AS (2015) CR 07
2015 ORDINARY SESSION
Thursday 29 January 2015 at 10 a.m.
In this report:
1. Speeches in English are reported in full.
2. Speeches in other languages are reported using the interpretation and are marked with an asterisk.
3. The text of the amendments is available at the document centre and on the Assembly’s website. Only oral amendments or oral sub-amendments are reproduced in the report of debates.
4. Speeches in German and Italian are reproduced in full in a separate document.
5. Corrections should be handed in at Room 1059A not later than 24 hours after the report has been circulated.
The contents page for this sitting is given at the end of the report.
(Ms Brasseur, President of the Assembly, took the Chair at 10.10 a.m.)
THE PRESIDENT – The sitting is open.
On Monday morning, the Assembly agreed to a three-minute limit on speeches in all today’s debates. Because of the number of speakers on the list for this afternoon’s debate and the number of amendments tabled, I propose to change the speaking limit for the afternoon sitting to four minutes.
Is that agreed? It is agreed.
1. Statement by Mr Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe
THE PRESIDENT – I am very glad to welcome the Secretary General, who attends a number of our meetings but attends our sitting today in order to address the Assembly. You are most welcome, Secretary General.
As I said in my opening speech four days ago, 2014 has not been an easy year for our Organisation or for the values that we are defending. The crisis in Ukraine, attacks on, and harassment and intimidation of, human rights defenders, restrictions on the freedom of expression in some of our member States, and the human rights situation of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons, are just a few examples of the many challenges that we face.
To respond to these challenges, we must stay united and overcome our political divisions. We must stay united around the values that underpin the foundations of the Council of Europe – human rights, democracy and the rule of law. We have to speak with one voice and be outspoken whenever human rights and democracy are under threat and when the commitments and obligations taken by member states are not respected.
As I said in my speech four days ago, we have to criticise when that is necessary, but we also have to agree to take criticism. We have to provide targeted support to our member States in the implementation of the standards of our Organisation, always taking into account the specificities of their situations to provide the most relevant assistance. We have to join efforts in designing efficient and innovative mechanisms to respond to new, emerging threats to democratic stability and human rights. I assure you, Secretary General, that on all those fronts you can count on the support of our Assembly. We are looking forward to our discussion together today on the most appropriate way for our Organisation to respond to those numerous challenges.
Mr Secretary General, you are in your second mandate and I am now entering my second mandate, too. I greatly appreciate the good co-operation between us – not only the numerous bilateral meetings that we have, scheduled here in Strasbourg or in Paris, but also our regular exchanges on the phone, which are very important. I look forward to our further good co-operation and to working closely with you in the year ahead. Now, Secretary General, I have to pleasure of giving you the floor.
Mr JAGLAND (Secretary General of the Council of Europe) – Madam President, thank you for your kind words. I can say the same to you: our co-operation is very good and very constructive. You follow in the footsteps of your predecessor, Jean-Claude Mignon, with whom I also had very good co-operation. It is extremely important that I can have open dialogue with you as President, and with parliamentarians in this Assembly, particularly now, because these are uncertain times in your nations and across our continent.
A confrontational mindset is taking hold – the insistence that “I am 100% right and you are 100% wrong.” The politics of compromise and moderation are on the defensive. What unites us are our common values. They create a platform for dialogue. Our work must always be guided by the rule of law and human rights. That means, of course, the separation of powers in our member States, checks and balances, independent courts, freedom of speech and of assembly, and free and fair elections. It also means that conflicts must be settled peacefully. This is written into our Statute; it is a formal obligation. Borders cannot be changed unilaterally, or by force.
The violence in Eastern Ukraine must therefore stop. The cease-fire must be upheld, the Minsk protocol must be implemented in full, and we must continue to help Ukraine build a solid and democratic State. In the long term, this will be the key to Ukraine’s freedom and independence. The Council of Europe has a vital contribution to make here. I had a conversation with President Poroshenko in Auschwitz on Tuesday. You should know how much he appreciates our assistance. We now have 35 experts at our office in Kiev. I have my own special representative in the Verkhovna Rada; he provides advice to parliamentarians daily. We can assist Ukraine in designing a constitution that guarantees its territorial integrity and, at the same time, allows for a process of decentralisation, opening the way to a political resolution of the conflict. Our Venice Commission, the most respected body in the world on constitutional matters, can help here. Our charter for regional and local governments provides a legal framework for this process, too.
The lesson from history is that cease-fires will hold only when a political horizon is in sight, and we can help to create that. We have our people on the ground in Moscow, too, working particularly on reforms to the judiciary and on combating corruption. We must continue to work for the independence of civil organisations in the Russian Federation. Listing non-governmental organisations as foreign agents has no place in the 21st century. Yes, there must be full transparency over how these organisations are financed, but once that is clear, they are free agents of democracy. I continue to believe that having true democracies, with checks and balances, and vibrant civil societies is vital for building trust among nations. This holds true for Ukraine and the Russian Federation, and the relations between the two nations. Let us not give up; too much is at stake for Europe.
We must also continue to be the guardians of freedom of expression – now the subject of much debate – but we must do so within the remit of the law. I am increasingly worried about the way this debate is being conducted. It is becoming more polarised by the day. On one side are people who insist that it should be possible to publish anything and everything; on the other are those who would prefer that we publish nothing at all. Both are wrong, and I want the Council of Europe to be a voice of reason in this debate. The only way to defend freedom of expression is to be open about its limitations. Let me ask you this: when the Nazis made Jews clean the streets of Vienna with their toothbrushes while creeping on their knees, and then replicated those images in cartoons for all to see, was that freedom of expression? No; it was part of a ritual humiliation to dehumanise Jews in the eyes of ordinary people, and it made it possible to make ordinary people executioners in the camps.
Racism and incitement to violence are unlawful; there is a line to be drawn. At European level, we already have the rule of law and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The European Court of Human Rights has clear case law that sets out the boundaries. As your nations respond to the terror threat, use this legal framework as your guide. That is the issue I really want to single out today: terrorism and violent extremism.
What happened in Paris was shocking, but it was not the first time: London, Madrid, Beslan and Utøya all remind us that Europe is not immune from violent extremism and, increasingly, the threat comes from within. Your governments are now taking action and I commend that sense of urgency. I have been in government myself and understand the need to give people answers at a time of fear, but my message today is this: yes, we must move quickly, but we must continue to move together. We cannot allow gaps or contradictions in our approach on this continent. In Europe, we are all only ever as secure as our least secure state. Yes, we must protect people from violence, but we must guard their liberty, too. When the world responded to al-Qaeda and the attack on the Twin Towers, we saw how quickly freedom can be sacrificed when security is at risk.
We need a decisive international response in line with our shared values and our commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights, and I want the Council of Europe to help lead the way. We have done it before. Some of the world’s best legal instruments against modern terror originated here – most people do not know that.
After 11 September, this Assembly was among the first to say that more must be done. When we negotiated our Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism, for the first time ever there were international standards criminalising the recruitment and training of terrorists and, crucially, criminalising public provocation for the purpose of terrorism – in other words, indirect incitement to terrorism. That was the bit that nobody had touched, because how do we decide where freedom of expression stops and inciting others to cause harm begins? Yet we agreed a shared legal position.
In a matter of months, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution drawing on our convention. That was followed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and then the Organization of American States. A year later, the European Union dropped our wording into its counter-terrorism framework. In the face of a new and unknown terror threat, we triggered a global response. I strongly urge those member States that have still not ratified our convention to do so today. There must be no gaps or legal loopholes for terrorist to exploit.
Let us take a collective approach to new threats, too, including home-grown terror, foreign fighters and terrorism tourists. Syria has been a game changer in that regard. In September, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2178, condemning violent extremism unanimously and underlining the need to prevent travel and support for foreign terrorist fighters.
This is, however, an extremely difficult area. The founding principle of the law is that you are innocent until proven guilty. How do we deal, then, with the intention to commit a terrorist act? What are the specific standards that can be applied by national governments? To provide you with an answer to those questions, the Council of Europe will prepare an additional protocol to our convention, which I have already mentioned. We have been asked to do that by Jean-Paul Laborde, a prominent French judge and the UN’s executive director of counter-terrorism. They want our help again.
The protocol will address the ways in which States can co-operate to stop would-be terrorists travelling abroad. We also need to look at the even tougher dilemma of what to do when they come back. A citizen cannot be rendered stateless just like that. That is an important protection, but it is clear that States must be empowered to deal with returning foreign fighters. We are working fast to provide you with a clear legal solution. The Committee of Ministers has set the goal of producing the additional protocol in time for the ministerial meeting in the middle of May. We are working fast and we need to do it.
We are also stepping up our work on the prevention of radicalisation. Not all the men and women travelling to Syria leave as hardened soldiers. They go for their own personal reasons. Often they are recruited on the Internet or from prisons. Therefore, the Council of Europe will bring together prisons and heads of probation from across the continent so that we can support their efforts to stamp out radicalisation. I want to bring together governments and Internet companies to agree measures for tackling hate speech online while we continue to defend freedom of expression.
I want us to bring together Europe’s education ministers, for whom we will establish a set of competencies of democratic citizenship – that means concrete criteria and standards for teaching your people about their civic responsibilities, as well as integral cultural skills, including teaching them about religion. You will be able to adapt those competencies in your schools.
We will bring together leading figures to add some facts to the extremism debate, to explain how religion is being misused by extremists. I applaud the many faith groups that have condemned from their hearts the attacks on European soil in recent years. Now we need it written down in black and white in one place, so that everyone in civil society can say, “Look, here it is: terror has no religion – full stop.”
Dear friends, we share the sense of urgency – I really feel that everyone in this Chamber and in national parliaments in particular feels that sense of urgency. We believe that the only answer in the long term is to tackle the fundamental conditions in which extremism can flourish. Let me end, therefore, on an extremely important piece of work that is nearly complete. In April, I will publish my second annual report on the state of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe and a shared responsibility for democratic security in Europe. It will assess how well Europe’s nations can guarantee security for their citizens through their commitment to democratic norms. I will provide a yardstick for your governments to assess yourselves and adopt a coherent approach.
I can tell you already that our findings will not be exactly what you would expect. The trends that threaten our democratic security come from across Europe – no State can be complacent – so, friends, let us renew our commitment to working together. The tragic events at the start of the year lay down a very clear challenge. Emotions are high, threats are real and there is a growing clamour for answers. Our response must be swift and effective, but we must hold firm to our values and laws and to one another. Ultimately, that is how we, and other parties, will keep people safe.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you very much for your speech, Secretary General. I will now call the speakers from the political groups to ask questions. The first on my list is your compatriot, Ms Christoffersen, on behalf of the Socialist Group.
Ms CHRISTOFFERSEN (Norway) – Yesterday, the Assembly called for a democratic response to the terror attacks in Paris, partly through combating social exclusion. The Committee of Ministers recently adopted two recommendations on young people in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and on integration. How can the Council of Europe assist member countries to implement those recommendations at a local level so they help people in their daily lives?
Mr JAGLAND – It is true that social exclusion is part of the problem, although it is not the whole problem. Terrorism originates in countries that are governed by authoritarian rulers, in which many young people are excluded and can express themselves only by going into the streets. Some of them choose to commit violent actions. Those young people often say that it is better to have a life in heaven, because they do not have a life on earth.
That process of exclusion is also happening in Europe. I read in the paper a few days ago that Muslims comprise half the population of French prisons. It is like the United States, where more black people are in prison than go to university. What are the main causes of that problem? If you look at the suburbs of many European cities, you can understand why people feel excluded. Many live in parallel, separate societies that develop their own cultures and ways of thinking. It is import that we tackle that problem. The French Government is taking it seriously and others should do the same.
The European Social Charter is an important tool, and we are highlighting it again. There was an important conference on it in Turin under Italy’s presidency of the European Union. The Belgian chairmanship of the Council of Europe is following that up and putting the Social Charter and social rights high on the agenda, but they must also trickle down to the local level in our societies.
There is a lot of work to do in prisons. We have excellent tools, including the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which is responsible for prisons. We can do many things with education, which is extremely important. We are the only European institution that has the ability and the expertise to do something for those who teach in schools. We have the European Youth Centre, and we have young people who can work in prisons and engage in dialogue with young people across Europe. There are lots of things that we can do to address the problem you mentioned.
THE PRESIDENT – I call Mr Agramunt on behalf of the European People’s Party.
Mr AGRAMUNT (Spain)* – Thank you for your report, Secretary General. My group is concerned about the condition and health of our colleague Nadiia Savchenko. Yesterday, we were informed that she had been transferred from prison to a hospital and forced to eat. As you know, she is on hunger strike in protest against her forced detention. What action have you taken as Secretary General, and what action will you take in the future, to ensure the immediate freedom of our colleague Ms Savchenko?
Mr JAGLAND – I am glad that the Assembly has highlighted that issue. I have raised it with the Russian authorities several times. I have done it quietly, because I think that is the best way to achieve results. The situation is critical. Protecting life in prisons is a fundamental value and a standard for us. I will continue to do my utmost for her and others, as we do in many other places in Europe.
THE PRESIDENT – I call Mr Xuclà, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Mr XUCLÀ (Spain)* – On behalf of The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party, I thank you for your annual report, Secretary General. You raised an important issue. In the Council of Europe, we vehemently defend fundamental freedoms, including the right to freedom of expression. However, as has been said clearly, that freedom, like others, has limits. But who imposes those limits? The obvious answer is that only positive law can impose such a limit; religion and tradition cannot do it. However, member states’ legislation varies tremendously. In some countries, blasphemy is a crime. You said that we should have a general debate on the limits. Perhaps we could create some kind of legal instrument. Can we have a general debate on that issue?
Mr JAGLAND – This is a difficult issue and it is hard to draw the line. The only body that can do it is the Court, which is why I referred to Article 10 of the Convention. The Court has case law on a variety of subjects, including blasphemy. It is important that all national courts look at the Court’s case law. Most, if not all, European nations have legislation that makes incitement to violence, racism, anti-Semitism and the denial of the Holocaust unlawful. However, although there is legislation, it is difficult for courts to make judgments in concrete cases, so it is important that extremist expression is countered also in the public sphere. That is why we have the No Hate Speech campaign. It is important that everybody speaks out against extremist expression. However, we must remind ourselves that we have the rule of law at a European level through Article 10 and the Strasbourg Court’s case law. Not everything is okay. I was a little worried when I saw, after what happened in Paris, people commanding others to express everything and to insult everyone. Of course you have the right to do it, but is it okay for everyone to do that? We need to have some responsibility, too.
One of the survivors of the Charlie Hebdo attack, a cartoonist, referred to the famous cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Charlie Hebdo published some of the cartoons in solidarity with that newspaper. There was a debate throughout the world about those cartoons. He added, however, that one of the cartoons was dubious – the one of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban – because it could indicate that all Muslims and all those who believe in Mohammed are terrorists. We have to think about what we are doing, too. We have freedom of expression but we also need to have some responsibility. Someone who was attacked in Charlie Hebdo’s premises had that approach, so should we have the same approach?
We need to think about what happened before the Second World War and how a whole group of people were dehumanised by many means. It is a fine line. Those acts were committed to suppress freedom of expression, but that can be misused; we can go too far. That is the other danger of which we must be aware.
THE PRESIDENT – The next question is from Mr David Davies, on behalf of the European Conservatives Group.
Mr David DAVIES (United Kingdom) – Following the dreadful attacks in Paris, you issued a very strong statement in support of freedom of speech and the right of journalists to express themselves. You attended a unity rally and there was a commemoration event at the Council of Europe. Why is it then, if we believe so strongly in freedom of speech, that it is not possible to buy a copy of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in the shop in the Council of Europe? There is one copy that was not on display; it was hidden behind a door and I had to ask especially to see it. I am told that it has not been on sale and that there are no plans to put it on sale. Are we really Charlie Hebdo or are Charlie Hebdo’s followers cowards?
Mr JAGLAND – I do not know why you cannot buy that magazine there. I do not think there is anything political in it. On the contrary, I think everyone here would support the right to draw these cartoons, to print them and to buy them. There must be some practical considerations behind that. I do not know.
THE PRESIDENT – The next question is from Mr Kox, on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.
Mr KOX (Netherlands) – It was only after the first Cold War that the Council of Europe could become a real and important pan-European platform for the rule of law, human rights and democracy. Perhaps now we are witnessing its erosion due to a new Cold War. Yesterday’s decision to impose new sanctions on the Russian delegation, followed by the suspension of its activities in the Assembly, show again an escalation towards the new Cold War in Europe.
My group deplores that dangerous decision and apparently unstoppable development, for which we in this Chamber must bear part of the responsibility. This Assembly has been deprived, at least for a year, of the possibility of serving as a platform for parliamentary diplomacy with the Russian Parliament. How will you safeguard the Council of Europe from further erosion and irrelevance? It would be very bad if we enter a new Cold War and this Organisation loses its relevance. I look forward to your answer.
Mr JAGLAND – I respect the decision made by the Parliamentary Assembly. Whatever you decide has to be respected. This is an autonomous Assembly. The Russian Federation is still a full member of the Council of Europe. It takes part in all the activities of the Committee of Ministers. As I explained, for the time being, we are the only international organisation that has activities in the Russian Federation. We have managed to open our office in Moscow after many years of discussions. We are now discussing concrete co-operation programmes helping reforms in Russia. As I have said, we are discussing many other things, including the foreign agent law.
I agree that there is a danger that we are sliding into a new Cold War, which it would be difficult to get out of, but we have work to do. I have explained what we are doing in Ukraine and how we can help in any possible process to reach a political settlement, based on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. We have the best expertise in that area and we should use it. There are other initiatives. The other day, Chancellor Angela Merkel opened negotiations between the European Union and the customs union to the east. There are initiatives that can be advanced if there is the will on all sides. Let us hope that that can be done and that the Council of Europe can contribute to that. We are not excluded from it; on the contrary, we have important legal instruments that should be used by the parties that are trying to achieve a ceasefire and to open up the political horizon. That is needed if we want a ceasefire to be sustainable.
THE PRESIDENT – That ends the questions on behalf of the political groups. The next question is from Mr Mignon.
Mr MIGNON (France)* – At the beginning of January, France experienced a criminal terrorist act. That was a black day. You were in the first row of the republican procession and I thank you in my own name and in the name of the French delegation. I congratulate you on your re-election. I wish you full success in the accomplishment of your mission over the next five years.
Mr JAGLAND – Thank you for your kind words. It was important for me to hear what was said. The French Government and parliamentarians appreciated that we stood together with all those people in Paris. It was an extremely impressive demonstration of what we stand for in Europe – the values that we want to defend.
By the way, I have received the information that Charlie Hebdo was on sale in the kiosk for several days. It has perhaps sold out. One copy was brought to the private office. I have not seen it because I have been away; I was in Auschwitz. Charlie Hebdo was available in the kiosk.
Ms BARTOS (Hungary) – Secretary General, thank you for your words today and for providing us the information. During this session, the Assembly adopted Ms Lundgren’s excellent report on the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Council of Europe and the European Union. The key element of that resolution is the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights. How do you see the situation after the decision of the Luxembourg Court? What do you think are the main challenges?
Mr JAGLAND – You are right: the rapporteur’s report is excellent. I have to be honest and say that the situation after the opinion from the Court of Justice in Luxembourg has complicated the process, but now this is very much in the hands of the European Union. It has to find out how it can move forward on this process, because under the Lisbon Treaty there is an obligation for accession to the European Convention on Human Rights to happen. So this is binding for the European Union. The question is how it can now do it.
The only thing I can see here is that when the European Union goes through the process, it also has to keep in mind that there are 19 countries outside the European Union. So it has to find a solution that is compatible with this fact. You can understand how complicated this becomes, because it was difficult in the first place to find a solution that satisfied both the European Union and those who are outside. We should not give up, but obviously the process will be delayed. That is the only thing we can say for the time being.
Mr SCHENNACH (Austria)* - Secretary General, I feel great respect for your report and for your work in general. Let me come back to Nadiia Savchenko. We remember how you helped at the time, through the OSCE mission, in getting people released from prison. The monitoring process has continued and there is the option of having her released to a third State. As an experienced politician, how do you consider the relative chances of such an undertaking?
Mr JAGLAND – It is difficult for me to go further into it, but what I can say now is that I think we need to look upon this as a humanitarian issue. If you take it from there, it can be possible, through different channels and by different means, to achieve a result. I do not think that anybody has an interest in keeping this going further.
Mr VILLUMSEN (Denmark) – During the Azerbaijan presidency, it was clearly stated by the Council of Europe that the Council of Europe would act to counter the deterioration of the human rights situation in the country. What has been done in this regard?
Mr JAGLAND – Actually, many things. The Council of Europe is probably the only organisation that has done something very concrete. For instance, one of the cases – that of Ilgar Mammadov: all of you know him – was brought to the European Court of Human Rights, which said that the trial against him was not based on actual evidence, but was based on politically produced evidence, so he should be released. We continue to insist on this. As you know, the Committee of Ministers has responsibility for executing the judgments from the Court and the Committee is now, of course, insisting that the Court’s judgment should now be implemented, so that Ilgar Mammadov can be released.
However, the judgment that the court handed on Ilgar Mammadov also sheds light on the judicial system in Azerbaijan. We agreed an action plan with Azerbaijan on co-operation programmes, particularly in respect of the judiciary there. Then we established a joint committee with representatives, including from the presidential administration and the non-governmental organisation community, and with experts from other sides, and they are working on many of the other cases. To date, 10 of the prisoners have been released, partly as a result of this process. We are working on the other cases as well.
I should like to say – and this is not only related to Azerbaijan, because we have similar problems, to some extent, in many places – that I continue to insist that the main thing we can do in all the member States is to help reform the judiciary. If there is no independent court and the judiciary is not independent, everything else goes wrong. This is the core mandate of the Council of Europe – to have independent institutions, particularly an independent judiciary. This is lacking in Azerbaijan and we have to work with it on this. It is extremely difficult and I know that it will take time, but no one else is doing very concrete things in that regard. I realise that the situation is bad, but what else can we do but try to do the little we can, particularly with regard to the judiciary?
Ms PASHAYEVA (Azerbaijan) – The Azerbaijani internally displaced persons, Shahbaz Guliyev and Dilgam Asgarov, were taken hostage a few months ago by the Armenian separatist regime, which is not recognised internationally, in the Azerbaijani territories occupied by Armenia. Mock trials were set up and they are still being held hostage to this day. Their families are waiting for your support. As Secretary General, using the competence of your position and your own reputation, what steps could be taken by your side to release the Azerbaijani IDP hostages?
Mr JAGLAND – This relates to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia about Nagorno-Karabakh. Actually, to date the Council of Europe has not had a role in solving this problem: it is mostly for the OSCE and the Minsk Group. However, in the first annual report that I produced on the human rights and rule-of-law situation in Europe, I also touched upon the problem that we are facing – namely, that we cannot apply our instruments and defend our values in these frozen conflicts, which are actually human rights black holes in Europe. So we are thinking what we can do and how we can contribute, but it is impossible to go into such concrete things now, because, as I mentioned, what we can do practically to defend human rights in these areas is a sensitive matter because of the conflict.
However, I continue to insist that it is unacceptable that the Convention is not applied in areas where there are frozen conflicts. It is clear that all Europeans – also, those living in Nagorno-Karabakh and those living in Transnistria and elsewhere – should be protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, and other instruments.
THE PRESIDENT – The next speaker is Mr Sabella from Palestine, Partner for Democracy.
Mr SABELLA (Palestine) – How is the support given to revolutionary groups in Arab countries such as Syria becoming a source of support to more extremists and appealing to European youth? What is the role of the Council of Europe in that? Could it play a more assertive role in bringing about an end to the war in Syria, not to mention the stalled Palestinian-Israeli negotiations?
Mr JAGLAND – Thank you for that question, which could open up a long speech. We do not have a real role in Syria but, as I have said, we are now trying to provide the basis for taking on the so-called foreign terrorists – those from our continent who are travelling back and forth to take part in actions in Syria. That is one measure.
In our neighbourhood we can continue what we have started. We have concrete co-operation agreements with Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia on building democratic institutions. For example, we had an important role in establishing Tunisia’s Constitution, and it was exceptional that contradictory forces were able to agree on the constitution, which is fundamental to everything else. That is why Tunisia is the only success story after the Arab Spring. In that way we can continue to work constructively with others. We have relations with Israel and the Palestinian authorities, but no real role in the peace process.
Look at what is going on in the world today. In Syria, 2 million people have become refugees and 200 000 have been killed. How can that happen in a civilised world? Why are we unable to do anything about it? How can we allow it to continue? It is an open question. The United Nations Charter states that the 15 members of the Security Council have been given the responsibility for peace and security for all of us, but nothing is happening. I think that tells us how the international system is functioning today, or not functioning. I think that we are witnessing a dramatic time in the history of the world, when we look at the crisis in Syria and the crisis in Ukraine. It continues, despite the fact that we have the United Nations Charter and there are those who have responsibility for security in the world.
I think that it has to do with the fact that we moved from a bipolar to a non-polar world, so nobody is responsible, and nobody is taking decisions; they are trying only to impede each other’s decision making, blocking decisions and acting only in their own national interests. So the crisis goes on, the killing continues and the number of refugees increases. How many refugees has Turkey received? When I was there I was told about one town that used to have 80 000 citizens but now has 90 000 refugees, so the majority are refugees. And here in Europe we complain about a few thousand. I think that it is – well, I will not continue. I think that what is going on in the world is very bad.
THE PRESIDENT – Secretary General, unfortunately we must now conclude the questions, but I want to tell the Assembly that you have offered to come to each of our part-sessions to answer questions. We will therefore, for the first time, have questions to the Secretary General in the April part-session. Thank you for making that important proposal. We will take the opportunity to ask you questions at each part-session.
Secretary General, thank you very much for your report and for the way you answered our questions. As I said before, you are the Secretary General, we are the Parliamentary Assembly and we also have the Committee of Ministers – all the bodies of the Council of Europe – but we must work together.
2. Protection of media freedom in Europe
THE PRESIDENT – The next item of business this morning is the debate on the report entitled “Protection of media freedom in Europe”, Document 13664, presented by Mr Gvozden Srećko Flego on behalf of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media. Voting on the amendments and on the draft resolution and recommendation will take place this afternoon.
I call Mr Flego, the rapporteur. You have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide between your presentation of the report and your reply to the debate.
Mr FLEGO (Slovenia) – Media are much more than they appear. As democracy functions in the public space, and as nowadays media mostly occupy that space, they became an unavoidable prerequisite for representative democracy. As such, media contribute directly to freedom and, ultimately, to human happiness.
I hope that we are clear that media are not mere mechanical disseminators of information. Please bear in mind that journalists choose which events to present, which to comment on, how to do it and the order in which they publish news and comment. In so doing, journalists are co-creators of the news and the public space and, consequently, of public opinion.
Those are only a few reasons why journalists and their work are so enormously important for our public and personal lives. Media and journalists are also so omnipresent in our everyday lives that many scholars discuss the dimensions of the new phenomenon – the “media-isation” of society, and of politics in particular.
That all leads us to the conclusion that the media and journalists are so significant that they deserve noteworthy attention, special regulation and societal and State protection. Public space, the media and journalists are so important that the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media submits biannual reports to the Parliamentary Assembly on media freedom in our member States. We therefore realised in many of our discussions that media freedom is essentially conditioned by the freedom of journalists and it became evident that the freedom of journalists is not possible without their security.
Journalists are often exposed to diverse pressures and numerous challenges. There are external pressures, mostly from those in the political sphere but from big business, too. The internal pressures are frequently extensions of those external ones, but they also include attempts by media owners, editors and interest groups, particularly the big advertisers, to impose on journalists what they write or say and how they depict specific events or economic and societal processes. The far-reaching consequences of such pressures on journalists include, to mention just a few, existential uncertainty, a chilling effect, self-censorship, fear and obedience. If the approach to the news and commentaries on it can be imposed or ordered, that can fatally undermine the freedom of journalists and of the media and distort the public space.
The role of the state in protecting the core values of democratic regimes, and those who promote and practise them, must include the protection of journalists. That must be clear to all, particularly after the savage and cruel massacre of journalists at Charlie Hebdo. Everyone who wishes the political community and themselves well must insist on security for journalists.
Plurality and pluralism are constituent parts of representative democracy. In spite of some doubts that plurality destroys so-called unity and produces cacophony, free expression, reflecting diversity, is the only way to find the common denominator and articulate the public interest. Attempting to find the common denominator in plurality and to formulate the common interest of diverse people needs a free and open media.
Finally, there are some general reasons why we need free media, free journalists and security for journalists. From the very beginning of the self-reflection of humans, the foundation of inter-human relations was, is and, I am convinced, will remain the word. The long history of humankind is full of records of the attempts of powerful people to monopolise words. Freedom broke through as a major achievement of modern times in Europe and became a universal global value. Freedom of expression is an unavoidable part of that historical evolution and an essential part of our contemporary way of living. We have an obligation to ourselves and to future generations to keep and further develop our freedoms, including media freedom and security for journalists.
Killed journalists lose their lives only because they publish content that some people do not like. I remind you that three weeks ago we witnessed a horrible terror, the death of a dozen journalists from Charlie Hebdo, only because they produced and published content that some people did not like. That tragic event, however, provoked a fortunate happening: millions of people in France and in other countries demonstrated against terrorism and for freedom of expression.
Reading the report, one reaches the conclusion that the situation for the media is worsening. Let me illustrate that statement with just one fact: in the past two years, more than 30 journalists have been killed. We have an obligation to all those victims who paid with their sufferings or their lives for their fight for freedom of expression and of the media. We have an obligation to provide the strongest European political support to freedom of expression and to the media. Most importantly, we have an obligation to make a better future and to find ways further to develop the freedom of the media and journalists and to develop their security. We must do that not only on paper and by raising our hands, but everywhere: in our countries, in our parliaments and in our homes.
Finally, let me give you a technical reminder. The report is factual, because it does not express any political views or interpretation. It enumerates the cases of violation of the freedom of the media and of journalists. It contains some suggestions, but I ask the representatives of the countries that are mentioned to take it not as a criticism but as a suggestion for improvement and a friendly view from outside on how you could do things better. I call on you to adopt the report, the many amendments, and the sub-amendments. I hope that the final result will be satisfying, if not to all of you, then to a majority.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Flego, for your very good presentation and your excellent report. I remind you that you have three and a half minutes to answer the debate. The first speaker on the list is Sir Roger Gale, who will speak on behalf of the European Conservatives Group.
Sir Roger GALE (United Kingdom) – It is a cliché to say that a free democracy needs a free press, but, like so many clichés, it is clearly founded in truth. I congratulate my friend Mr Flego on highlighting the hazards faced by the media, and by journalists in particular, throughout Europe, particularly in Russia and Ukraine. His report makes compelling, if depressing, reading.
For those both inside and outside the Chamber who do not have the time to read the entire report, I draw attention to section 2.2 of the explanatory memorandum, which is a sad litany of the deaths of journalists throughout Europe over the past two years. Of course, that was drafted before the events in the office of Charlie Hebdo, which we debated yesterday. We all know that the job of a reporter is a dangerous one. It is very easy to say that it goes with the territory, but in some areas of Europe the flak jacket emblazoned with "Press" is not a protection but a target.
Journalists are also subjected to editorial interference on the basis that, in some countries, it is an offence to annoy the government. Well, I suspect that everyone in the Chamber has suffered from criticism at the hands of journalists. I am both a journalist and a politician, and I have been on both sides of this rather strange fence. But it is the journalist’s job to challenge the establishment, and it is the Assembly’s job to seek to ensure that, however much we dislike individually and personally some of the things said about us, it is our duty to protect those who seek to tell the truth and to expose wrongdoing in high places. I do not include, by the way, acts of treachery in that right.
In the Council of Europe, we need to be ever vigilant and ready to rise to the defence of those who generally do a dangerous job with silent courage. Mr Flego’s report describes all that very well, and it deserves, and I trust that it will receive, the Assembly’s wholehearted support.
(Mr Walter, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Ms Brasseur.)
THE PRESIDENT – I call Mr Villumsen, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.
Mr VILLUMSEN (Denmark) – Our earlier debate on the terrible terrorist attacks in Paris relates directly to the report, which rightly reminds us that threats against media freedom and freedom of speech come not only from terrorists, but often from national authorities in our member States, and I thank the rapporteur for his work.
The report rightly points to the problems in several countries. We know that those problems are widespread in Europe. Of course, we see problems in Russia and Ukraine, as well as in Azerbaijan and Turkey. I must say personally that I am astonished by the growing problems with media freedom in Azerbaijan. The violations against Ms Khadija Ismailova and Ms Leyla Yunus, along with many other journalists in that country, are unacceptable. Such violations do not violate only the rights of those individuals, but the rights of all countries that do not have media freedom and freedom of speech. People in those countries cannot engage in free debates. We all know that democracy cannot exist without free debates and that trust in democracy is therefore undermined.
I want to highlight a serious problem with media freedom in Turkey. There are clearly problems with the legal framework in Turkey, so media freedom is violated and journalists – often Kurdish journalists – are put in jail. Furthermore, Turkey has a big problem in that political and governmental pressure is put on the media and journalists. That problem perhaps leads to censorship and definitely to self-censorship. The financing of the media needs to be transparent, so that the rules are equal for all. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Turkey, although it is an issue throughout Europe.
Media freedom is being violated, and it is important that we clearly say today that member states must stop violating their obligations. Journalists must be released and the fundamental right of freedom of speech must be restored. The terrible terrorist attacks in Paris remind us of the importance of media freedom. We must do our utmost to secure this freedom, and we must therefore say that clearly today.
THE PRESIDENT* – I call Sir Alan Meale, who will speak on behalf of the Socialist Group.
Sir Alan MEALE (United Kingdom) – It is an honour to be asked by the Socialist Group to speak on this fine report and a great pleasure to follow the two previous speakers, particularly my colleague from the United Kingdom. He may be from a different political persuasion in our Parliament, but he has a fine reputation in the media world and for fighting for freedom of expression.
We have heard from the Secretary General and members only three weeks after the terrorist attacks in Paris, but we are still witnessing attacks on media staff in the armed conflict in Ukraine and journalists are regularly murdered in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. Indeed, as we are all aware, since the Assembly’s 2013 report on the state of media freedom in Europe, a large number of journalists have been killed, put in prison or harassed simply because of their work. Our debate today is therefore timely, relevant and a key priority for us in the Council of Europe.
As politicians, we all have some experience of what Sir Roger described. Some press activities, such as inaccurate reporting, misleading quotes and unkind remarks, can cause grave disquiet or even despair. We have all on occasion learned of the illegal and unwarranted actions of newspapers and some media outlets in their quest to make news, rather than simply reporting it properly.
Indeed, in the United Kingdom, News Group International, under the guardianship of the Murdoch regime, has recently been exposed for its involvement in thousands of illegal activities, including telephone bugging, computer hacking and bribery of public officials. I recall the case of Milly Dowler, a young girl who was abducted and killed, whose phone was hacked by that organisation when she was dead and whose parents were made to believe that she was still alive for a number of days. The Murdoch regime has admitted to that outrageous action, paid considerable compensation and closed a national Sunday newspaper. All I am saying is that that shows what the press sometimes gets up to even in our free society, but that does not truly represent a free press and only puts at risk its important role of creating and maintaining democracy in our free world.
Just a few moments ago, the Secretary General in his address to the Assembly identified as one of his priorities the mandate to support media freedom and, indeed, the safety of journalists. This is not a new commitment of the Assembly. I recall the proposal by my great friend the late Andrew McIntosh – a former member of the Assembly, who is sadly missed by everyone who knew him – to set up an Internet platform on serious violations of media freedom, which has since produced much fruit and led to our Assembly signing, with others, a memorandum of understanding in Paris last year.
What is this debate about? First, irresponsible journalism must not be used as an excuse to deny media freedom. Instead, it should be recognised as a threat to media freedom. The report lists a number of cases of common concern to us all. It serves as a warning that not protecting journalists in their role risks letting impunity reign throughout our world. It also tells us that we can take initiatives and establish strategies in each of our nations to safeguard free reporting and our right to free media expression.
THE PRESIDENT – Sir Alan, you should bring your remarks to a conclusion.
Sir Alan MEALE (United Kingdom) – A free press has a role in scrutinising individuals, movements and governments. When acting responsibly, the press helps us to create and maintain our free societies.
On behalf of the Socialist Group, I welcome the report by my esteemed colleague, Mr Flego. It is excellent and deserves all the Assembly’s support for its panoply of sensible recommendations.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Sir Alan. I am just grateful that you were not speaking in the House of Commons under a time limit. I call Mr Franken, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.
Mr FRANKEN (Netherlands) – We are confronted with a great paradox: the report is excellent but the content is shocking. We in this Assembly know that freedom of expression is the real basis for democracy and that other fundamental rights can be effective only if information and opinions are disseminated by public media. That is the guarantee of political freedom and the rule of law. Now we read in Mr Flego’s report a catalogue of infractions of that freedom, such as blocking information channels, or impeding journalists or bloggers who provide information to the public. Most importantly, in many cases the blocking of information is brought about by the elimination of those people who provide a message that is not positive for some individuals or special groups – here I refer back to yesterday’s debate and the horrible actions that took place in Paris some weeks ago.
We also see governments reacting illegally to critical opinions, and the report includes a list of at least 15 media workers who have died because of their work. It is the same old story: the messenger will be punished if the message is not welcome. That list of 15 is shocking, and I say on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party that in our opinion all those cases must be investigated and the offenders brought to court. Impunity in such cases is not acceptable. The Flego report is an impressive piece of work. The rapporteur carried out intensive research, and over the last two years, he listened to a lot of witnesses and experts. I thank him for all his work. It is important that such a mirror is held up to us, and especially to the governments concerned. We ask for their attention and co-operation in implementing the proposals of the resolution and recommendation.
The report asks the Venice Commission to pay special attention to two member States, and I would like to say that some improvements have been made. That is surely the case in Hungary, where since 2011 many corrections to media law have been introduced. I hope that the legislation, not only in Hungary and Turkey but also in other European countries, will be in line with the Venice Commission’s opinions, and that the recommendations of our Commissioner for Human Rights and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media will be followed strictly. Moreover, the kind of research carried out by Professor Flego must be continued – it keeps us awake. We have just received an urgent wake-up call that forces us all to pay attention and take action.
THE PRESIDENT – I now call Mr Garðarsson who will speak on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Mr GARÐARSSON (Iceland) – I thank the rapporteur for this important report. Media freedom is one of the cornerstones of what the Council of Europe is based on: democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Without a free media, the public do not have the means to form an educated opinion, which is the basis of effective democracy. Media freedom is more limited now than it has often been previously, and it is being attacked from many different sides that all have one thing in common – the desire to influence public opinion. Those groups include governments, media owners and various stakeholders.
The financial stability of public broadcasting is being dissolved in some member states, threatening its independence and decreasing the likelihood of an open, unbiased debate. Furthermore, the weak financial situation of many media outlets makes them vulnerable to outside influences, which can influence their editorial policy and news coverage. Transparency in media ownership is also often lacking. That decreases the likelihood of pluralism in the media, which is a necessary condition for a pluralistic society and political system, as rightly stated in the report.
Journalists in Europe are being threatened, attacked, jailed, tortured and killed – a horrendous situation. Member States of the Council of Europe must do everything they can to prevent such atrocities and secure freedom of speech and freedom of the press in their own countries and internationally. The Reporters without Borders 2014 World Press Freedom Index spotlights the negative impact of conflicts on freedom of information and its protagonists. In an unstable environment, the media becomes a strategic goal or target for groups or individuals whose attempts to control news and information violate the guarantees enshrined in international law.
The ranking of some countries has also been affected by a tendency to interpret national security needs in an overly broad and abusive manner, to the detriment of the right to inform and be informed. That trend constitutes a growing threat worldwide, and is even endangering freedom of information in countries that are regarded as democracies. Finland tops the World Press Freedom Index for the fourth year running, closely followed by the Netherlands and Norway. At the other end of the index, the last three positions are held by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea – three countries where freedom of information is non-existent. Despite growing attention, awareness and efforts to strengthen media freedom, the situation in Europe is getting worse. That can mean only one thing: we need to do more; we have to do more.
THE PRESIDENT – That concludes the list of speakers on behalf of the political groups. Mr Flego, do you also wish to respond at this stage?
Mr FLEGO (Croatia) – I will reply at the end of the debate.
THE PRESIDENT – That is fine. We will now move to the list of speakers. I was probably slightly generous with the time limit to the spokesmen from the political groups, so I will now try to be more rigorous and ask Assembly members to stick to the three-minute time limit. I call Ms Bilgehan.
Ms BİLGEHAN (Turkey)* – I think that Mr Flego’s report was already ringing alarm bells about the safety of journalists even before the Charlie Hebdo attacks on 7 January this year, and according to a number of reports from international non-governmental organisations, the state of media freedom is a grave concern. Freedom House has placed five countries of the Council of Europe into the category “not free”, and 19 countries into the category “partly free” – not a very complimentary assessment. Assassinations, arrests, physical violence, intimidation, arbitrary dismissal, interference by governmental authorities in editorial independence, self-censorship – very few countries are free from those sorts of attacks.
According to Mr Flego’s report, many European States apply laws on freedom of access to information that are not effective or that are too restrictive, as well as excessively constraining laws that cover state secrecy, national security and combating terrorism. Under those conditions, journalists in certain countries are particularly vulnerable to the hostility of the powers that be, or to prosecution by authorities when they seek to report on sensitive issues that are in the public interest. Investigative journalists, for instance, have a very important role when it comes to revealing corrupt practices, and in a number of member States they are threatened when they start to report on certain major interests or eminent personalities of State.
According to the report, however, there is something even more serious, which is that there is impunity for serious crimes committed against journalists, including murder, and that that is endemic in Europe. The message that we heard from the Secretary-General of the United Nations is a good reflection of that grave concern. He said: “Nine out of ten cases go unpunished. As a result, criminals are emboldened. People are scared to speak out about corruption, political repression or other violations of human rights. This must stop.”
There are other forms of softer intimidation. Many journalists in the press and audiovisual media practise self-censorship because they are afraid of losing their jobs and of being summarily dismissed by their employers apparently as a result of direct intervention or under pressure from highly placed officials in government. Increasing the transparency of media ownership is important and will be the subject of another report to be submitted shortly to our Assembly. I am certain that there will be others, too, and we will closely follow the impact of the Flego report.
My country is among the countries most severely criticised. There has been some improvement. For instance, the number of detained journalists has dropped from 100 to about 10, thanks to close co-operation with the Council of Europe in particular. I know that Mr Flego and the secretariat have prepared this report carefully and in the full spirit of impartiality. They have been in touch with not only press representatives but governments. Thank you for that, Mr Flego. I will certainly support the report when it comes to the vote.
Ms SCHNEIDER-SCHNEITER (Switzerland)* – Freedom of the media is coming under increasing pressure, so it is good that the Parliamentary Assembly is addressing the issue. Freedom of the press, as described in Article 10, is guaranteed, but paragraph 2 of that article can undermine it. It is right that, on the one hand, freedom of the media can be limited in the interests of democracy, national security and crime prevention; on the other hand, precisely that possibility can be carte blanche for limitation by the State. For example, all too easily under the pretext of national security uncomfortable attitudes can be suppressed or journalists silenced. It is shocking to see in just how many member States – thus in the area of the application of the European Convention – media workers are threatened, ostracised, subject to physical attacks, tortured or even killed, simply because they disseminate an undesirable opinion, question a regime or discover corruption.
Yet States should not cease adopting laws that confer a certain responsibility on media workers. Freedom of the media is not just a right but a responsibility – a duty to process facts and opinions in such a way that it is possible to form an opinion without undue bias and so that fundamental values of our co-existence in society are respected. For example, to my mind there are limits to satire. Racism should not be made possible by freedom of expression. Satire cannot exist in a legal vacuum. We are dealing with an exceedingly sensitive matter.
In a liberal country such as Switzerland, media workers are not necessarily threatened by State limitations, but often there are other factors that increasingly put the media and media workers under pressure and so jeopardise freedom of the media. I am thinking of, for example, a one-dimensional media landscape or the targeted and willful manipulation of sentiment, which leads to superficial and sometimes cheap journalism or, worse still, to forms of cheque-book journalism.
Freedom of the media is an issue of concern to us all and it poses major challenges. I offer my warm thanks to the drafter of the report, who deserves our support.
Mr ROUQUET (France)* – This debate, although it was put on the agenda a long time ago, is opportune, given the recent tragic events in France. The murder of the Charlie Hebdo journalists represents a knee-jerk refusal by some to recognise freedom of expression. Outside terrorist circles, there is also the desire, particularly in the United States, to subordinate freedom of expression to a ban on offending any kind of belief. The great journalist from Denmark, Mr Flemming Rose, stated that it is very dangerous to take the view that saying something offensive is as serious as committing a violent crime. A cartoon is something civilised and peaceful. The erosion of the distinction between words and actions undermines freedom of speech and brings us close to dictatorship. Voltaire’s Treatise on Tolerance, published in 1767, has been a runaway bestseller in France. It clearly remains relevant. Fanatics always wanted to kill apostates or burn at the stake those whom they considered blasphemers. The struggle for freedom is permanent.
Apart from that extreme case, Mr Flego’s excellent report shows us that threats to liberty are so numerous that their name is Legion. These attacks are sometimes direct. There are physical threats, restrictive laws and examples of governments giving orders to restrict the freedom of journalists. Many of those examples are given in the report and they are overwhelming. Sometimes that is done through economic means. Today, the media, in particular the written press, are in difficulties and they need an injection of capital. The economic model, especially of the press, appears to be changing, particularly with the increasing importance of social media. The changes that the media are going through will not be easy and we should pay close attention to these developments.
Public media services are also going through great difficulties in these times when governments are subjected to severe budgetary constraints. That economic vulnerability makes very relevant and timely Mr Flego’s proposal that we should have a media identity card, which would show, among other things, information about who owns the media outlet concerned and information about where that outlet’s main revenues come from, such as who the big advertisers or donors are.
I thank Mr Flego for agreeing to be a co-signatory to an amendment, right at the beginning of the draft resolution, proposed by the French delegation referring to the attacks in Paris.
Ms DJUROVIĆ (Serbia) – Ensuring freedom of speech and the protection of media freedom are not only fundamental obligations of every Council of Europe member State, in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, but also the foundation of every good democratic government. Therefore, the report before us today, along with the recommendations, is pivotal. Please allow me to congratulate the rapporteur on the diligent efforts that he invested in it.
First, I would like to point out some wrong data that I found in the explanatory memorandum. In paragraph 36, about murdered journalists, the report mentions Duško Jovanović and says that he was murdered in Serbia. The truth is that Mr Jovanović was a citizen of Montenegro and that the murder took place in Podgorica. The investigation is being conducted by Montenegro, and Serbia has nothing to do with it. In paragraph 35, the report also claims that Bardhyl Ajeti was murdered in Serbia, but he was an Albanian journalist writing about the crimes of the Kosovo Liberation Army who was murdered in 2005 on his way to Pristina. Serbia is deeply concerned about the crimes committed by the Kosovo Albanians but, unfortunately, at the time, Serbia did not have jurisdiction in that part of its territory. That is still the case and it is why Serbia is not able to carry out an investigation. On the other hand, Mr Flego, I greatly appreciate the fact that you respect Serbia’s territorial integrity and consider Kosovo and Metohija to be integral parts of Serbia.
Regarding the murder of journalists in Serbia, as Mr Flego noted, some obstructions by former state officials have been identified and removed, and significant progress has been made, particularly in regard to the indictments secured for the murder of Slavko Ćuruvija. The working group on that case is also conducting an investigation relating to the murder of Milan Pantić, in which there have been problems to do with international communications relating to the hearings outside Serbia.
The safety of journalists and freedom of expression will always be our priorities. Last year, in line with recommendations from Brussels, Serbia adopted a set of media laws to exclude the State from media ownership and ensure transparency of media ownership. This issue is crucial for us, particularly given the media torture suffered by the ruling party in Serbia, the Serbian Progressive Party, when it was in opposition. I again thank Mr Flego, and will support this report and its recommendations.
Ms TAKTAKISHVILI (Georgia) – I congratulate the author of the report on its excellent quality. Nevertheless, I would like to make sure that he is fully informed about the situation in Georgia two years after the first ever electoral transfer of power in the country. Following the election, we had a new prime minister, and the situation immediately worsened for television and media outlets critical of the government. I shall cite just a few examples.
Former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili publicly challenged the ownership of the largest television channel, Rustavi 2, immediately after his election to his post, and called for those whom he called the “real owners” of Rustavi 2 to go to the prosecution service and claim their ownership rights. Surveillance cameras were discovered on Rustavi 2’s premises, in the office of the director-general and producer. It is worth mentioning that Rustavi 2 has been publicly and constantly accused by the current and former prime ministers of picking the opposition, spreading the opposition’s views, not having enough ratings, and distorting reality. Unfortunately, investigators stated that they could not progress with the investigation of the surveillance cameras in Rustavi 2 unless the station disclosed the names of the whistle blowers from the ministry of internal affairs who informed them of the cameras’ existence.
The government has challenged TV MR GE, a company that is the local representative of Nielsen, a TV audience measurement company. The taxation department pressured the company to use the ratings measurement system to reveal households’ personal data. Coincidentally, recently a new TV audience measurement company was created, came on to Georgia’s media market, and started operating. This is a clear attempt to challenge the measurement system and create an alternative one that targets private advertisement, which is the only source of finance for the biggest TV company that is critical of the government. Also coincidentally, new legislation limiting advertising time in the media was adopted. The government claim that that is because of a directive from the European Union, but that is not right, because Georgia was given four years to implement the directive. That is why I call on colleagues kindly to support the amendments to the report.
Ms MAGRADZE (Georgia) – I thank the rapporteur, because all the information in the report is based on facts. Frankly, I was going to talk about other things – the importance of a free media and freedom of information for countries such as Georgia – but I need to say a few words about the speech by my colleague from the opposition in Georgia.
People who are against our government and criticise it have full access to the media in our country. Those TV companies that everyone knows are effectively opposition TV companies can make nationwide announcements. I am talking about Rustavi 2, Tabula and others. I am very surprised to hear anyone say that there is not free access. What about ownership? The media identity card that the rapporteur spoke about is one of the main indicators of transparency of ownership. In Georgia, we already have this. We put a law in place, and now ownership is very transparent. On access to information, our journalists have greater access to information than sometimes even we members of the ruling party do.
As for the legislation relating to advertising that was mentioned, it is about social advertising. In every democratic country, all television stations give some time for social advertisements. That is not connected with the editorial independence of any TV company. I point out that many international organisations note that Georgia is one of the most advanced post-Soviet countries, or even eastern European countries, when it comes to freedom of the media.
Of course, everybody can criticise, but I ask colleagues to trust only the concrete points about our legislation. I ask my colleague from the opposition to state which pieces of legislation have worsened things for our TV channels or other media sources. I respect the way that all the information in the report is based on facts. I ask all of you not to listen to chatter; base your decision on concrete facts.
Ms HOFFMANN (Hungary)* – Freedom of the media is, and has been for centuries, a fundamental freedom. Where it does not exist, or is kept within well patrolled boundaries, other human rights cannot work. In the revolution in Hungary in March 1848, some of the first actions of the young revolutionaries were to free imprisoned journalists, occupy the workshops of the greatest presses, and declare press freedom. Conversely, after the Second World War, at the beginning of Soviet dictatorship, the Communist powers immediately imprisoned or prosecuted journalists and writers who did not accept or celebrate Communist ideology. Many of them were executed. That is why one of the mottoes and demands in the 1956 revolution was: “Freedom of expression of the press.”
It is unacceptable to condemn journalists and other media workers for doing their job, and it is terrible that journalists were killed in Paris on 8 January. All Hungarians condemn, from the bottom of our hearts, all kinds of insult, attack and aggression. It is unacceptable to terrorise, prosecute and threaten journalists.
We should respect the dignity of each human being and all the different views and convictions that exist in democratic societies. That moral lesson has been taught in Europe since ancient times. Seneca, the Roman philosopher, said you should not do to others what you do not wish to be done to you.
We welcome Mr Flego’s report, but I have a few comments to make. In many countries, journalists are threatened with prison and even death. Such atrocities have not been committed in Hungary, because journalists, whatever their convictions, are able to carry out their duties without suffering.
Paragraphs 9 and 14.3.2 of the draft resolution refer to Hungarian legislation. I will not quote them, but following his negotiations with the authorities, Mr Jagland – Secretary General of the Council of Europe – declared unambiguously that the regulations were acceptable, that the situation was satisfactory and that we should put an end to criticism of the national authorities of Hungary. In a 2013 meeting, the Council of Europe said that it did not consider any new legislation to be necessary. I will distribute copies of our laws and I call on colleagues to support our amendments to delete paragraphs 9 and 14.3.2.
THE PRESIDENT – As Mr David Davies is not here, I call Mr Reiss.
Mr REISS (France)* – Albert Londres summed up his job as a journalist by saying that journalists must make every effort to write from the heart of the wound. The journalists of Charlie Hebdo paid for that with their lives. The massacre reminded us that journalists are a special target for terrorists. They are also targets for dictatorships, because they understand that the freedom of the media is vital to the very existence of the democratic system. A citizen who is well informed is a free citizen.
Mr Flego’s excellent report shows that, in many countries of our Organisation, the idea of freedom of the media remains pie in the sky. Pressure is exercised on journalists in various forms, including violence, murder and more subtle acts of intimidation, and they are to be condemned. Professional journalists are victims, but those whom the rapporteur calls “netizens” have been persecuted for many years in some countries. For example, the report mentions the unacceptable case of Sergei Reznik in Russia in 2013. An increasing number of journalists and bloggers are being arrested in Azerbaijan. The very existence of media plurality in that country is in jeopardy.
We must be honest. Attacks on freedom are having an effect on the eastern part of our continent. Freedom of the press is in danger in parts of the European Union. We have heard from a Hungarian colleague. In Budapest, the station Klubrádió has become a symbol of the fight for the right to be informed.
We must not forget, as we were reminded by the winner of the 2015 Albert Londres prize, Mr Philippe Pujol, that the journalist’s cross-cutting relations with society – those he meets, as well as those he informs – means that he bears a great responsibility. Freedom is nothing without that awareness.
The extraordinary coverage of the Paris attacks showed the dangers of how seeking high-speed information can get in the way of police work. There was a tendency to forget the notion of responsibility. Adam Michnik, the famous Polish journalist, said that there are two parts to the ethics of journalists, namely freedom and truth. The need to investigate and check information before it is circulated should be at the very heart of the search for truth. That applies to all media, including on the Internet. The health of democracy and the freedom of the media are at stake.
Mr COZMANCIUC (Romania) – First, I express my profound condolences to the friends and family of all those killed or injured in the Charlie Hebdo attack. Acts of violence against journalists for reasons connected to their professional activity violate the individual’s right to express and impart ideas, opinions and information, as well as the right of citizens and societies as a whole to seek and receive information and ideas of any nature.
As stated in the European Union strategic framework and action plan on human rights and democracy, the European Union is founded on a shared determination to promote peace and stability and to build a world founded on respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The right to freedom of expression is sacred under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. We cannot talk about democracy if the principle of media freedom is not respected. Free media are essential to the quality and integrity of a democracy.
Media freedom assumes the recognition of the right of the journalist to seek information and express opinion without being restricted by any authority – political, administrative, economic, legal or otherwise. The history of the media is a history of struggle to promote and define the right to free expression, and journalists are extremely sensitive to any attempt to limit their freedom.
Improvements need to be made to media access. There is a battle against various age restrictions that block access to information and the right to freedom of expression.
Attempts to manipulate the media are unacceptable. Media freedom is in danger from various attempts to influence journalists, including offers of money, gifts, services and favours. Such attempts to condition behaviour are perceived negatively by journalists. They care about their reputation and professional prestige, and they are also bound by ethical codes. Attacks on media freedom can be crude and violent, psychological and intimidatory. They can include blackmail, physical threats and threats of job loss.
We need to defend freedom of expression. Ensuring the safety of journalists and eradicating immunity for crimes committed against journalists are our responsibility as parliamentarians. National governments are responsible for protecting journalists and other media actors from attack and for ending immunity. We are launching an Internet-based platform for freedom of expression, which will ensure the freedom and safety of journalists and other media actors. We hope it will help us to better address and combat violence.
THE PRESIDENT – I call Mr Downe, Observer from Canada.
Mr DOWNE (Canada) – I want to speak on the protection of media freedom. As the report states, media freedom is important for the democracy, political freedom and the rule of law in a country or region. In fact, it goes as far as to state: “Democracy and the protection of human rights depend on media freedom.”
In Canada, different levels of government protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives constitutional protection to “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.” That protection is based on the premise that in a democracy people must be free to discuss matters of public policy, criticise governments and offer their own solutions to problems.
The report notes that there has been a concerning deterioration of the safety of journalists and media freedom. I support the report’s call to “to strengthen the protection of media freedom domestically through law and practice, as well as internationally through the Council of Europe.”
The report importantly stresses that since 2012 the United Nations has worked with many United Nations agencies, States, non-governmental organisations and media organisations to implement its plan of action on the safety of journalists. That plan of action calls for positive contributions from different organisations, including the Council of Europe. I support the report’s recommendation that the Committee of Ministers promote the United Nations plan of action beyond 2014 and step up action in the field in accordance with United Nations General Assembly resolutions on the safety of journalists.
It is also important to encourage positive developments in this field, such as the new Internet-based platform for recording and publicising infringements of the rights granted by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. As the report notes, that platform has the potential to become an important means of increasing co-operation with NGOs that advocate media freedom. I agree with the report’s conclusion that the Assembly must follow closely the implementation of that initiative and contribute actively to it.
Mr JENSSEN (Norway) – We were all horrified by the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Yesterday, this Assembly condemned them and other attacks on reporters and journalists. We should also be horrified by the fact that journalists have been attacked, threatened, intimidated and even killed in recent years in several Council of Europe member States.
Freedom of speech implies the freedom to debate freely and the media’s freedom to shine a critical spotlight on authorities, companies, organisations and people who have power in society, including religions, churches and other religious societies. That is not only a right, but a foundation of a free and truly democratic society. In a truly free society, it is necessary to have a strong, diverse and independent media sector, which serves as a critical corrective to the abuse of power, corruption and opacity. The media require a regulatory framework in which to perform their mission, which must include media legislation protecting journalists’ sources and preventing censorship.
As Mr Flego’s report outlined, and as the Commissioner for Human Rights, Reporters Without Borders and other non-governmental organisations have documented, in the past decade violence against journalists – in particular, female journalists – has increased. Journalists have been harassed, attacked, arrested or killed. In conflict zones, such as Ukraine, the conditions are particularly harsh. I am not suggesting that such attacks are necessarily approved of by the authorities in the countries in which they happen; not every criminal act can be prevented. However, if those authorities do not investigate and punish the perpetrators, they are silently consenting to those crimes.
Everybody in this Assembly should do their utmost to prevent attacks on, and the killing of, journalists. If those crimes happen, we should ensure that the cases are investigated and the perpetrators punished. Impunity is not an option in a democratic society. For every journalist who is killed, many others are pressured into silence. The Council of Europe is the organisation for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and membership requires respect for those values, which include respect for a free and independent media and journalists.
Ms KYRIAKIDES (Cyprus) – We adopted the phrase “Je suis Charlie” after the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris. Terrorism cannot silence voices, and such attacks cannot drown the voice of the media or our ideas, beliefs and thoughts.
The instant solidarity across the globe after the Paris attacks demonstrated that freedom of the media is a basic human right. Freedom of the media is a prerequisite for the democratic functioning of all civilised societies. Many of our member States have achieved high standards of tolerance and respect and have safeguarded media freedom. Many have set up independent authorities. For example, Cyprus set up an independent commission and the Cyprus Media Complaints Commission, which is totally free from government interference. In that way, freedom of the press is maintained, standards are raised and a voice is given to those who should be heard: the press and the public.
However, as we all know, the independence of the media industry is affected by high-profile cases of political corruption. Journalism is often politicised, and media groups can succumb to financial and economic interest groups. Journalists are often not given access to information, and some lose their lives or are imprisoned for trying to spread information. We all agree that media freedom must be protected at all costs. Acceptance and respect for different voices are not negotiable. We must join together to help all member States take the necessary steps to ensure media freedom.
I congratulate Mr Flego on his excellent report, which not only highlights the grave extent to which media freedom is compromised across member States, but emphasises good practice. I hope only that the phrase “Je suis Charlie” leads to real change and the protection of media freedom, and that every time we hear it, we remember those who lost their lives or were imprisoned for advocating freedom of expression.
THE PRESIDENT – Lord Balfe and Mr Zheleznyak are not here, so I call Ms Korenjak Kramar.
Ms KORENJAK KRAMAR (Slovenia) – Journalists generally have access to more information than the average individual and therefore serve as the eyes, ears and voice of the public. It is thus of the utmost importance that proper conditions are created for their work. It is unacceptable for those of us who firmly support freedom of media expression to read about frequent restrictions on journalists’ freedom and safety – not only, in the worst cases, physical restrictions, but financial and existential restrictions.
I share the view of those who argue that freedom of the press, like freedom of speech, is not absolute. Particularly nowadays, with Internet facilities, it is important that the public can see the distinction between professional and non-professional journalism. If – in my opinion, this is more an exception – journalists exceed their powers, in democracies, such cases should be dealt with by the competent institutions, not by a group of individuals, often close to the establishment or to some organised group in a given country. That is not to mention the methods used. I can only congratulate the rapporteur on his work and courage.
The number of cases presented in the report and the figures showing that nine out of 10 cases of crimes against journalists go unpunished are terrifying. We must not forget that the attacks on journalists are also a direct attack on our right to be informed, which is one prerequisite, among others, for the proper exercise of our civic rights.
It is therefore our duty to put all our efforts into improving the situation, not only through our declarations but above all by actively participating in seeking concrete solutions and methods to prevent such criminal acts. I am talking not only about the killings but about all the other threats to journalists’ safety, with special attention on those that at first sight hide the actual intention, such as financial and existential restrictions. Given the ongoing financial crisis, such issues need to be handled with particular care. Since in most countries’ State budgets are approved in parliaments, it is parliamentarians’ direct responsibility to pay special attention to that.
Ms KARAPETYAN (Armenia) – Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of democratic rights and the touchstone of all the rights to protection with which the Council of Europe is concerned. There is a direct link between the level of freedom of speech and media in a given country and the shape of its democracy, rule of law and governance.
In that regard, we are deeply concerned about the deterioration of the safety of journalists and of media freedom in Europe and on its doorstep. We are particularly concerned about the specifically targeted physical attacks against journalists in Turkey and call for full judicial investigations into the many attacks against the media, civil society representatives and public figures. As you well know, for a long time, YouTube and Twitter were forbidden in Turkey. During the large-scale Gezi Park protests in 2013, the police reportedly assaulted at least 105 journalists while they were covering the events.
At present, journalists in Turkey still face significant threats to their safety and professional independence from over-restrictive laws, hundreds of questionable criminal investigations, new prosecutions of journalists, limitations on access to the Internet and intolerance of criticism of the government. The worst part is that, according to the report, the former Prime Minister and current President of Turkey, Mr Erdoğan, has been openly and directly putting pressure on and intimidating the heads of media companies and even blackmailing journalists.
We also bring to the attention of the Council of Europe the growing scale of acts of violence and intimidation against journalists in Azerbaijan, which is worse than in Turkey and got worse during 2014, including multiple cases of physical attacks, detention and imprisonment on what are thought to be fabricated charges and cases of judicial harassment and attempted blackmail by persons associated with the government.
The killings of journalists Elmar Huseynov in 2005 and Rafiq Tağı in 2011 remain unpunished. Dozens of journalists are currently in detention or serving jail sentences on spurious or politically motivated charges, as the regime in Baku systematically destroys independent institutions such as the media, political parties and non-governmental organisations.
A disturbing smear campaign has been conducted against Khadija Ismailova, a leading investigative journalist with Radio Azadlıq and Radio Free Europe. Unfortunately, the conditions are dangerous for human rights and the media in many other countries, too. In that regard, we support and salute the Council of Europe initiative and the international community’s efforts in the fight against impunity as a high priority in the protection of democracy and human rights. The report brings to our attention many such cases.
Mr ARIEV (Ukraine) – The last two years have been gravely difficult for journalists all over the world. Death and injuries were suffered at tragic events in Kiev one year ago. Later there were kidnappings and killings in Russian-annexed Crimea and terrorist-controlled parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. The terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris shocked the entire world.
There have been numerous killings of journalists in Russia caused by persecution of the free word in that State. Unfortunately, the amendment to the resolution that mentioned violations of media freedom in Russia was rejected by the committee, despite those facts being clear in the report. But I ask the Assembly to adopt it when we vote later.
Ukraine has been the focus of media freedom monitoring for the last two years. Unfortunately, we are now at the top of the list of the most dangerous countries for the press. That is because of the Russian invasion of Crimea and the terrorist attacks on parts of Eastern Ukraine. I could describe many horrible facts but time is limited. However, during the last Russian occupation, police searched the ATR Tatar TV channel in Simferopol. That must be strongly condemned by the Assembly.
Our newly elected government in Kiev has taken many steps to improve the media environment since our former president escaped to Russia last year. We have introduced media freedom legislation, adopted rules on public media and stopped interference in news politics by governmental organisations to support freedom of the media. By the way, we have to limit the distribution and broadcasting of some Russian media in Ukrainian territory. Information and propaganda wars conducted through the media by one State against another State could have dangerous effects. The Russian media used fake and provocative information during the annexation of Crimea and the military conflict in parts of Eastern Ukraine. You can find proof of that at www.stopfake.org. There is clear proof of Russian propaganda. Limitation of the distribution or broadcasting of information that is part of a media propaganda war is covered by paragraph 2 of Article 10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
We also have to be concerned about the continued brutal violations of media freedom and unacceptable persecutions of the press in Azerbaijan. The government of that republic is deaf to calls to liberate the media in that State. We could say the same about the Turkish Government. It is not fit for the government of a State that is negotiating to be part of the European Union to fight against free and independent journalists. Given the situation described in the report, we must continue to monitor the media environment in Europe.
Ms GAFAROVA (Azerbaijan) – It is well known that media create the public space for the dissemination of information and the expression of opinions. Media freedom therefore constitutes an important index for democracy, political freedoms and the rule of law in a country or region.
My country was mentioned in the report, and in several speeches, and that is why I should like to give some other information about it. Today, all the conditions for exercising free and independent mass media have been created and established in Azerbaijan, and liberty of speech, freedom of expression and information are vested and guaranteed in our country’s constitution.
At present, more than 1 800 mass media agencies have been registered in Azerbaijan – more than 1 700 of these are newspapers, and 80 are TV and radio agencies. Only 15% of newspapers and magazines were founded by governmental structures. More than 65% of the newspapers belong to different political and public organisations, private structures and legal persons. There is no limit placed by governmental structures on receiving official information. Press departments of different ministries and other State bodies are responsible for providing the community with official information. Ethnic and religious minorities face no limit in receiving mass media freely. Newspapers in languages of ethnic minorities are published or brought from abroad. None of the newspapers face restrictions in their circulation. All newspapers are freely distributed over the country. State censorship on mass media, including the press, is prohibited.
I should like to draw members’ attention to paragraph 147 in the report, where the names of several Azerbaijani journalists are listed. As you know, they were accused of different crimes, and not because they are journalists. Please be aware that two of the persons mentioned, Sardar Alibayli and Avaz Zeynalli, have been released from jail. They were pardoned by decree of the President of Azerbaijan. As this issue is quite sensitive, please be more attentive and rely on official and precise information.
It is difficult to imagine the 21st century without the Internet. Today, throughout the world, the Internet is one of the most powerful tools. Getting information is probably the biggest advantage offered by the Internet. Internet resources have been rapidly developing in Azerbaijan during the last decade. Most State institutions have websites. There is no problem using the Internet. Currently, about 75% of the population uses the Internet.
The new project for development of broadband Internet in Azerbaijan will start in 2015. The ultimate goals of the project are to provide the whole country, including remote rural areas, with high-speed Internet and to increase the share of broadband Internet users to 55%. This will allow Azerbaijan to reach the level of other developed countries by 2017.
Mr KANDELAKI (Georgia) – I thank the rapporteur for this important report. As the Assembly said in the resolution it adopted on the functioning of democratic institutions in Georgia last September, the overall situation with democracy is sliding back in every direction. Unfortunately, the media are not an exception.
On 15 July last year, Mr Erosi Kitsmarishvili, a media developer who established and propelled Rustavi 2 TV to the status of the most popular TV station in Georgia – he also reformed and significantly developed another TV station, Maestro TV, which was critical of the United National Movement Government when my party was in government – was found dead in his car with a bullet in his head. An investigation was started immediately on the basis of alleged suicide, but there was one strange detail: Mr Kitsmarishvili had buckled his seatbelt and turned the lights of his car on. If you want to commit suicide, belting yourself in and turning the lights on in your car is not exactly what you do. His brother has stated that he believes that Mr Kitsmarishvili’s fierce criticism of Mr Bidzina Ivanishvili, the de facto ruler of Georgia, who earned his fortune in Russia, might be something to keep in mind.
Just a month ago, almost the entire news crew of Maestro TV – another popular private TV station in Georgia – including the chief of news resigned, because, as they stated, the State chancellery, which is the prime minister’s office, was regularly interfering with its editorial policy, and because an adviser of the prime minister was about to take over its programming. So, all these people left Maestro.
Mr Ivanishvili has frequently called for a change of ownership of Rustavi 2. “These people who own the channel right now”, he said, “are not the real owners. Other people are, and they should go to court.” In that way, he pre-announced something he thinks should happen.
Last but not least, we now have amendments to Georgian legislation that attempt to severely limit the advertising opportunities for private broadcasters, and these would significantly threaten the media landscape in Georgia, which is not yet taken over by the oligarchs.
We have dramatic backsliding in different areas. The resolution that I mentioned said that almost the entire leadership of the main opposition party in Georgia is either already in jail, in pre-trial detention or under investigation and prosecution. But the media are not yet completely taken over, so I urge the rapporteur and all colleagues to keep an eye on that particular issue in Georgia.
THE PRESIDENT – I call Ms El Ouafi, from Morocco, Partner for Democracy.
Ms EL OUAFI (Morocco)* – I congratulate the rapporteur on the excellent work that has been done. This is certainly an appropriate opportunity to condemn the attack on journalists in Paris. Nothing can justify such an attack.
It is a great honour for me to take the floor here, within the framework of the Partnership for Democracy, which is teaching us a lot. Free and independent media are essential for democracy, and I say this as a parliamentarian in a young democracy that is in a process of transition and democratisation, but we are determined to succeed. Free and independent media are also important in combating corruption; that certainly does depend on the media to a great extent.
I should like to raise the issue of the coverage of immigration. We are seeking in the West to find an appropriate balance between free speech and responsible media. This is a very important issue. Immigrants, especially Muslim immigrants, have responsibility for approaching the issue of their integration, in many respects, in a serious manner, but at the same time I believe that there is a shared challenge. The media in the European Union have an important role to play in a market economy. It is important that media avoid the use of stigmatising images and messages.
There are many things that unite us, but unfortunately there is a general tendency in the media to exclude individuals on the basis of their religious connections, and there is not an attempt to bring new citizens into the house of common values. The ideology of Islam is used to justify extremism and patriarchal society. There is an attempt to conflate extremist ideology and the values of Islam. We need to adopt a responsible approach and shun the use of stigmatising messages, especially in election campaigns.
Ms VIROLAINEN (Finland) – I, too, thank the rapporteur for this excellent report. If we truly care for the fundamental values of the Council of Europe, we must protect freedom of the media. The terror attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris reminds us of the significance of freedom of speech and of the media. It also reminds us that respecting the opinions of others and standing up for freedom and basic human rights, as well as the right to self-express, are part of our fundamental values.
I hope that we all agree that acts of terror must be condemned regardless of their target. During the past 10 years, too many journalists have been murdered in our member countries, and too many are still in prison. I often wonder how we can let that happen year after year. I urge all member States to pay more attention to freedom of speech and to the safety of journalists, which the report also mentions. We should never close our eyes to the violent deaths of journalists. On the contrary, we should investigate them carefully, as Mr Kandelaki explained.
Reporters Without Borders publishes an annual press freedom index. The latest index reflects the attitudes and intentions of governments towards media freedom in the medium and long term. The same three countries – Finland, Netherlands and Norway – headed the index two years ago and again last year. The situation is unchanged for much of the European Union, as 16 of its members are still in the top 30, but the European model is unravelling. Unfortunately, bad legislation and violations of media freedom in some Council of Europe member States continue.
We also know that political instability often has a divisive effect on the media and makes it very difficult to report news and information independently. That is why it is so important to guarantee media plurality, and that requires transparency of media ownership, as the report states.
I hope that Je suis Charlie is not a passing phenomenon. We, as decision makers, must react by stepping up our efforts to safeguard freedom of speech.
Ms ANDERSEN (Denmark) – I am glad that we are having this debate today and I thank the rapporteur. The subject is crucial to this forum and to our principles. It is difficult to see how any society can move forward without media and free communications. It is therefore thought-provoking to see how we gather here, because although we all aim to support human rights, still we see regimes in fellow member States that do not allow media freedom.
For instance, it worries me that an office of Radio Free Europe was shut down in Azerbaijan, and that journalists there are systematically arrested. There is always some excuse, of course, such as that a particular journalist was a hooligan, drug dealer or whatever they can come up with. I would be surprised if journalists in Azerbaijan, for instance, were so much more criminal than the rest of us. Let me state the obvious: in a free society, you do not arrest journalists just for being critical, you do not arrest bloggers, and you do not harass people for Facebook updates and tweets.
On Tuesday, I attended a fringe event on media freedom in Azerbaijan. I want to thank the organisers for their fight to inform us all about what is really going on there. As shocking as it is, there is no media left there that is not controlled by the government. The worst thing is that we see the same tendency in other member States. We do not need any more nice words, because no blogger or journalist in prison can use them. We need action.
Frankly, regimes that can rule only by having a monopoly on everything, including the media, are not worthy of power, and they are not worthy of the responsibility that comes with being a member of this forum, which values freedom of speech and of the media so highly. I therefore really hope that member States that are shutting down the media and jailing journalists and bloggers will think twice and ask themselves why they are even here.
Ms FATALIYEVA (Azerbaijan) – I congratulate the rapporteur on this report. Some of its points are very important for the modern world, especially given what is going on now. The world is changing rapidly, and so too are some values. Some notions change their meaning, and attitudes towards some events and phenomena change. The same happens to the notion of freedom. When we say freedom, we mean opportunities, but unfortunately principles of freedom vary. We have recently seen some contradictions between freedom of speech, freedom of media and freedom of religion. Are there any borders to such freedom?
Freedom of the media should never lead to terrorism or extremism. Freedom of the media is the ability to deliver all the information to the audience and express any agreements or disagreements in the processes going on. Every State must determine its own notion of media freedom by answering a number of questions: what is freedom, what is tolerance and what is crime? I strongly believe that every country must admit that we need to have an overview of these notions and give new definitions.
We are proud that in my country we have already answered all those questions and never change the definitions. We fully accept and understand the importance of the role of the mass media in the development of civil society, and we have worked out specific mechanisms for achieving development. My colleague, Ms Gafarova, already mentioned what is happening in our country, but let me give you some information about the actions of the State. In 1998, the president signed a decree abolishing censorship. In 2000, as part of constant democratic reform, the ministry of press and information was abolished. In 2008, the president’s relief fund for mass media was established.
It is very sad to see our country named in this report. It would have been better to investigate the issues and get a clear picture of the situation before giving the views. Unfortunately, despite all the achievements, certain cases of arrest are still often politicised. Political or journalistic activities never exempt anyone from judicial investigations or responsibility. Democracy does not mean impunity. Journalism must serve peace and prosperity and must never become a type of business. It forms a society’s conscience and ideas. It educates the youth. Freedom of the media is no doubt an indicator of a democratic society, but violations of law and ethics should never become a part of democracy. It is unacceptable to interpret the freedom of the media as a tool for manipulating people’s feelings or applying pressure, and it should never serve the interests of certain circles.
Ms ANTTILA (Finland) – I thank Mr Flego for his good and important report on the protection of media freedom in Europe. Media freedom is very important for democracy as it creates the public space for the dissemination of information and the expression of opinions. It is the basis of democracy, political freedoms and the rule of law in any country. The events in Paris in January have opened our eyes to the threats we face today and the human rights of journalists must be guaranteed.
When we talk about media freedom, we must also remember media responsibility, especially when we are dealing with religious questions, which are of the utmost sensitivity. We must respect people's religious convictions. We have freedom of religious belief and everybody can choose their own. Some people see pictures of Mohammed as blasphemy against their religious conviction. Such matters are personal and sensitive so a lot of caution is needed. Journalists and cartoonists must remember that. A free media cannot mean that it should be possible to question people’s religious convictions. They must be respected in any situation.
I want more concrete proposals to promote media freedom but also to increase media responsibility. We must promote both freedom and responsibility. The report describes very well the different and serious violations of media freedom that have occurred in different States. We have sufficient information on what has happened, and what we need now are better tools to avoid further violence.
Ms PASHAYEVA (Azerbaijan) – I support the views of my Azerbaijani colleagues, so I shall not repeat them. As the draft resolution notes, freedom of speech and of the media is one of the basic conditions for the development of democracy, and all member States should increase their efforts in that direction.
I worked as a journalist for many years before coming to Parliament and, having worked in conflict areas for a long time, I share the rapporteur's concerns about attacks on journalists in such areas. Our Assembly should pay special attention to the issue. I lost a number of journalist friends in the conflict zone during the occupation of Azerbaijani territories by Armenia, so I reiterate the importance of the problem. Salatin Asgerova, Chingiz Mustafayev, Ali Mustafayev, Osman Mirzayev and many other journalists were killed by Armenian armed forces while carrying out their journalistic activities. Their murderers have not yet been sentenced and are still living freely in Armenia. Those journalists were purposely killed by the Armenian armed forces because of their attempts to inform the world community about the crimes committed by Armenian armed forces against innocent civilians in the occupied Azerbaijani territories. I call on the Assembly and the rapporteur to pay attention to this issue and to try legally to punish the murderers of these journalists.
Azerbaijan regained its independence 24 years ago and began to build a democratic State 20 years ago. Issues such as the occupation of Azerbaijani lands by Armenia and 1 million Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs made it impossible in the first years of independence to pay due attention to democratic reforms. For 20 years, great importance has been attached to freedom of the press and of the media. Much work has been done in that direction and reforms are being implemented. That should also be emphasised. There are currently significant projects, such as the one for the council for the support of mass media, which was established to promote State support to such media. There are also State grants to newspapers, which are in great difficulties because of the increasing power of online media.
I thank those who have given us constructive criticism, which is useful to us in helping us to promote freedom of the press and the media. However, it is with great regret that I must say that radical criticisms are still made in this Chamber and some of the points in the report are not based on substantial grounds. Such criticisms and double standards do not further deepening co-operation, but will undermine it. The Azerbaijani side will continue to expand on the progress made, but it is hoped that that there will be co-operation with the Assembly on the freedom of the press and the media in the future.
THE PRESIDENT – I call Mr Simms, Observer from Canada.
Mr SIMMS (Canada) – Thank you, Mr President, for giving me the honour of being able to speak. I do not have the honour of voting in this Assembly, but I can speak and I appreciate that.
Like many others, I congratulate Mr Flego on this report. It is one of the best that I have seen in the many years I have been coming here. I regret that I cannot vote in favour of it, but in consolation I will tell him that I support it in spirit and I hope that he will accept that. The report says, “the Assembly urges member States to step up their domestic and multilateral efforts for the respect of the human rights to freedom of expression and information…and security of those working for and with the media.” Just yesterday, the committee spoke about the amendment, which in one sense clarifies many things for all of us by stating that “Any attack on media and journalists is an attack on a democratic society.” I am extremely grateful for that.
I always like to bring an example from my own country, so I shall use one to illustrate how we ensure best practice in protecting the media. There is another dimension to the argument. We all talk about freedom of expression and as a former journalist I believe in that, of course, but the report shows that we all have institutions through which freedom of expression in the public sphere adheres to examples of good journalism. It is factual, of course, and it is based on fairness. Those two things allow us to put into our society the freedom of expression that creates plurality. Many countries should adhere to those examples, as illustrated in the report. On 19 November, the Committee of Ministers established an Internet-based freedom of expression platform that promotes protection for journalists. I congratulate the Committee on that, because it is essential.
Let me give a Canadian example. When the shootings happened in Paris at Charlie Hebdo, they were covered by our media, just as they were in all other countries. In Canada, the French public broadcaster decided to air the pictures of the comics, whereas the English side did not. Those decisions were based on editorial judgment. They were not influenced by the administration, by corporations or by any level of government. That is the type of exercise we need.
I congratulate Ukraine on moving from having a State broadcaster in April 2014 to allowing a truly public broadcaster.
I would highlight two points in the report. The first is the freedom of journalists to work without being subjected to violence, as we saw with what happened in occupied Ukraine. We also need to implore nations such as Turkey to get rid of provisions such as Article 301, which means that it is an insult and against the law to talk about Turkey in an inflammatory matter. That is the type of action that creates arbitrary decisions against journalism in our nations.
THE PRESIDENT – I do not see Mr Jakavonis, so the next speaker is Mr Denemeç.
Mr DENEMEÇ (Turkey) – I thank the rapporteur for his work and the co-operative dialogue that we engaged in throughout this process. I reiterate our condemnation of the horrific attack on Charlie Hebdo and express our solidarity with the French people. The attacks targeted the heart of freedom of expression and were intended to create an atmosphere of fear and hostility. The ultimate goal is the disruption of social cohesion and alienation of certain segments of society. These facts remind us of the importance of media freedom, the safety of journalists and a media environment that is functioning healthily.
In this context, I would like to touch upon certain criticisms made against the situation in Turkey. It has been widely stated that, on 14 December, the offices of media organisations in Istanbul were raided by the police and many journalists were arrested. The police operations were portrayed as a crackdown on media. However, this is not true, as the people involved were taken into custody on suspicion of falsifying evidence as part of a terrorist organisation. Out of 31 suspects, most were police officers and only two of them were media executives. Currently, only one TV executive is in custody. Furthermore, no media office was raided by the police. Nearly all the suspects, including the TV executive in question, were detained by invitation, rather than by the use of force. Only one suspect, who chose not to turn himself in, was taken by police officers for questioning.
Regarding the allegations that the press cards of 94 journalists have been revoked in Turkey, I would like to assure you that this is not the case. Not a single journalist has been blocked from using his or her professional privileges by any authority. Notwithstanding the importance of media freedom, the sensitivity of this issue should not be used to provide de facto immunity for those who seek to abuse the privileges of journalism for illegitimate purposes.
THE PRESIDENT – Unfortunately, it is now past 1 p.m., so I must now interrupt the list of speakers. If members on the speakers list who have been present during the debate but have not been able to speak would like to give their speeches to the Table Office, they will be published in the Official Report. The texts must be submitted in typescript – electronically if possible – no later than four hours from now, so by 5 p.m.
I will call the rapporteur to reply to the debate and the chair of the committee at the start of this afternoon’s sitting, before we vote on amendments to the draft resolution and recommendation.
I remind colleagues that we agreed at the start of today’s sitting to change the speaking limit in the debates that follow the votes on the amendments to four minutes.
3. Next public business
THE PRESIDENT – The Assembly will hold its next public sitting this afternoon at 3.30 p.m. with the agenda that was approved on Monday morning.
(The sitting was closed at 1.05 p.m.)
1. Statement by Mr Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Questions: Ms Christoffersen (Norway), Mr Agramunt (Spain), Mr Xuclà (Spain), Mr David Davies (United Kingdom), Mr Kox (Netherlands), Mr Mignon (France), Ms Bartos (Hungary), Mr Schennach (Austria), Mr Villumsen (Denmark), Ms Pashayeva (Azerbaijan) and Mr Sabella (Palestine)
2. Protection of media freedom in Europe
Presentation by Mr Flego of report of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media in Doc. 13664
Speakers: Sir R. Gale (United Kingdom), Mr Villumsen (Denmark), Sir A. Meale (United Kingdom), Mr Franken (Netherlands), Mr Garðarsson (Iceland), Ms Bilgehan (Turkey), Ms Schneider-Schneiter (Switzerland), Mr Rouquet (France), Ms Djurović (Serbia), Ms Taktakishvili (Georgia), Ms Magradze (Georgia), Ms Hoffmann (Hungary), Mr Reiss (France), Mr Cozmanciuc (Romania), Mr Downe (Canada), Mr Jenssen (Norway), Ms Kyriakides (Cyprus), Ms Korenjak Kramar (Slovenia), Ms Karapetyan (Armenia), Mr Ariev (Ukraine), Ms Gafarova (Azerbaijan), Mr Kandelaki (Georgia), Ms El Ouafi (Morocco), Ms Virolainen (Finland), Ms Andersen (Denmark), Ms Fataliyeva (Azerbaijan), Ms Anttila (Finland), Ms Pashayeva (Azerbaijan), Mr Simms (Canada) and Mr Denemeç (Turkey)
3. Next public sitting
Representatives or Substitutes who signed the Attendance Register in accordance with Rule 12.2 of the Rules of Procedure. The names of Substitutes who replaced absent Representatives are printed in small letters. The names of those who were absent or apologised for absence are followed by an asterisk
Alexey Ivanovich ALEKSANDROV*
Liv Holm ANDERSEN
Lord Donald ANDERSON
David BAKRADZE/Chiora Taktakishvili
Gérard BAPT/Philippe Bies
Gerard BARCIA DUEDRA*
Doris BARNETT/Gabriela Heinrich
José Manuel BARREIRO/Ángel Pintado
José María BENEYTO/Carmen Quintanilla
Sali BERISHA/Oerd Bylykbashi
Anna Maria BERNINI*
Maria Teresa BERTUZZI*
Andris BĒRZINŠ/Nellija Kleinberga
Anne BRASSEUR/Claude Adam
Piet De BRUYN/Petra De Sutter
Beata BUBLEWICZ/Ryszard Terlecki
Irakli CHIKOVANI/Giorgi Kandelaki
Tudor-Alexandru CHIUARIU/Viorel Riceard Badea
Carlos COSTA NEVES
Katalin CSÖBÖR/Mónika Bartos
Joseph DEBONO GRECH*
Manlio DI STEFANO*
Arcadio DÍAZ TEJERA
Peter van DIJK
Elvira DROBINSKI-WEIß/Annette Groth
Alexander [The Earl of] DUNDEE
Josette DURRIEU/Jean-Claude Frécon
Mustafa DZHEMILIEV/Andrii Lopushanskyi
Lady Diana ECCLES*
Tülin ERKAL KARA
Franz Leonhard EßL*
Joseph FENECH ADAMI*
Cătălin Daniel FENECHIU
Daniela FILIPIOVÁ/Miroslav Antl
Axel E. FISCHER
Gvozden Srećko FLEGO
Sir Roger GALE
Francesco Maria GIRO*
Carlos Alberto GONÇALVES
Alina Ştefania GORGHIU*
Fred de GRAAF*
Mehmet Kasim GÜLPINAR/Ahmet Berat Çonkar
Gergely GULYÁS/Attila Tilki
Antonio GUTIÉRREZ/Jordi Xuclà
Alfred HEER/Maximilian Reimann
Oleksii HONCHARENKO/Svitlana Zalishchuk
Jim HOOD/David Crausby
Ali HUSEYNLI/Sahiba Gafarova
Denis JACQUAT/Frédéric Reiss
Tedo JAPARIDZE/Guguli Magradze
Michael Aastrup JENSEN*
Frank J. JENSSEN
Antti KAIKKONEN/Sirkka-Liisa Anttila
Andreja KATIČ/Matjaž Hanžek
Unnur Brá KONRÁÐSDÓTTIR/Brynjar Níelsson
Ksenija KORENJAK KRAMAR
Marek KRZĄKAŁA/Michał Stuligrosz
Pierre-Yves LE BORGN'
Jean-Yves LE DÉAUT*
George LOUKAIDES/Stella Kyriakides
Trine Pertou MACH/Nikolaj Villumsen
Meritxell MATEU PI*
Liliane MAURY PASQUIER
Sir Alan MEALE
Ermira MEHMETI DEVAJA*
Ana Catarina MENDONÇA
João Bosco MOTA AMARAL
Piotr NAIMSKI/Andrzej Jaworski
Baroness Emma NICHOLSON/Ian Liddell-Grainger
Maciej ORZECHOWSKI/Helena Hatka
Sandra OSBORNE/Michael Connarty
José Ignacio PALACIOS
Waldemar PAWLAK/Marek Borowski
Cezar Florin PREDA
Mailis REPS/Rait Maruste
François ROCHEBLOINE/Yves Pozzo Di Borgo
Maria de Belém ROSEIRA*
Urs SCHWALLER/Elisabeth Schneider-Schneiter
Samad SEYIDOV/Sevinj Fataliyeva
Jim SHERIDAN/Jeffrey Donaldson
Lord John E. TOMLINSON
Mihai TUDOSE/Corneliu Mugurel Cozmanciuc
Ahmet Kutalmiş TÜRKEŞ
Dana VÁHALOVÁ/Ivana Dobešová
Snorre Serigstad VALEN
Imre VEJKEY/Rózsa Hoffmann
Vladimir VORONIN/Maria Postoico
Klaas de VRIES
Dame Angela WATKINSON/David Davies
Leonid YEMETS/Pavlo Unguryan
Marie-Jo ZIMMERMANN/Marie-Christine Dalloz
Naira ZOHRABYAN/Naira Karapetyan
Levon ZOURABIAN/Mher Shahgeldyan
Vacant Seat, Cyprus*
Vacant Seat, France*
Vacant Seat, Republic of Moldova*
Vacant Seat, Republic of Moldova*
Vacant Seat, ‘‘The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’’*
Representatives and Substitutes not authorised to vote
Lotta JOHNSSON FORNARVE
Eloy CANTU SEGOVIA
Partners for democracy
Nezha EL OUAFI
El Mokhtar GHAMBOU