London/ Nicosia. June 11, 2021
from William Horsley
At a major two-day conference of European culture ministers, Russia today objected to a key Council of Europe mechanism for protecting media freedom, the digital Platform for the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists, co-founded by the AEJ in 2015.
This established an early warning and rapid response system against growing threats to media freedom and journalists’ safety across Europe.
On the final day of the two-day conference, hosted by the CoE and the government of Cyprus, the Russian delegation accused the Platform of an “unbalanced and biased” approach to media freedom in Russia.
Moscow would therefore maintain its opposition and lack of cooperation until the Platform´s so-called “prejudice’ was corrected, the Russian Federation said in an “interpretive statement” at the close of the conference.
Gender and “sexual orientation” – no references needed
This also rejected significant parts of the CoE’s strategy for reversing the decline in journalists’ safety, notably that any of the other 46 CoE member states might be called on to protect “other media actors” – meaning bloggers and Internet platforms which contribute to an informed public debate. The term was said to be too vague and broad.
Russia also rejected references in conference texts on protecting journalist to “gender” and “sexual orientation”. Russia said it therefore “disassociates itself from the content” of the conference Resolution on the Safety of Journalists, and with another on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on freedom of expression.
In apparent contradiction, the Russian statement also said: “this delegation has decided to support the final documents ….although it is not in a position to agree with some of their provisions.” The conference documents, while not legally binding, are seen as significant political commitments and a show of European unity.
The claim that the Platform has demonstrated anti-Russian bias and ignored violations against Russian journalists and media is not borne out by the statistics about alerts on the Platform website. This shows details of 109 current or “active” media freedom alerts related to threats to media freedom in Russia. Only two such alerts were satisfactorily “resolved”.
Alerts in Russian-occupied Ukraine
However, the Platform has registered more than 10 cases in which Ukraine received media freedom alerts about its actions directed against Russian journalists, such as entry bans, detentions, or expulsions Overall, Ukraine still faces 60 active alerts. But it has resolved 11 others, and has replied to nearly all, as requested.
Several Platform alerts addressed to Ukraine relate to violations recorded in Russian-occupied Crimea and in parts of eastern Ukraine that are under the control of pro-Russian rebels.
Over the course of the conference numerous delegates and other speakers praised the Platform as a “global model” and an outstanding success in increasing pressure on governments to remedy media freedom violations, and raising awareness of the need for states to act decisively to reverse “backsliding” in assuring journalists’ safety.
Journalists’ organisations and concerned NGOs welcomed both the Resolution on journalists’ safety and the Final Declaration. In the first, European governments pledged to provide mechanisms to guard against attacks on journalists and to give priority to ensuring that those responsible are brought to justice.
The Final Declaration calls on the Council of Europe’s top decision-making body, the Committee of Ministers, to implement comprehensive plans for preventing, investigating, and sanctioning threats against journalists’ safety.
The AEJ is one of 14 Platform Partners, along with the European Federation of Journalists and the International Press Institute, and leading NGOs concerned with freedom of expression.
Paper in 2007 “Ten Years Wasted” – has anything changed in Russia’s relationship with the Council of Europe?