Freedom of expression and information in times of crisis
COVID-19 and media freedom – guidance based on the Council of Europe standards
conspiracy theories, false alerts, etc
the Council of Europe Guidelines on protecting freedom of expression and information in times of crisis
For more general guidance of the Council of Europe on respecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law during the COVID-19 sanitary crisis, please see the following toolkit for member states
Restrictions on freedom of expression and media freedom in a state of emergency
As governments around the world are declaring a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, it is of crucial importance to ensure that any exceptional measures introduced do not undermine freedom of expression (Article 10) and other human rights enshrined in the Convention and are “strictly required by the exigencies of the situation” (Article 15).
As the risk of disproportionate interference is especially high during times of crisis, governments shall exercise particular prudence and caution to only introduce measures that constitute “an appropriate response to the state of emergency”.
Under no circumstances shall the crisis situation be used by states to claim excessive powers or to limit freedom of expression. Censorship and information control, attempts on media independence, limitations on public access to information and on public scrutiny over governments’ actions, restrictions on access of journalists to first-hand information sources, enhanced surveillance measures compromising confidentiality of journalistic sources and other forms of interference all carry direct and tremendous risks for the very foundations of democracy. However, quality journalism, informed public debate and cooperation between public authorities and the media could help empower citizens and assist governments in surmounting the unprecedented challenges of the day. The Council of Europe Guidelines on protecting freedom of expression and information in times of crisis, the upcoming Committee Recommendation on promoting a favourable environment for quality journalism in the digital age, as well as other Council of Europe standard-setting documents, notably, the Court’s case-law (see, in particular, Guide on Article 15 of the Convention) shall serve as points of reference for Council of Europe member states in finding ways to contain the COVID-19 pandemic without detriment to freedom of expression and other human rights.