The 2016 World Press Freedom Day conference in Helsinki on May 2-4 was marked by a clamour of voices calling on Europe to recognise its own obvious failings in this field and to end oppressive laws, harassment and intrusive surveillance practices that hamper the legitimate work of journalists.
Shortly before the Helsinki meeting the Council of Europe, the continent’s mainstay institution upholding human rights, released finding showing that almost half of the 47 member states do not satisfactorily guarantee the safety of journalists; and that last year saw an increase in physical attacks on members of the press. Those assessments were in the latest Council of Europe annual human rights and democracy report http://www.coe.int/en/web/
At the Helsinki meeting, attended by a record 1100 participants, a senior Council of Europe official spoke out in front of journalists and press freedom advocates from all over the world, saying that the latest published findings represent an appalling picture, and ‘legislative nationalism’ was turning many states away from European standards.
Patrick Penninckx, head of the Council of Europe’s Information Department, suggested that states should take a close look at their legislation. He pointed to the Recommendation on the safety of journalists that was adopted last month by the Committee of Ministers. That text is the result of a two-year drafting process approved by member states themselves and it sets out detailed Guidelines to assist states in reviewing national laws and practices to bring them into conformity with European standards.
A prominent Dutch member of the European Parliament, Marietje Schaake, said Europe and the US were hypocritical if they accused others of repressing free journalism through intrusive surveillance but went on exporting sophisticated surveillance technologies to those same regimes to suppress dissent.
She noted that France had invoked a state of emergency last November in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris and those emergency powers are still in force.
The Director-General of Swedish National Radio, Cilla Benko, asked European politicians to ‘say no’ to deals with countries which fail to guarantee journalists’ physical safety, and in international meetings to push other governments to explain what they are doing about killings, jailings and harassment of journalists.
Cilla Benko also called on media managers and journalists to raise knowledge and awareness about the harmful effects of the global trend towards harsher repression of free speech and free journalism. The international media, including broadcaster ‘should make more noise’ about attacks on journalists and on press freedom’, she said.
The Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova was awarded the 2016 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in absentia. May 3 was her 516th day in prison in Baku on what have been widely condemned as false and politically-motivated charges. In her acceptance speech, read for her by her mother, Ismayilova called on those present ‘not to laud my work, or my courage, but to dedicate yourself to the work each one of you can do on behalf of press freedom and justice.’
AEJ Vice President and Media Freedom Representative William Horsley participated in the Helsinki conference, whose theme was Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms: This Is Your Right!
William Horsley participated as an independent member of the Council of Europe’s committee on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists (2014-15).