COLIN, Head of International News, Télévision Suisse Romande (TSR); Mr Gustl GLATTFELDER, Chairperson of the European Federation of Journalists; Mr Per HULTENGĹRD, The Swedish Newspaper Publishers' Association; Mr Toby MENDEL, Head of Law Programme, Article 19 and Mr Jean-Christophe LE TOQUIN, Executive Director, French Internet Service Providers Association, Vice-President of EuroISPA.
2. In general the invited guest speakers unanimously considered that no matter how serious the acts of terrorism perpetrated on and since 11 September 2001 in different parts of the world, there was no need to impose new restrictions on freedom of expression and information in order to combat terrorism. Some speakers expressed concern at the fact that a number of governments, even in Europe, had recently adopted or were in the process of preparing anti-terrorist legislation that might be a threat to freedom of expression and information. One speaker in particular mentioned the measures taken or envisaged in certain countries to monitor and intercept communications as part of the fight against terrorism and the impact that this might have on freedom of expression and information.
3. The invited guest speakers also unanimously stressed that it was the role of the public authorities to combat terrorism, but not that of the media, whose only role was to present and disseminate information on terrorism, putting it into perspective for the benefit of the general public. They agreed that in the face of the excesses sometimes observed in the race for audience ratings, the media, and particularly public service broadcasters, had a special responsibility not to add to the fears and insecurity terrorist acts can trigger or to contribute inadvertently to the goals the terrorists were out to achieve.
4. It was noted in this respect that while terrorists sought publicity and therefore tried to use the media in their communication strategy, they actually feared information. It was up to the media, therefore, to act responsibly and not only present information but also help to explain it and even denounce acts of terrorism. This responsibility did not make the media’s task any easier, considering that they sometimes had difficulty gaining access to information, for example, or were manipulated, even by the authorities, and in some cases they had to make do with only one source of information.
5. That being said, it was noted that the responsibility of the media went beyond simply reporting acts of terrorism. The invited guest speakers agreed that it was also their role to explain the possible causes of terrorism and to help foster mutual understanding and tolerance.
6. All these responsibilities meant introducing self-regulatory measures such as codes of conduct where they did not already exist, or reviewing their content and how well they worked when they did exist, to ensure that they provided effective answers to the ethical problems involved in covering terrorism. One expert suggested that the media adopt special self-regulatory measures concerning terrorism, but other speakers expressed reservations about this idea and also about co-regulatory measures taken in conjunction with the state.
7. Looking beyond self-regulatory measures, some invited guest speakers stressed the importance of developing training for journalists and encouraging a policy of diversity in the media, not only through the production and dissemination of programmes or other content conducive to mutual understanding and tolerance between majority and minority groups in today’s multicultural societies, but also by encouraging the recruitment of editorial staff from minority groups.
8. As to what action the Council of Europe could or should take, several invited guest speakers thought it should keep a watchful eye on any steps the governments of member States might take to strengthen their stockpiles of legal measures for dealing with terrorism, to make sure they did not question the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly freedom of expression and information.
9. As for the media, the Council of Europe could encourage them to adopt and apply self-regulatory measures, paying special attention to their effective implementation, while bearing in mind the sometimes considerable differences of situation from one country to another. It was also suggested that the Council of Europe support the training of journalists in such areas as reporting on terrorism, and intercultural relations, through seminars for example, as such training required substantial financial investment which the media themselves could not always afford.
10. Following the hearing, the CDMM agreed to organise a conference on the same subject at its next meeting, on Monday 25 November 2002, in order to hear the views of a larger number of experts on the complex questions raised during the hearing.
* * *
Answers of the European Federation of Journalists to the questionnaire for the hearing to be held by the CDMM on 14 May 2002
I. Scope and limits of freedom of expression
There should be no limits of freedom of expression for persons suspected, accused or convicted of terrorism save those normally applied to people who have been convicted of criminal offences whose liberties, as a result, may be curtailed. There is no justification to apply to terrorism suspects any limitations beyond those which apply to all citizens when they are accused of violent or potentially violent acts that may endanger the welfare of others.
(ii) no general restrictions should apply, save those which may be imposed strictly
for reasons of public safety
(iii) none, matters regarding what should be broadcast should be subject to professional judgement regarding taste, decency. Other information, such as that from police and security forces, may also be considered, but the decision to publish should be a journalistic one.
(iv) none, save matters covered by national security considerations. In this case these should be clearly defined.
(It must be noted here that the EFJ does not accept the notion, implicit in these questions, that dealing with the crime of terrorism – which is itself subject problems of definition – should require limitations on reporting rights in excess of those which apply, for example, to crimes of violence such as murder.)
3. The duty to the public interest inevitably means that media should observe from the perspective of the community they serve, but, as far as possible, journalistic work should subject acts of terrorism and the response to the same scrutiny that is observed when covering other acts of violence or threats of mass violence in society.
II. Obligations of public authorities
1. It is the duty of the authorities to act always in defence of citizen’s interestand to protect the public. This requires, occasionally, that information is withheld or information is provided, in collaboration with media, that serves the duty to protect lives. When this is done, as sometimes happens in relations between the police and media, it should be done on the following basis:
a. Full disclosure to media in advance of why information is withheld or why other information should be published;
b. Full disclosure by media after the event to readers or viewers to explain in full why information was withheld or why false information was provided.
2. It is necessary to create confidence in relations between public authorities and media. Public authorities should investigate fully all attacks on journalists or violations of journalists’ rights.
III. How to promote active contribution by the media to intercultural and inter-religious dialogue?
1. Media and journalists should always be aware of the consequences of what they publish. They should be aware of the dangers of intolerance. Media can fulfil their responsibility (to be ethical) by respecting the truth, being independent of all sides, and taking account of the consequences of their work. To do this effectively journalists must be well informed and given the professional space to work without undue pressure.
2. All media have the capacity to promote dialogue between different groups. They have a professional responsibility to take account of different opinions and they should be aware of the need for dialogue. Television has a very special role to play in this regard. The authorities can promote activities and events that promote community dialogue and which can be a focus for media coverage.
3. Yes. In Europe the IFJ and the European Newspaper Publishers Association and the European Broadcasting Union in 1997 agreed a joint statement on the ethics and racism. This statement outlined joint actions in the field of training, recruitment and newsroom performance to raise awareness within media on the dangers of racism. The IFJ and other organisations at the same time established the International Media Working Group Against Racism and Xenophobia.
4. Media professionals need to be constantly reminded of their ethical responsibilities (see 1 above).
IV. Possible action by the Council of Europe
1. The Council should support:
a.) Awareness-raising activities within media on these issues (seminars and discussions with editors, reporters, etc.
b.) Social dialogue and promotions of actions between publishers, broadcasters and journalists’ groups on joint activities to promote positive actions by media on issues of intolerance.
Brussels, 8 May 2002
European Federation of Journalists
Gustl Glattfelder – Chair
International Press Centre - Résidence Palace
Rue de la Loi, 155 (Block C, 2nd Floor)
B-1040 Brussels, Belgium
Tel.: +32 (0)2 235 22 00; Fax: +32 (0)2 235 22 19
Website: http://www.ifj.org/regions/europe/efj/en/efj.html; E-Mail: email@example.com