Conference "The pen is mightier than the sword?"

5 October 2023, Riga


I would like to begin by thanking the Government of Latvia for co-organising this timely Conference with the Council of Europe on a topic that is crucial today for our democracies and for each of us. Thank you also for hosting the launch of the first Council of Europe Campaign on the safety of journalists.

The fact that we will spend two days discussing challenges currently faced in the area of freedom of expression surrounded by books in this beautiful venue, the National Library, seems very symbolic.

The European Court of Human Rights has emphasised in its case law on Article 10, on the right to freedom of expression, that States are required to establish effective mechanisms for the protection of authors and journalists. They must do this in order to create a favourable environment for the informed participation in public debate of all, enabling each of us to freely receive and impart information and express opinions and ideas without fear.

Journalists play an essential role as “watchdogs” in a democratic society, where the task of the media in imparting information and ideas on all matters of public interest is connected to the public’s right to receive them.

For these reasons, public watchdogs and the press in particular, enjoy increased protection under Article 10.

Infringing the right to impart and receive information can have far-reaching and detrimental effects on societies, including limiting democratic processes, stifling innovation, fostering censorship, and potentially leading to social and political instability.


Preserving freedom of expression and freedom of the media has never been easy.

However, in recent years, the threats we encounter have been exceptional.

The crucial importance of the role of journalism and the media, and ultimately individual journalists, in times of crisis and conflict has been acknowledged by many. There seems to be agreement that new venues must be explored to protect them, and that our old strategies need to be reinforced.

In February 2022, the war of aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine upended our most deeply held values and created the ongoing tragedy and violation of international law that we are still witnessing now. It is heart-breaking on every level.

It has also had profound implications for journalists who wish to cover what is happening. Mass disinformation campaigns proliferate and information is weaponised, with a view to manipulating public opinion, gaining political influence and exacerbating social tensions.

While focusing on outstanding challenges, especially those posed by war and crisis, we should not forget that throughout Europe, and I quote, “journalists and other media actors are increasingly being threatened, harassed, subjected to surveillance, intimidated, arbitrarily deprived of their liberty, physically attacked, tortured and even killed because of their investigative work, opinions or reporting, […]”.

This long list comes from the opening paragraph of the Recommendation adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe 2016 on the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists and other media actors.

Already then, the Council of Europe member States agreed that the “situation is alarming and unacceptable”. The situation has not improved in the intervening years. The European media environment and individual journalists continue to be under pressure.

This has been confirmed by consecutive Annual Reports of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, as well as Annual Reports of the Council of Europe Platform for the protection of journalism and safety of journalists.

The data presented in the last report of the Platform, published in March 2023 and entitled “War in Europe and the Fight for the Right to Report”, highlights a startling increase in attacks and threats against journalists.

The very idea of the Journalists Matter Campaign that we are launching today arises from the pressing need to fight such a climate of pressure and violence against journalists.

The concerns are long-standing and they impact directly journalists seeking to do their job of gathering and sharing information without fearing for their jobs or even their lives.

But these concerns of pressure and violence have much broader implications as well, for the right to be informed, for trust in institutions, and when it comes to accountability for human rights violations and other wrongdoing that could and should be exposed.

We do have standards on these issues, as well as guidance and tools, some global and some developed by the Council of Europe. They tend to be both specific and targeted, but their effective implementation clearly remains insufficient. We have ample confirmation of that from the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. 

Action is needed to fill this gap: to increase the safety of journalists through meaningful action. And that action is needed now.

A renewed commitment to take such action and to make this issue an urgent political priority, notably through a comprehensive campaign, was formally taken by the Member States’ Ministers responsible for Media and Information Society at the Ministerial Conference held in Cyprus, in June 2021.

Moreover, on the occasion of the Summit of the Council of Europe, held in Reykjavik on 16 and 17 May this year, the 46 Heads of State and Government reiterated their commitment that “Free, independent, plural and diverse media […] and journalists and other media workers should be afforded full protection under the law.”

The Campaign’s ultimate ambition is to address those concerns.

The Campaign aims to achieve a tangible improvement in the domestic legal and policy frameworks for the safety of journalists and their implementation, so that solid and effective safeguards are in place, in law and in practice, for journalists to fulfil their mission freely and safely.

Throughout the Campaign, member States will be encouraged to take practical steps to transpose the Campaign to their national contexts, by organizing “national chapters” of the Campaign.

The main aim is for member States to gradually adopt, or better implement, their own national Action Plans and strategies in this field, and to put in place effective mechanisms for the protection of journalists.

The Council of Europe looks forward to facilitating and supporting these efforts.

There are already remarkable examples of working initiatives established at national level that we will draw and build on, and use as inspiration.

States have been invited to designate national focal points, as well as national committees, to ensure coordination at both national and European level. Those who have not yet gone ahead are encouraged to do so.

A first meeting of the national focal points for the campaign will take place tomorrow. Details regarding the aim, roadmap and methodology of the Campaign will be unveiled later this morning.


A few concluding remarks.

The closing event of this Campaign will be in 2027. We will consider that we have succeeded if the combined action of the Campaign’s efforts will have resulted in satisfactory changes to the applicable national laws and policies, and if this has been followed by effective implementation. If public awareness has grown; and if greater pan-European solidarity on the matter can be observed.

We should be measured on whether by then we see an environment where journalists can do their job freely and safely, without fear and self-restraint.

I would underline, and it goes without saying, that the active involvement of all relevant stakeholders in the Campaign will be decisive for its success.

State authorities, national parliaments, media outlets, journalists themselves, civil society organizations active in this area, international organizations. These, amongst many others, are all called upon to play a key role.

Some of the most important stakeholders, able to make a difference, are sitting in this room right now.  I invite you to take this as an opportunity to take ownership of the Campaign and support its effective development in the years to come.

Finally, I would like to thank again the Latvian authorities. Not only for their deep commitment to the issues, but for paving the way already with a financial contribution to campaign. The first, we hope and believe, of many others to follow.

Thank you all for your attention.