The Association of European Journalists, which is an Observer and regular participant in the work of the Council of Europe’s advisory committee on media policy, has sent an Open Letter to representatives of the 47 member states on that inter-governmental Media Steering Committee (CDMSI) https://rm.coe.int/16805a08cb . The letter asks for a series of ‘implementation’ initiatives to give real effect to past governmental declarations on the safety of journalists — including a ministerial Recommendation of 2016 that urges all states to allow a fully independent review of their laws and practices and amend them to bring them into line with their obligations under European human rights law.
That Recommendation CM/Rec(2016)4  of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors https://search.coe.int/cm/Pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectId=09000016806415d9 is regarded as one of the most ambitious and complete sets of Guidelines adopted by any inter-governmental human rights body on issues related to the safety of journalists and efforts to eradicate impunity protecting those responsible for killings and other attacks against journalists as well as media actors. But the recent record of murders, assaults, arrests and judicial harassment of journalists reported on the Council of Europe’s own ‘Platform’ for journalists’ safety www.coe.int/fom — as well as many recent judgements from the European Court of Human Rights finding violations of Article 10 (freedom of expression) rights — point to what the AEJ calls ‘hostile and sometimes impossible’ situations for those practising free, independent journalism in Europe. The full text of the AEJ’s Open Letter is below:-
TO: The Chairman and members of the Council of Europe’s Steering Committee on Media and Information Society (CDMSI)
Sent by the AEJ on 5 December 2017
“The Association of European Journalists is acutely concerned that the environment for free and independent media is becoming hostile and in some cases practically impossible for journalists working in parts of Europe, despite the European Convention commitments of Council of Europe member states. Such concerns have been publicly shared by other Partner organisations of the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Safety of journalists. They are reflected in the 2017 Council of Europe’s Survey and Report ‘Journalists under pressure’, and in the Annual Report by the Secretary-General on the state of human rights and democracy in Europe, which highlights the undermining of judicial independence and legal safeguards for independent journalism. This week, as the CDMSI considers its priorities for the coming two years, we urge you to consider these suggestions and requests from the AEJ as a long-standing Observer and active participant in the committee’s work:-
- The Committee of Ministers’ judgement (inRecommendation 2016(4) on the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists) that the scale and intensity of attacks on journalists in Europe is “unacceptable”, requires redoubled actions and efforts to reverse growing trends towards growing interference in the work of journalists, including threats and use of physical violence and the imprisonment of well over 100 journalists in Europe. Recent murders of journalists in Council of Europe states, including the killings of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Dmitri Popkov, Saeed Karimian and Pavel Sheremet, demonstrate the urgent need for determined and coordinated responses by the Council of Europe and other European institutions in terms of prevention, protection and prosecution of such killings, as well as many other assaults and cases of legal harassment and impunity.
- The AEJ asks the CDMSI committee to demonstrate its practical commitment to actions outlined in the 2016 Recommendation on the safety of journalists,especially the Ministers’ call for member states to review their ‘laws and practices’ affecting freedom of expression and media freedom. We urge its members to do so by giving new momentum to past ‘implementation’ initiatives; identifying new ways of promoting the implementation of agreed standards for creating ‘safe and enabling’ environments’ for journalism; and organising the CDMSI’s future programme of work in imaginative ways accordingly. The AEJ urges that the proposed ‘Committee of experts on quality journalism in the digital age’ should adopt a clear approach of incorporating the Council of Europe’s public commitment to the protection of journalism online and offline as well as independent safeguards and guarantees as a basis for Guidelines for member states on promoting ‘quality journalism’.
- The AEJ proposes that as part of its working method all plenary CDMSI meetings should begin with a factual presentation and consideration of the most recent attacks of all kinds on journalists’ safety and media freedom, drawing on the CDMSI’s own initiatives and knowledge base and focusing on new and effective ways to counter and prevent attacks on independent media, address threats to the rule of law, and ensure access to justice by those exercising their right to freedom of expression. The ‘Platform’ partner organisations are willing to take an active part in realising this proposal, and to contribute in other ways to supporting the CDMSI’s mandate in terms of journalists’ safety, media freedom in old and new media, the protection of journalists’ sources, and other issues on the Committee’s agenda.
I regret that other commitments prevent me from attending this week’s CDMSI session. I hope you will pass this message on to other CDMSI members and observers, and I look forward to the AEJ’s future engagement,”
Sincerely yours, William Horsley, AEJ Observer