Journalists in times of crisis

Wars, terrorism, threats to stability and natural disasters are leading to stricter security and surveillance all over the world. What effect does this have on access to information and on journalism?

Concerned about the erosion of press freedom in times of crisis, the Council of Europe has adopted three particularly significant documents:

  • a Declaration on freedom of expression and information in the media in the context of the fight against terrorism,
  • Guidelines on protecting freedom of expression and information in times of crisis, and
  • a Declaration on the protection and promotion of investigative journalism.

They are based on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which aims to guarantee freedom of expression and information within the jurisdiction of the 46 Council of Europe member states.

World Press Freedom Day was introduced by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1993.

The date chosen for this annual celebration was 3 May, which is a day of action in the form of initiatives designed to uphold press freedom, as well as a day for assessing the state of press freedom in the world, a day for warning the public and raising awareness, a day for encouraging debate among media professionals, and a commemoration of all the journalists who have lost their lives while doing their job.

The Council of Europe's action to promote press freedom and freedom of information is based on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, under which this fundamental right is one of the cornerstones of democracy. The Council carries out co-operation activities helping countries to draft legislation and introduce practices which comply with European standards. One of the things that it has done is set up an international group of specialists on freedom of expression and information in times of crisis. The information society is changing, so the Council of Europe now faces the challenge of upholding and maintaining its fundamental principles in new environments, the main one of which is the Internet.

2023 Edition
Press Freedom Day: Secretary General urges European states to protect journalism and enhance safety of journalists

In a statement to mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, Council of Europe´s Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić urged European governments to make the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists and other media actors a political priority:

“As journalists and other media actors are increasingly subject to undue pressure, intimidation, violence and other forms of interference with their work in many European countries, it has become urgent to devise national action plans for the safety of journalists. Governments should address the need to strengthen the protection of journalists, effectively prosecute perpetrators of crimes against them, and to raise awareness in our societies about the crucial role diverse and independent media play to preserve true democracy.

To protect our democratic freedoms, it is essential that states create a favourable environment for plural and independent media to flourish and play their essential “watchdog” role.  And for this to be possible, they must be able to hold governments and other actors to account, by disseminating information, promoting the participation in the public debate and the expression of ideas and opinions without fear. Anti-media rhetoric has no place in a democratic society. Any threat or attack against journalists should be condemned by politicians.

The recently published 2023 annual report by the partners to the Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists “War in Europe and the Fight for the Right to Report" portrays a worrying trend towards a continued degradation of media freedom in some countries, particularly drastic in Russia and Belarus. Against this alarming scenario, the Council of Europe has developed an arsenal of standard-setting instruments to provide guidance to governments to ensure the safety of journalists, notably the 2016 Committee of Ministers Recommendation on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors.

The focus should now be on effectively implementing these standards in practice at national level. We expect the upcoming five-year Council of Europe Campaign for the Safety of Journalists, to be launched in October 2023, to be a step forward in the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists at European level, to be supported by corresponding campaigns at national level. It has long been time for meaningful action to address the deterioration of press freedom. The campaign will provide a remarkable opportunity to apply in practice the Council of Europe´s standards to protect journalists”.

Secretary General Strasbourg 2 May 2023
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Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights

''Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.''