How to protect journalists and other media actors?
Attacks against journalists and other media actors constitute particularly serious violations of human rights because they target not only individuals, but deprive others of their right to receive information, thus restricting public debate, which is at the heart of pluralist democracy. In response to the alarming and unacceptable level of threats to journalists and media actors in Europe, and given the damaging effect on the functioning of democratic society, in April 2016, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted Recommendation CM/Rec(2016)4 on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors (hereinafter – Recommendation CM/Rec(2016)4, the Recommendation). The Recommendation is the sole international instrument which provides exhaustive guidelines to member states to act in the areas of prevention, protection, prosecution, promotion of information, education and awareness rising with a view to ensuring the effective protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors.
Notwithstanding this important standard, the situation in the area of safety of journalists has unfortunately further degraded. By the end of 2019, the Council of Europe’s Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists (the Platform), had registered a total of 652 alerts, with year-on-year rises of incidents, with the exception of 2017. Overall, nearly half of all alerts were marked as ‘category 1’, covering the most severe and damaging violations of media freedom, such as murder and direct threats to life, physical assaults, the use of violence, prolonged arbitrary detention or imprisonment and arbitrary closure of a media outlet, with a total of 26 journalists killed in Council of Europe member states. The relentless targeting of journalists and other media actors demonstrates the urgent need for redoubled action for the prevention, protection and prosecution of such killings.
CDMSI and Implementation strategy for Recommendation CM/Rec(2016)4
While the Council of Europe is continuously working on the implementation of Recommendation CM/Rec(2016)4 by supporting national authorities through cooperation assistance activities and by providing responses to challenges to media freedom and safety of journalists, a more strategic and systematic implementation of the Recommendation is required. The Council of Europe Steering Committee on Media and Information Society (CDMSI) has thus developed an Implementation strategy for Recommendation CM/Rec(2016)4 which foresees, as one of its key pillars, the present Implementation guide. This document aims to assist member states in the implementation of selected areas of the protection and prosecution pillars of the Guidelines contained in the Appendix to the Recommendation and to provide guidance to other stakeholders such as journalists and other media actors. As an ultimate outcome, the Guide is intended to support member states in devising, based on Council of Europe Recommendation CM/Rec2016(4) and best practices of Council of Europe member states and other jurisdictions, dedicated national action plans on the safety of journalists, setting a comprehensive and effective programme of activity, with urgency-based priorities and adequate resources for their implementation.
The priority areas have been identified in consultation with civil society and journalists’ associations through a questionnaire, taking into account the priorities set by various bodies/departments of the Council of Europe which work in the area of safety of journalists and the protection of journalism.
For each priority topic area identified in the Protection and Prosecution pillars of the Recommendation, the Implementation Guide:
Establishes indicators in order to generate baseline information against which progress in the implementation of the Recommendation can be assessed;
Provides background information including references to the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights and to other sources;
Highlights valuable practices in the area which have emerged so far, taking into account both the input of journalists and journalist associations, as well as the contributions of member states;
Makes suggestions to the authorities on possible ways to implement the Recommendation;
Offers a self-assessment tool for member states in the form of a questionnaire to help them review the state of implementation of the Recommendation in their jurisdiction.