2018 edition 2018 edition
Commissioner for Human Rights Strasbourg 3 May 2018
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Europe’s duty to protect journalists

In an opinion editorial that more than 20 leading news outlets published today, ahead of World Press Freedom Day, Commissioner Mijatović called on member states to improve the safety of journalists.

The article shows the extent of the threats journalists face in Europe, calls upon states to protect them and recommends concrete action that states should take.

Underscoring that the many threats that fuel insecurity among journalists in Europe are also undermining democracy, the Commissioner urges member states to increase the protection of journalists, end impunity for crimes against them, improve legislation and change the hostile attitude many politicians have towards the press.

“The murders of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Ján Kuciak and many other journalists were not due to fate, but to structural deficiencies in state institutions that should have protected them,” she writes. “This situation endangers journalists as much as democracy. It is high time that states acknowledge it and ensure the safety of journalists and other media actors.”

See also:
Our file on the World Press Freedom Day

2016 Edition 2016 Edition
Council of Europe Secretary General calls on European states to ensure that defamation legislation does not silence the media
Council of Europe Strasbourg 2 May 2016
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World Press Freedom Day, 3 May

On the eve of Press Freedom Day on 3 May, Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland called upon the 47 Council of Europe member states to make sure that their national legislation on defamation does not lead to self-censorship of the media and does not weaken public debate.

“We are witnessing worrying trends of some governments misusing defamation lawsuits for political purposes, arbitrary application of defamation laws leading to imprisonment of journalists and attempts to roll-back legislative reforms decriminalising defamation. These are among the findings of my Report on the State of Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Europe 2016”, said the Secretary General.

“It is essential for democracy that the media carry out their work scrutinising and criticising those in power. In performing this watchdog function, they must benefit fully from the guarantees of the European Convention on Human Rights within the limits it establishes. Defamation laws and their implementation should not have a chilling effect on freedom of expression”, he added.

“When drafting or amending legislation, governments should take into account that the European Court of Human Rights has stressed that prison sentences are only compatible with the Convention in very exceptional cases, notably when other fundamental rights have been breached, for example in the case of hate speech or incitement to violence. It is also crucial that sanctions for defamation foreseen in civil law are proportionate and cannot be abused to silence the media”, he stressed.

Defamation has progressively been de-criminalised in most European countries and wherever it is still criminalised, sanctions are seldom applied. However, in recent years there has been a sharp increase in the number of lawsuits and excessive awards of damages, often higher than the fines imposed under criminal law.

In a set of Guidelines to protect journalism and ensure the safety of journalists and other media actors adopted earlier this year, the Council of Europe´s  Committee of Ministers asked member states to review domestic laws and practices concerning media freedom, including the way defamation is addressed, to ensure they comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.

2015 edition 2015 edition
Secretary General calls on European states to protect journalists
Council of Europe Strasbourg 30 April 2015
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World Press Freedom Day, 3 May

International organisations representing journalists have reported 45 cases of alleged media freedom violations to the Council of Europe since the launch on 2 April of an Internet-based platform to strengthen the protection of journalism and to promote safety of journalists.

The five organisations which have partnered with the Council of Europe to address alleged serious media freedom violations – Article 19, the Association of European Journalists, the European Federation of Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders – have reported cases in 14 member states.

“Press Freedom Day is an opportunity to recall how vital free media are for democracy. The conditions for free media are worsening and it is the obligation of our member states to protect journalists as well as every citizen´s right to freedom of expression. The platform for the safety of journalists will allow us to be more assertive in defending these rights. Several of these alerts have seen positive developments and I look forward to engaging in dialogue with member states to identify possible remedies to all the other cases on the platform,” said Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland.

See also :

 


Attacks against journalists are attacks on society at large. In this film, find out what the Council of Europe is doing to protect journalists, free, independent and diverse media.

2014 Edition 2014 Edition
Committee of Ministers
Strasbourg 02/05/2014
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Istanbul, 2012

Istanbul, 2012

The Council of Europe today called on its 47 member states to fulfil their obligation to protect journalists and other media actors from intimidation and attacks, and to adopt national legal frameworks for the protection of whistleblowers.

The Committee of Ministers made this call in a Recommendation on the protection of whistleblowers, and in a Declaration on the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists and other media actors, which it adopted shortly before World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.

The Committee of Ministers alerts states to the increasing reports of attacks on journalists and other media actors in several parts of Europe, including specific dangers that female journalists face, and urges them to investigate these attacks vigorously in order to bring the perpetrators to justice. Those at risk include not only professional journalists, but also individuals who contribute to inform the public debate, perform journalistic activities or public watchdog functions.

The Committee claims that state authorities often make insufficient efforts to investigate these abuses and crimes, which leads to a culture of impunity. (more…)

2013 Edition 2013 Edition

Press freedom in the digital age: new threats, new challenges

Strasbourg, 03/5/2013 – "As growing portions of journalistic activity take place on the Internet, Europe has not become a safer place for those expressing critical opinions. Clearly, people reporting can reach out faster and to a broader audience than before. But old and new threats await them when they decide to do so: violence, intimidation, prosecution for lawful speech, judicial harassment and surveillance of those reporting continue unabated in the digital era, including in Europe", says Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, in his latest Human Rights Comment published today.

Every day, the Internet carries free expression in the public interest to people around Europe and elsewhere. This is the way in which, for instance, more and more people become aware of corruption, maladministration, unethical behaviour by public officials and businesses, and serious human rights violations. Bloggers, reporting citizens and others have therefore joined traditional journalists in the ranks of those who are at risk of retaliation by state authorities or interest groups (e.g., organized crime, rival ethnic or religious groups). (more...)

Secretary General Jagland: "European governments must guarantee media freedom as an essential condition for democracy"

Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland has urged governments to fully respect the right to freedom of expression and to a free press. He warned that journalists still face oppression and censorship in parts of Europe today.

"True democracy only exists when journalists can work freely, without fear of oppression and censorship. Regrettably, we still witness attempts in some areas to control or silence the media and a trend towards self-censorship.

The Council of Europe together with the European Court of Human Rights continue to be strong defenders of freedom of expression, but governments can and must do more to meet their commitments under the Convention. (more...)