AS (2017) CR 04
2017 ORDINARY SESSION
Tuesday 24 January 2017 at 3.30 p.m.
Attacks against journalists and media freedom in Europe
The following texts were submitted for inclusion in the official report by members who were present in the Chamber but were prevented by lack of time from delivering them.
Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – This is a good report which highlights the problems facing journalists and media freedom in Europe. However, I think to understand fully what it is really about we need to unbundle it a little. I do so as a former member of the BBC in London.
The first unbundling I would do is between journalists and media freedom. The situations in which they can or indeed need to be protected from attacks vary immensely. Journalists are individuals who, by and large, make up their own minds whether they are going to cover troublesome situations such as wars or other disturbances. In these situations, they put their own lives on the line to bring us the stories of the day and take the risks associated with that. In these circumstances, I do not see how it is possible to prevent attacks on journalists.
On the other hand, there is the sort of situation faced by Alexander Adamescu, a German citizen who lives in London and is the son of a Romanian newspaper owner. Romania Libera is a moderate centre-right paper but it is a thorn in the side of Romania’s left-wing government. His father has already been imprisoned on trumped-up charges of bribing judges. Now the government is going after the son in the same way – in part to get full control of his father’s assets. This type of situation has to be defended to the hilt notwithstanding terrorism legislation. In this case, the use of the European arrest warrant is to be deplored.
Continuing the unbundling, we must separate the role of media institutions from the activities of journalists, although the two are connected. The emphasis here is on the protection of the institution to report and say what it finds to be acceptable. But with this comes the need for accountability and for the highest standards in editorial integrity. That has not always been present in media institutions, even respected ones in Europe – as was witnessed in the way in which, during the Christmas before last, they dealt with the situation of women molested in Cologne and other places allegedly by Muslim refugees.
In these circumstances, while we should uphold the rights of organisations to publish views and stories with which we may not agree, we must also uphold the responsibilities of media organisations to follow the highest of standards.
Ms PALIHOVICI (Republic of Moldova) – I would like to thank the rapporteur Mr Ariev and the committee for the great work achieved in compiling this report, which carries great importance for Council of Europe members, including my own country.
This matter is indeed a critical problem in many countries that strive to become more democratic and to ensure media freedom and journalists’ safety. Unfortunately, it is not a problem only for the frozen conflict areas or for areas with ongoing open conflicts. These are harsh and extreme cases and we should condemn them, bring such precedents to the attention of the international community and seek justice.
I wish to draw your attention to a phenomenon that fragile democracies in eastern Europe are facing. As citizens, and sometimes as legislators, our hands are tied because the infringements of journalists’ freedom and security are made through judicial power rulings, with compulsory penal decisions. Independent journalists and media outlets, due to the different types of media monopoly, are put in danger and intimidated for their investigative work. Their work is just about exposing facts and showing the general public details about public officials or people holding a paid position funded by the State budget.
However, it is becoming a luxury nowadays to actually do this, including in the Republic of Moldova. Independent investigative journalists who have the courage to face different types of intimidation and who publish unknown facts about public officials are put in a corner and pressurised. The recent case that has public resonance at the moment is that of a journalist from the Centre for Investigative Journalism who has been called before the prosecutor after publishing an investigative article about a public official and who faces the allegation that she used and published personal data without the approval of the person concerned.
I invoked this case today in order to appeal to all Council of Europe States, including the Republic of Moldova, to listen to the plea of the journalists. We should develop clear legislation on the protection of personal data which will not limit the independence of journalists.We should all pledge to prevent political interference on media outlets, to strive for total transparency in media ownership and to defend free journalism. The Assembly should guarantee that no one in the member States can infringe the freedom of expression of those who are supposed to be the watchdogs in every democracy – independent journalists. This is a very dangerous tendency and it should be left in the previous century.