Journalists in times of crisis

Wars, terrorism, threats to stability and natural disasters are leading to stricter security and surveillance all over the world. What effect does this have on access to information and on journalism?

Concerned about the erosion of press freedom in times of crisis, the Council of Europe has adopted three particularly significant documents:

  • a Declaration on freedom of expression and information in the media in the context of the fight against terrorism,
  • Guidelines on protecting freedom of expression and information in times of crisis, and
  • a Declaration on the protection and promotion of investigative journalism.

They are based on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which aims to guarantee freedom of expression and information within the jurisdiction of the 46 Council of Europe member states.

World Press Freedom Day was introduced by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1993.

The date chosen for this annual celebration was 3 May, which is a day of action in the form of initiatives designed to uphold press freedom, as well as a day for assessing the state of press freedom in the world, a day for warning the public and raising awareness, a day for encouraging debate among media professionals, and a commemoration of all the journalists who have lost their lives while doing their job.

The Council of Europe's action to promote press freedom and freedom of information is based on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, under which this fundamental right is one of the cornerstones of democracy. The Council carries out co-operation activities helping countries to draft legislation and introduce practices which comply with European standards. One of the things that it has done is set up an international group of specialists on freedom of expression and information in times of crisis. The information society is changing, so the Council of Europe now faces the challenge of upholding and maintaining its fundamental principles in new environments, the main one of which is the Internet.

2024 election year: Secretary General urges governments to protect journalists to safeguard democracy
World Press Freedom Day

In a statement to mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić said: “As millions of citizens in Europe and other continents vote in crucial elections in 2024, we must recall the critical role that journalists and quality media play in ensuring access to pluralist and reliable information and diverse opinions and ideas, so that we can make informed choices when exercising our democratic rights.

“Without diverse, free, and independent media and journalists, true democracy decays and can perish. They are a pillar of democracy, and we should never forget that their freedom is also ours. However, for media and journalists to play their essential democratic role, they need to be able to work in a safe environment.

“As the 2024 annual report of the Council of Europe’s Platform to promote the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists shows, media freedom continues to be under constant attack in Europe. These threats include the unlawful deployment of spyware and abusive lawsuits against journalists, physical attacks, intimidation, detention, restrictive legislation, media capture and attacks on public service media.

“To address these challenges, Council of Europe member states should implement the Committee of Ministers Recommendation on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors and develop national action plans as part of the Council of Europe Campaign “Journalists Matter”. A welcome development is that some member states have taken the first steps to roll out this initiative.

“Regarding, specifically, the growing practice of abusive lawsuits aiming to harass and silence journalists, media, and other watchdogs, member states should adopt legislative frameworks that enable everyone to participate in public debate and public affairs in safety and without fear. As a priority, they should implement the recently adopted Committee of Ministers Recommendation on the use of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs).”

 World Press Freedom Day: Congress rapporteurs call for support to local and regional media in reporting on climate change

Secretary General Strasbourg 2 May 2024
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Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights

''Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.''