Conference on the Role of National Parliaments in Media governance in Europe

Istanbul , 

Ladies and gentlemen, 

I should like to thank the Sub-Committee on Media and Information Society of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for having invited me here today, and for having organised this Conference in co-operation with the Turkish Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and with the participation of eminent professional media organisations. 

This initiative is timely, relevant and important. I should explain why. 

Timely, because it precedes or follows, within a very short time, a number of landmark events. 

Relevant, because will have an impact on the future of media governance. 

Important, because of the subjects and their impact on people, their rights and democracy. 

Timing is crucial. You know this better than I do. It is a fundamental factor in political choreography. 

Nine days ago we celebrated World Press Freedom Day. 

Just before that, the Committee of Ministers adopted a declaration on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors. And the Secretary General published a report on the State of Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Europe. 

A few weeks ago, the Committee of Ministers adopted a Guide to human rights for Internet users. 

Next week, the Council of Europe hosts a round table on “Safety of Journalists – From Commitment to Action” to lay down the ground for concerted action by international organisations and civil society. 

Then, in December, a Conference on media freedom with a particular focus on the safety of journalists will be organised by your Assembly in Paris. 

Discussions on Internet governance and its future are also intense. In recent weeks we had NetMundial in Sao Paulo, Freedom Online Coalition in Tallinn, High-Level Panel on Global Internet Cooperation and Governance Mechanisms sponsored by ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) in Dubai. We will soon have meetings of the Commission on Internet Governance (Chaired by Carl Bildt), European Dialogue on Internet Governance (EuroDIG) in Berlin and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), here in Istanbul in September.

 If timing is fundamental, what can one say about relevance

These events are not just background noise. They are happening because there is real concern and because there is a real need. The Council of Europe can say something or the Committee of Ministers can adopt a text, or the Commissioner of Human Rights can publish a country report or the European Court of Human Rights can pronounce a judgment, but this alone will not make the problems slip away. 

The impact of the Council of Europe’s action will depend on the commitment of our member States’ governments, the resolve of our member States’ parliaments, and the firmness of our member States’ judiciary. The professional media organisation’s work is also crucial in this regard. 

Let me give you an example: in 2012, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, together with the Turkish Minister of Justice, initiated a Project on Freedom of Expression and Media Freedom. Because of the high number of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights concluding to a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, there was a need to bring Turkish legislation and the case-law of Turkish courts further in line with the European Convention. This Project was finalised last month. It produced concrete results: legislative amendments in line with the Convention were adopted by the Turkish Parliament. In addition, the number of Turkish courts decisions applying the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights has recently increased. 

As your Commission knows so well, it is for national parliaments to adopt legislation to guarantee follow-up and implementation. It is also national parliaments that can hold governments to account. 

Media is the cornerstone of democracy, the public watchdog in society that places issues on the agenda and brings transparency and accountability to matters of public or general interest. Preserving the media’s ability for critical scrutiny and to contribute to vibrant debate must be an essential part in a democracy’s policy making and, consequently, a priority for national parliaments. 

Anything that can silence or chill media and journalists, that would turn the watchdogs into lapdogs, should attract robust political criticism. It is not only the task of the Council of Europe and of the Committee of Ministers; it is also – or mostly – your task in national parliaments to protect media freedoms. 

Relevance is also a matter of who we are – you and us – working for. We are working for over 800 million Europeans, everyone within the jurisdiction of a Council of Europe member State. 

The importance is self-evident. 

In his report on the State of Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Europe, the Secretary General placed the rights to freedom of expression and to information at the top of his exposé of political freedoms and democracy, alongside association and assembly. He said “Exercised collectively, these freedoms form the checks and balances necessary to a democratic society.” He signalled serious problems in our member states, which include: 

  • recurring threats to the freedom of expression,
  • overzealous recourse to defamation laws,
  • violence against journalists,
  • impunity in cases of violence against journalists which eases the way for more attacks,
  • lack of transparency of media ownership,
  • legislation and practices which limit Internet freedom,
  • mass surveillance.

The Secretary General also wrote in his report that “A specific monitoring mechanism is needed to prevent violations of Articles 10 (Freedom of Expression) and
11 (Freedom of Assembly and Association)” and that “Such a mechanism should be able to react rapidly to urgent challenges, report back to the Committee of Ministers, and make recommendations.”

Your Assembly, in its political wisdom, has already made proposals in this direction.
I am convinced that this Conference will contribute to making these proposals a reality.

Thank you for your attention.