Secretary General opens the "Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue in Luxembourg"

28 November 2011 Luxembourg

"Religion can be a powerful and positive force for social cohesion, allowing communities of different origins to work for the common good, in line with their belief", said Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland, during his opening speech at the Abbaye de Neumunster in Luxembourg. The event,...

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Jagland: Council of Europe ready to support Russia's democratic reforms

23 December 2011 Strasbourg

The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, welcomes the democratic reforms announced by President Medvedev and offers assistance with their implementation. "The measures announced by President Medvedev are important steps towards strengthening Russian democracy. The...

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Secretary General meets French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé

23 November 2011 Paris

Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland met French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé for bilateral consultations on Wednesday in Paris. Topics of discussion included the reform of the European Court of Human Rights, the developments to southern Mediterranean countries and the accession of the European...

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Jagland addresses media freedom in Turkey and meets Erdogan

15 November 2011 Ankara

By invitation of the Turkish Ministry of Justice the Secretary General participated in a conference entitled "Case Law of the European Court of Human Rights concerning Turkey: Difficulties and Suggestions for Solutions". The conference addressed a range of issues including the high number of...

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Jagland welcomes NGO debate on Living Together

14 November 2011 Strasbourg

Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland welcomed the participation of non governmental organisations (NGO) from some 40 countries – including North African nations in the midst of the Arab Spring – on how to make the Council of Europe's Living Together report reality. Over the two day gathering,...

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Human rights overarching theme for UK Chairmanship

7 November 2011 Strasbourg

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague today stressed the determination and political commitment of his government to drive forward essential reforms of the Court of Human Rights during the British chairmanship of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers. Speaking shortly before the official...

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Secretary General makes first official visit to Netherlands

3 November 2011 Leiden

"Europe is a place where nations, cultures and people meet and mix and this constitutes our true identity", has said today Thorbjørn Jagland in a key-note speech at the prestigious Leiden University, during his first official visit to the Netherlands. The Secretary General met with the Prime...

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Secretary General in London ahead of UK chairmanship

25 October 2011 London

In London today for talks with the UK government ahead of its chairmanship of the Council of Europe, the Secretary General met with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. He also met the Secretary of State for Justice, Kenneth Clarke, Foreign Office Minister for Europe, David Lidington and members of...

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Secretary General makes first official visit to Kazakhstan

11 October 2011 Astana

Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland is making his first official visit to Astana for meetings with the President of Kazakhstan, the Speaker of the Majilis (Lower House) of the Parliament, Secretary of State, Chairman of the Constitutional Council, Prosecutor General, Foreign Minister as well as...

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Secretary General greets sportsmen with disabilities

18 October 2011 Strasbourg

Thorbjørn Jagland welcomed participants in the Lipetsk-Strasbourg international cycle race this afternoon at the finish line in Strasbourg, as they arrived from their 3500 km race from Russia, across Belarus, Poland and Germany. The Secretary General described the event, labelled "Europe without...

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Jagland addresses Forum for Future of Democracy

13 October 2011 Limassol

"Countries are running a high risk of seriously undermining the European model of social cohesion", Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland warned when talking about the present financial crisis in his address to the Forum for the Future of Democracy on 13 October . He also stressed that the Council...

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Jagland makes first official visit to Poland Warsaw

15 September 2011 Warsaw

Secretary General, Thorbjørn Jagland, is today making his first official visit to Warsaw for meetings with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Radoslaw Sikorski, the Minister of Justice, Krzysztof Kwiatkowski, and the Speaker of the Sejm, Grzegorz Schetyna. Mr Jagland will also attend the conference...

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Secretary General meets Mahmoud Abbas

23 September 2011 New York

In New York this week to attend the UN General Assembly, Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland discussed the Palestinian membership bid with Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, who will address the Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg in two weeks....

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Secretary General reacts to Tymoshenko's sentence

11 October 2011 Strasbourg

Reacting to the verdict in the trial against the former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland said: "In a democracy, judgment about political decisions should be left to the parliament and to voters, not to courts. I hope that...

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"What reasons behind the ban of Belgrade Pride?"

3 October 2011 Strasbourg

In a letter to the Serbian President Boris Tadic, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, requests clarification on what measures the Serbian authorities are planning to undertake to guarantee the freedom of assembly and association for all groups of society. Letter to the...

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''Do not execute Troy Davis''

14 September 2011 Strasbourg

''The use of death penalty bears the risk of making an irrepairable mistake'', Thorbjørn Jagland expressed his concern about the pending execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, USA. In his letter to the Chairman of the State of Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, he asks to stop the execution of Mr...

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Thorbjørn Jagland meets Jean Leonetti

13 September 2011 Strasbourg

Yesterday the Secretary General received the French Minister responsible for European Affairs, Jean Leonetti. On that occasion the Minister confirmed France's undertaking to support the organisation in Strasbourg of an International Forum for Democracy to be held in October 2012. France will...

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Condoléances à l’Organisation des Nations Unies après l’attentat terroriste à Abuja

26 août 2011 Strasbourg

Le Secrétaire Général a exprimé sa tristesse et sa consternation à la suite d'un nouvel attentat perpétré contre un bureau des Nations Unies et son personnel. Il a présenté ses plus sincères condoléances aux familles des victimes et assuré de sa sympathie toutes les personnes blessées dans...

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Albanian electoral legislation: possible improvements?

1 September 2011 Strasbourg

Further to his letter addressed to Prime Minister Berisha on 10 June, Thorbjørn Jagland has now written to the President of the Venice Commission requesting an opinion on possible improvements to be made to the Albanian electoral legislation. This would involve a visit to Albania during the...

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High ethical standards of those in power are essential

26 June 2011 Strasbourg

"High ethical standards of those in power are essential to protecting human rights and developing prosperous democracies," Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland told the opening session of the Council of Europe Summer University. His message was echoed by Rafaa Ben Achour,...

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Speeches Speeches

European Broadcasting Union’s General Assembly

Dublin , 

Check against delivery



Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to open the EBU’s General Assembly, in the home country of your new Director General, Noel Curran.

I have no doubt that you will have much to discuss here.

This is after all a time in which generational, technological and political change is altering the environment in which the broadcast media operates.

On this the Council of Europe and the EBU have issues and interests in common.

The threat to freedom of expression and media pluralism.

The rise of fake news and hate speech.

And finding the solutions that uphold truth and democracy, without stifling debate and dissent.

These challenges are fundamental for our organisations and I want to focus on them today.

The onus for the Council of Europe is clear.

Established in 1949 – with Ireland as a founding member – the Council work with our 47 member states to maintain the standard of rights outlined in the European Convention on Human Rights and defined by the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights too.

These are binding obligations that uphold democracy, human rights and the rule of law –

And they have played a pivotal role in delivering unprecedented peace on our continent, after the terrible tragedy of two world wars.


The challenges we face are dynamic and fast-evolving, but solutions are to be found in the consistency of our values, and their application by our member states.

Today, the challenges are as plentiful as ever.

Specific problems in individual countries.

The threat of terrorism and the best means to counter it.

And the literally millions of refugees and migrants who go to extraordinary lengths to escape their old lives and seek a better existence in Europe, by any means possible.

These are complex problems.

Mismanaged, they create a context in which populism can take root, as we see in some parts of Europe today.

We should be precise about the definition of populism. It must not be a catch all label for every person or movement that rocks the establishment. Misusing the term will only render it meaningless.

Populism is in fact an emotional appeal that harnesses grievance against the establishment.

Its leaders then claim exclusive moral authority to act on behalf of the people, thereby undermining the legitimacy of any opposition, institution or dissenting voice.

And it is the subject of my 2017 annual report on the state of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe.

This matters because it is a live threat to freedom of expression and media pluralism, here and now.

A report commissioned by the Council of Europe, Journalists under pressure throws this into stark relief.

With 940 journalists taking part from across every member state, plus Belarus, 46% of respondents reported that they had been threatened with force in the exercise of their professional duties.

Many others had experienced physical assault, robbery, theft, destruction of property, surveillance, judicial intimidation and various and sexual and psychological violence.

Understandably, if regrettably, this leads to cases of self-censorship where journalists tone down, alter, or abandon a story in order to suit the line of those intimidating them.


And this in turn leads to diminished debate and loss of dissenting voices.

Whether an authority seeks directly to close down media outlets, or simply to create the environment in which they wither, populism is the enemy of freedom of expression.

This cannot be allowed to stand.

Freedom of expression is protected under Article 10 of the Convention.

This obliges member states to take the legal, administrative and practical measures required to ensure the safety of journalists and their freedom of speech.

We have been clear about what this entails: prevention, protection and prosecution.

Journalists’ security must be established through a comprehensive legislative framework in every country.

The authorities must ensure that structures are in place to stop intimidation and interference.

And they must also take all steps required to bring the full force of the law against anyone who perpetrates a crime against a journalist or media actor.

Another weapon in our armoury is the Safety of Journalists Platform.

Launched two years ago, the Platform tracks media freedom violations – and the member state’s response – in any given country.

The Council of Europe can then react on the basis of facts and open dialogue with that member state.

This initiative allows journalists to disseminate information and sound alerts freely and without third party intervention.

Transparency is powerful and I am pleased that the EBU is joining the Platform.

But while the intimidation of journalists is a long-standing issue, populism is also giving rise to new problems.

Chief among them, fake news and hate speech.

Propaganda, misleading and inaccurate news has always existed.

But the mass dissemination of fake news through the internet and social media is a new manifestation of an age-old problem.

And the lack of editorial control, fast and anonymous distribution and limited capacity to sift real news from false heighten the urgency.

Fake news about migrants and refugees can turn innocent citizens into innocent victims.

And fake news about candidates and parties can move votes and effect outcomes on false pretences.

These things matter.

But they cannot be solved by a blanket ban or catch-all law.

It is not illegal to say things that are inaccurate but it is wrong to go down the road of state censorship.

We are, after all, trying to protect freedom of expression.

So while we cannot rule out some kind of limited legal initiative in future, that should not be our primary recourse.

Instead, we must make the practical adjustments that will stem the flow of fake news and to give people the skills to see through it when it reaches them.

Big media organisations should take the steps they can to weed out misinformation.

So I commend the BBC for its new fact-checking unit and welcome the announcement that Facebook is using experts to alert users where information posted is of dubious quality.

Other media and social media companies will surely follow and I urge them to do so.

But we can also empower individual news consumers to tell fact from fiction more effectively.

This is a matter of education.

We need to teach internet literacy, including in the classroom.

Young, open minds must also be street-wise and discerning when it comes to the information they read.

We can help them to understand that what they see at first glance cannot be taken at face value –

And that they must instead look for the signs that differentiate the reliable from the unreliable.

Hate speech on the other hand is another matter.

Where posts on websites or through social media are designed to incite violence, promote racism or deny the Holocaust, this content is already illegal.


Fake news can easily spill over into this territory.

We have seen this on multiple occasions when false stories about migrants and minorities are designed to stir public hostility.

Internet providers and social network companies are obliged to remove hate speech and, increasingly, that is what they do.

The authorities are free to prosecute, and here too we are seeing increasing activity.

Earlier this month, for example, 36 people from across 14 German states had their homes raided after accusations that their social media postings amounted to threats, coercion and incitement to racism.

Certainly, it is right that member states should act within the law to curtail the abuse of their citizens.

But where do your members sit in relation to these challenges?

I have no doubt that the EBU is also grappling with the issues that I have outlined.

And I look forward to hearing your thoughts and questions on these matters.

But let me finish by explaining where I see the added value that your members – and your members alone – can contribute in this context.

It is not enough to ask private companies only to sort out the challenges of fake news and hate speech.

Yes, they must play their part, but it is not realistic to expect wholly commercial enterprises to possess all three of the independence, motivation and resources to cure these current ills.

Broadcasters with a public service mission are an important part of the solution.

Not state-controlled media, but broadcasters that operate in an independent manner, with guaranteed administrative autonomy, and editorial freedom.

Given adequate resources, it is these news outlets that have the motive and the means to deliver accurate, reliable and impartial information.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are engaged in a battle against populism and the threat it poses to human rights here in Europe – and you are on the front line.

Freedom of expression must prevail.

That means protecting the integrity of our journalists, and taking democratic measures to combat fake news and hate speech.

But to complete that picture, we need real and impartial news centre-stage.

Now more than ever, we rely on you.