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Global Conference for Media Freedom in Tallinn

Tallinn 10 February 2022
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As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe

 

President of the Republic of Estonia,

Ministers,

Nobel Prize winner,

Distinguished speakers,

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

This Conference is an opportunity not just to pledge our commitment to media freedom:

But to consider what that means in 2022.

What the specific challenges are – and how we can overcome them.

Certainly, the circumstances are extraordinary.

The unprecedented rise of digital technology;

And changes in the political environment, including the spread of “fake news” and disinformation -

And of course, the ongoing impact of COVID-19.

The Council of Europe’s approach is clear.

Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects freedom of expression for all Europeans, including media freedom.

This is interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights which has an essential role – and its judgments must be executed, without any exception.

The big question is of course: how can we apply the fundamental principles safeguarding freedom of expression?

This is a major priority for the Council of Europe, and we try to concentrate on specific areas.

Let me give you some examples.

Take disinformation and hate speech.

Its rise has been accelerated by digital technology.

We are taking a range of initiatives, including developing specific guidelines for all our 47 member States.

First of all, on a comprehensive approach to combating hate speech, particularly online, ranging from the outlining of specific criminal offences to educational programmes.

Secondly we are developing guidelines on ensuring that digital technologies are used in an open, transparent and accountable way.

Its aims include ensuring that there is greater clarity on the curation and moderation of content, and that there are means of redress.

And thirdly, on media and communications governance, we are looking at the role of online platforms.

We also want to introduce guidance to curb the spread of disinformation, with a focus on fact-checking and platform-design solutions.

Underpinning all of this is the need to ensure a higher degree of media literacy skills, so that people themselves can adopt well-informed views.

I must say that Estonia’s record on this is very strong.

Equally, we are committed to protecting the freedoms of those who do the reporting.

But in recent times, intimidation, restrictions and attacks have increased.

Last year, alone six journalists were killed in Europe.

This is completely unacceptable.

The Platform for the safety and the protection of journalists, that we have created in the Council of Europe, enables to follow developments in Europe very closely.

And gives us the opportunity to respond to threats in a much more systemic way.

Last year, Ministers of media and information from our 47 member States committed themselves to elaborate a set of initiatives to enhance the safety of journalists in Europe.

This is a very important step.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have also seen some very serious developments.

We have seen spikes in disinformation, hate speech and attacks.

And there have also been laws and law enforcement practices that have paved the way to excessive measures including:

The wholesale blocking of websites;

Non-judicial takedowns;

And broadcast bans:

This in the context of strategic lawsuits against public participation – so-called SLAPPs – that were already on the rise.

But make no mistake, even during crises such as the pandemic – human rights – fundamental rights – do apply and must be respected.

In the Council of Europe, we also issued guidance to all European governments, making clear their responsibility to protect the health of their citizens while upholding common European standards.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As I said, our rights are not something only for the good times – the sunny days.

But as always, we need to work together.

And we need to actually understand and acknowledge the problems and challenges we face.

That is why this conference today is so important.

I can guarantee you that the Council of Europe will play its part in the global efforts required – and in close co-operation with our partners.

Again I applaud and thank the Estonian authorities for organising this very important conference.

And I very much look forward to hearing your proposals and ideas on how we can be even more effective in meeting some of the fundamental and worrying challenges we see today.

Thank you for your attention.