AS (2015) CR 07
2015 ORDINARY SESSION
Thursday 29 January 2015 at 10 a.m.
Protection of media freedom in Europe
The following texts were submitted for inclusion in the official report by members who were present in the Chamber but were prevented by lack of time from delivering them.
Mr GHAMBOU (Morocco) – We all agree that freedom of media must be protected, not only here in Europe, but throughout the world, because liberty of expression is a fundamental component of a modern democratic society. The more freedom the media enjoys, the better we, as a global community that depends on information – good information – are armed to fight against all forms of injustice, racism, repression, and dictatorship. In some remote places on earth, the journalist becomes the voice of truth, our only source of information which mobilises us to take a stand against human rights violations and abuse.
The media’s role is not limited to merely distributing basic information; it is a mobilising force, replacing the book as a source of knowledge, leading diverse cultures and civilisations to appreciate each other and ultimately co-operate with each other culturally, politically, and economically. This is precisely and ironically what makes the media a problematic, not to say controversial topic. Given its global reach, the representative power of the media has both a good and a bad side. In Morocco, access to information, for which a law will be passed in the next couple of months, will turn media freedom into a universal value with rights and obligations.
The debate on the media has led many citizens to express their concern about the image of Islam and Arabic cultures and civilisations as portrayed in the Western media. They are worried that many European journalists and so-called experts use freedom of speech as an easy excuse to vilify Islamic civilisation, making no distinction between sound criticism, which is legitimate, and blasphemy, which is not. They raise many questions. How is it that offending Christianity, Judaism, and even Buddhism is considered blasphemy, while attacking Islamic symbols and icons is tolerated as freedom of speech? Why do major European TV channels insist on reducing Muslims to terrorists and Africans to illegal, threatening migrants? How can we replace classical stereotypes with accurate knowledge? These questions cast no doubt on the freedom of speech, but expect it to be inspired by ethics and moral responsibility, inherent in all forms of undertakings in the public domain.
If our topic today is European media, we must be aware that media can no longer be confined to particular borders and places. What you describe as European media is watched and read by millions of non-Europeans across the planet. Therefore, we require journalists and people involved in the media, whose mission it is to report on societies and cultures which are not their own, to have a minimum of qualifications to do their job properly. Linguistic, intellectual and anthropological qualifications would allow journalists and reporters to include, rather than alienate, their global audiences, including those of the Middle East and Africa.
If you happen to know nothing about Islam and decide to turn to major TV channels to satisfy your curiosity, you will most likely end up forming a very negative opinion of Islam and Muslims. Since 9/11, Islam has been reduced to brief, sensational and violent screen images of terror and barbarism, old stereotypes that the media continue to reinforce, despite the growing interaction between the East and West, North and South. As partners for democracy, we strongly condemn all forms of abuse and repression to which journalists are subjected worldwide. At the same time, we are deeply concerned about the spread of Islamophobia and racist prejudice, mainly generated by some ethically irresponsible media.
Mr MARUSTE (Estonia) – I thank Mr Flego for the report, whose subject is of the utmost importance for democracy. He rightly notes that the importance of the media is difficult to overestimate. It constitutes one of the pillars for democracy, political freedoms and the rule of law; furthermore, freedom of expression serves as a bridge of trust between the public, governments, cultures and religions. Today, we are forced to consider the protection of men and women who work in the media, holding a pencil against loaded guns.
Freedom of expression and free media are synonymous with power. Like any other power, they should be used with a sense of responsibility and in good faith. Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights is the supreme legal norm for freedom of expression and information throughout Europe; paragraph 2 prescribes its limits, without which there can be no functioning democracy, no popular or legal scrutiny of the rule of law and no assessment of the use of freedom of speech.
First and foremost, the Convention protects human dignity. Convention standards and case law have been elaborated in the social and cultural area of Europe. It is natural that we use the rights and freedoms of the ECHR according to our understanding in our own cultural area. Freedom of expression in our societies serves as a sharp tool against all sorts of social and political evils. These are our societies and we have agreed on how we deal with our problems. But when it comes to criticising other societies, especially their cultural traditions and/or religious values, heavy and concrete reasons ought to be presented to justify irony, insult or even blasphemy. If this is not the case, we do not fully respect the human dignity of other people but unnecessarily hurt their cultural or religious feelings. By hurting them, we degrade ourselves. Consequently, freedom of expression should, if used in respect of other cultures and religions, be exercised with caution and respect. Having said that, I do not justify in any way deadly violence in response against other human beings. The roots of violence against journalists lie much deeper and reflect the general tendency toward hatred and hostility, intolerance and xenophobia in our societies. Still, we cannot justify hurting the feelings and dignity of people who come from different cultural and religious backgrounds unless there is a valid reason for doing so. Perhaps we should remind ourselves of a simple rule of conduct which goes back to our childhood: do not do to others what you do not want others to do to you. This simple rule would allow us to better understand people from different cultural backgrounds, and to express our views with words, not guns.