Reply to Recommendation 1276 (1995) on the power of the visual image

Doc. 7469

22 January 1996

COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS

adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 16 January 1996 at the 555th meeting of the Ministers' Deputies


          Recommendation 1276 (1995) on the power of the visual image held the attention of the Committee of Ministers which fully agrees with the Parliamentary Assembly on the growing importance of visual images and techniques with regard to communication and the education of young people.  It shares the concern expressed by the Parliamentary Assembly with regard to the portrayal of violence in the media, particularly the visual media, and the link which may well exist between viewing violence scenes and violent behaviour.

          The concerns relating to the vulnerability of children and young people and the risks accompanying the use of new communications technologies to convey images have already led the Committee of Ministers to adopt the following Recommendations to member States: No. R (84) 3 on principles of television advertising, No. R (89) 7 concerning principles on the distribution of videograms having a violent, brutal or pornographic content and No. R (92) 19 on video games with a racist content.  These three texts, together with the European Convention on Transfrontier Television (ETS 132), and more specially Articles 7 and 11 thereof, lay stress on one of the fundamental principles of Council of Europe member States, namely the respect for human dignity and the rights of others.  They require media professionals to take account of the sensitivities of children and adolescents in their broadcasts and programmes.

          The 4th Ministerial Conference on Mass Media policy, held in Prague on 7 and 8 December 1994, also recognised the undue prominence given to the portrayal of violence in some media, notably broadcast media, without concern for its impact on the public.  In their Declaration on Media in a Democratic Society, the Ministers participating in the Conference stressed the need for guidelines at European level on this issue.

          In February 1995, the Committee of Ministers instructed the Steering Committee on the Mass Media (CDMM) to implement the follow-up action on the texts adopted at the Prague Conference.  It also requested the CDMM to call on the services of appropriate specialist groups whenever the need was felt.  In this connection, the CDMM created two groups of specialists who are currently examining the questions referred to in Assembly Recommendation 1276: the Group of Specialists on the portrayal of violence in the media (MM-S-VL) and the Group of Specialists on new communications technologies and their impact on human rights and democratic values (MM-S-NT).  In addition to the deliberations of these two groups, work is also being pursued by the Group of Specialists on Media and Intolerance (MM-S-IN) and the Standing Committee on Transfrontier Television (T-TT).

          Moreover, in 1989, the Council for Cultural Co-operation (CDCC) analysed the cultural aspects of communication and submitted suggestions to broadcasters after having studied the professional specifications of a number of public television channels in Europe.  Currently, the Culture Committee (CC-Cult) has set up a working group which is collaborating with the Steering Committee on the Mass Media (CDMM) on the "Culture, Communication and New Technologies" project which will extend over the period 1996-1998. Its studies are focusing on the impact of new technologies on cultural life.

          The 8th Conference of European Ministers responsible for Cultural Affairs, to be held in Budapest in October 1996, on the subject of the cinema, will tackle questions such as the need to train young people in critical viewing and will consider the best way of distributing works of quality.  In addition, the Partial Agreement on the European Support Fund for the co-production and distribution of creative cinematographic and audiovisual works "Eurimages" applies a particularly strict rule of not accepting or backing any projects which are pornographic, advocate violence or incite people to breach human rights.

          The strategies proposed by the Parliamentary Assembly, in paragraph 11 of the Recommendation, in particular the appeal to a European self-regulatory approach, are being or will be studied by the different committees and groups referred to in this reply to the Assembly.  These bodies are endeavouring to reconcile the principles of freedom of expression and information with the respect for other rights and freedoms secured inter alia by the European Convention on Human Rights.  According to paragraph 11.i, however, the code of conduct approach might have to co-exist with national laws on privacy.  Further clarification of this proviso would be needed, especially since privacy may be only one of the values at stake.

          The Group of Specialists on the portrayal of violence in the media (MM-S-VL) is mandated to work out guidelines at European level to address the portrayal of violence in the media as well as in videogames and computer-generated images, with special emphasis on violence which is likely to offend human dignity or cause psychological harm, notably on children and young people.  However, it should be underlined that drawing up codes of conduct on the portrayal of violence in the media entails many difficulties, especially the attainment of a consensus on the notion of "violence".

          As regards paragraph 11.ii, iii and iv of the Recommendation, the MM-S-VL and MM-S-IN groups are preparing an initiative on media education as a strategy for counteracting the prominence given to violence in certain media, and they are also considering the exercise of parental responsibility with regard to television viewing by children.

          With respect to the request made by the Assembly in paragraph 11.v of the Recommendation that research should be developed on possible links between violence on the screen and violent behaviour, the Committee of Ministers is in a position to inform the Assembly that the MM-S-VL has commissioned a scientific study so as to ascertain the different opinions on this topic and to avoid over-hasty conclusions.

          Questions raised in paragraph 11.vi are also subjects of the MM-S-VL and MM-S-NT groups' considerations.  On the other hand, as to subliminal advertising, this is banned under Article 13 paragraph 2 of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television (ETS 132).

          Regarding sub-paragraphs vii and viii of paragraph 11, the Committee of Ministers draws the attention of the Assembly to Resolution No. 1 on the future of public service broadcasting adopted at the Ministerial Conference in Prague in 1994.  This Resolution encourages public service broadcasters to develop procedures for allowing viewers and listeners to express their views on the way in which the media professionals serve their missions.  The Resolution supports the idea that public service broadcasting should be funded by public money alone (especially from licence fees).  In the great majority of States, however, public service broadcasting has to have recourse to advertising and sponsorship revenue.  Consequently it is not possible on the practical level to impose this ideal solution on all the member States of the Council of Europe.

          With regard to the watershed principle, or threshold time before which scenes likely to impair the physical, mental or moral development of children or adolescents should not be broadcast (paragraph 11.ix), the Committee of Ministers would recall Article 7, paragraph 2 of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television.

          In connection with paragraph 11.x of the Assembly Recommendation, the Committee of Ministers stresses that the encouragement of high-quality television programme material has always been one of the key principles of its audiovisual policy.  The creation of the "Eurimages" Partial Agreement in 1988, the European Convention on Transfrontier Television, especially Article 10 on cultural objectives, the European Convention on Cinematographic Co-Production (ETS 147), especially Article 5 thrusting aside projects offending human dignity from the benefit of the co-production, provide, amongst others, evidence of this policy.

          The Committee of Ministers draws the attention of the Parliamentary Assembly to the fact that the Steering Committee on the Mass Media (CDMM) is preparing the 5th Ministerial Conference on Mass Media Policy to be held in 1997.  The Committee of Ministers has therefore decided to transmit Assembly Recommendation 1276 to the CDMM so that it may take account of the text in its work, particularly with a view to this Ministerial Conference.  A similar decision has been taken with regard to the Culture Committee (CC-Cult) with a view to the forthcoming 8th Conference of European Ministers responsible for Cultural Affairs (Budapest, October 1996).  Furthermore, the Committee of Ministers has communicated the Recommendation under consideration to the Education Committee (CC-ED) and to the "Eurimages" Fund.  The text has also been sent to the Governments of member States.

          Pending the conclusions of the work being undertaken within the various committees and groups, the Committee of Ministers wishes to assure the Parliamentary Assembly, in connection with paragraph 12 of the Recommendation, that it fully intends to examine every measure, which will be submitted to it by the specialist committees, aimed at combating the portrayal of violence in the media and promoting education and training in interpreting video images. The Committee of Ministers will not fail to keep the Parliamentary Assembly informed of the follow-up action which it has taken on the proposals of the bodies concerned.