Last week’s massacre at Charlie Hebdo magazine and the other terrorist murders which left a total of 17 dead in France have given new urgency to plans prepared by 47 European member states of the Council of Europe to strengthen measures to prevent violent attacks against journalists. “Europe’s governments and institutions, including the Council of Europe, have to take all possible action to better protect journalists and media freedom in future”, said Thorbjorn Jagland, the organisation’s secretary-general, who took part in last Sunday’s mass march through Paris in the wake of the killings.
The Association of European Journalists is among the organisations that will take part in an ambitious new scheme to collect data about threats and attacks against journalists, which will be published on a website run by the Council of Europe. The online ‘Freedom of Expression Platform’ will act as an ‘alert’ or ‘early warning system’ flagging up threats and assaults against members of the media. Mr Jagland has declared that the platform will enable the Council of Europe, the continent’s primary guardian of human rights, to take ‘protective and remedial action’ to enhance the safety of journalists.
A month before the recent killings, on 4 December 2014, journalists’ organisations and NGOs came together with Mr Jagland in the French Senate in Paris. In the presence of parliamentarians from across Europe they signed a memorandum of understanding .
The Council of Europe’s deputy secretary-general, Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, told the gathering that she looked forward to ‘immediate statements’ and quick, dynamic moves by the Council of Europe in the light of such data on concrete cases of violence and legal intimidation. The agreement to set up the ‘online platform’ was earlier approved by representatives of the member states. Governmental authorities in countries where serious incidents are recorded will also be asked to respond to reported incidents with their own comments and explanations, which may also be published.
The ground-breaking scheme is the result of years of lobbying by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as well as journalists’ associations and NGOs. It is due to be up and running early in 2015, though the exact date has not yet been set.
William Horsley, the AEJ’s vice-president and media freedom representative, called the long-awaited agreement a potential ‘breakthrough’, which should make governments more responsive to evidence of serious threats to life and abuses which obstruct the legitimate work of journalists. He appealed to European governments to implement legal and practical protections for independent journalism without delay, in line with agreed standards and rulings by the European Court of Human Rights. It was vital, he said, to ensure that all attacks on the media are effectively investigated and punished, in accordance with ministerial commitments on protecting journalists’ safety that had been made in the past but not yet properly honoured.
Jim Boumelha, the president of the International Federation of Journalists, welcomed the platform initiative, and said the IFJ and European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) would work with the Council of Europe to develop it into ‘an important rapid response mechanism’.
In a statement, Reporters Without Borders said it hoped that the initiative would lead to concrete actions. ‘RWB will pay close attention to the Council of Europe’s response to the cases brought to its attention’, the statement said.
For Article 19 the organisation’s senior legal counsel, David Banisar, also voiced hopes that the scheme would bring real improvements. He pointed out that in 2009 the governments of Europe had made a public commitment to review their anti-terrorism laws and practice so that they conform with the Article 10 provisions on freedom of expression in the European Convention on Human Rights, but he said that promise had not been fulfilled. David Banisar authored an expert report for the Council of Europe which highlighted governmental and judicial abuses in that area.
Read the Council of Europe’s press release on the ‘rapid reaction’ platform for journalists under threat.
On the photo: William Horsley, AEJ vice-president; Jim Boumelha, president of the International Federation of Journalists; Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary-general of the Council of Europe; Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, president of the European Federation of Journalists ; David Banisar, Senior Legal Counsel for Article 19; and Christophe Deloire, general secretary of Reporters Without Borders at the signing of the agreement in Paris.
William Horsley represents the AEJ as an independent member of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists . This year the committee will produce a Draft Recommendation to the Committee of Ministers following the Resolutions on safety of journalists that were adopted at the Conference of Ministers responsible for Media and Information Society in Belgrade in November 2013.