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.

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 47 Council of Europe member states.

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2019 Theme: Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation
Statement by Timo Soini, Chair of the Committee of Ministers
Presidency of the Committee of Ministers Strasbourg 3 May 2019
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Timo Soini, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland

Timo Soini, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland

“An independent and pluralist media is a key pillar of our democratic societies. However, in recent years, in Europe, there has been an increase in threats and attacks on media. This is unacceptable. We, Council of Europe and member States, must step up our efforts to protect freedom of expression and media freedom and to ensure the safety of journalists”, stated Timo Soini, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day (3 May).

The Minister recalled the Committee of Ministers’ Declaration adopted on 13 February 2019 which underlined the important democratic function played by quality journalism which “extends the range of diverse, credible, interesting and timely information available to the public and counteracts propaganda, misinformation and disinformation proliferating on social media in particular”. [1]

“Functioning democratic processes require an independently informed public and the encouragement of open and inclusive debates. In this respect, we must also address the impact, positive and negative, of artificial intelligence on the exercise of human rights, democratic processes and the rule of law.”

The Council of Europe is actively engaged in the protection and promotion of freedom of expression, media freedom, e-democracy and artificial intelligence through its various institutions and bodies. It also supports the Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists, which provides an important framework for co-operation and dialogue between media actors and the member States.

“These issues will remain high on the agenda of the Council of Europe. I am also pleased that the next World Forum for Democracy to be held in Strasbourg on 6-8 November 2019 will be devoted to information and democracy and will provide an open forum of discussion and exchange on this crucial issue for our member States and all Europeans”, concluded Timo Soini.

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[1] Declaration on the financial sustainability of quality journalism in the digital age

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See also:

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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.''

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