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Gabriel Nissim: the contribution of the civil society to the Kiev conference

Gabriel Nissim, president of the Human Rights Grouping of INGOs, explains the achievements in assuring media freedom, pluarlism and diversity and what is left to be done. He will present the findings to the conference on Thursday, 10 March.

Kiev, 8 March 2005

Question: What is your main concern with regard to freedom of expression and information in times of crisis? Do the draft texts sufficiently address current problems?

Gabriel Nissim: Our main concern is that there should be real media independence, and not only in times of crisis.

However, crisis situations do bring about greater threats to media freedom, especially from governments. The draft texts underline the need to respect human rights whilst fighting terrorism, and this is a fundamental principle. But we should not say that there is a need to balance these two things. The Council of Europe should set standards which must be applied by all of its member countries, even – and perhaps especially – in times of crisis.

Journalists today are facing new challenges and risks and, as we have seen recently, in some cases they are risking their lives. The texts do not go far enough with regard to the specific challenges which media professionals are currently facing.

Also, in today’s world, journalists need to have a deeper understanding of intercultural issues, and they need training in this respect. Sometimes, without meaning to, the media can add fuel to the flames. Journalists need to be fully aware of the consequences of their words.

Question: What are your proposals for achieving greater media diversity?

Gabriel Nissim: Concerning the second theme of the conference - maintaining media and cultural diversity in the face of globalisation - the principles expressed in the draft political texts are excellent but the measures contained in the action plan are poor.

There are not enough concrete proposals. A certain number of initiatives have been taken by a range of different organisations, and we would like to see these receive greater support from the Council of Europe and its member governments. Certain initiatives exist, and these need to be supported and developed.

Over the last 20 years there have been lots of declarations from ministerial conferences and from the Committee of Ministers, but there has been a lack of concrete achievements. We really need to make some progress. I hope that the group of experts on media diversity, which should be set up after the conference, will not only produce recommendations but that it will support concrete initiatives.

In my personal opinion, the Council of Europe needs to concentrate more on intercultural and inter-religious dialogue and to widen the measures being taken in this regard so that real progress is made. Social cohesion is a major problem in Europe and across the world, and this should be a priority for the Council of Europe.

Question: With regard to media ownership, how can politicians be prevented from having too much influence, for example by owning TV stations and so on?

Gabriel Nissim: There are two answers to this question: a direct answer and an indirect answer.

The first answer is that the Council of Europe should monitor media independence with regard to politicians much more closely. The Council of Europe should say something about the situation in Italy and also in those member states where the public media is actually the state media. There is a big different between public media and state media. The state media no longer has any credibility. There should be clear rules on this - not only Parliamentary Assembly recommendations, but also conventions or better monitoring of the question.

The second answer is that we need to raise citizens’ awareness as users – rather than consumers – of the media. When preparing the documents for this conference, a translator mistakenly used the phrase “media consumers” instead of “media users”. We don’t want the media to be seen as a commodity. We need to develop people’s awareness as users of the media, and to improve their knowledge of how the media works. Citizens are often treated as targets by the media. The Council of Europe’s work on “education for democratic citisenship” should undoubtedly include education on the media.