CoE: Committee of Ministers describes the protection of journalism and safety of journalists as alarming and unacceptable

by Katrin Welker
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe published a Recommendation on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists. The Recommendation is based on the documents published by the media, non-governmental organisations and human rights defenders.

The abuses and crimes that journalists are suffering from are described as alarming and unacceptable. They range from being threatened and harassed to torture and even killing because of their investigative work. These crimes especially happen in cases where the work is focused on misuse of power, corruption, human rights violation, criminal activities, terrorism and fundamentalism. Furthermore, the Committee is emphasizing the specific gender-related dangers of female journalists ending up in sexual aggression and violence which are taking place increasingly online. In these cases the Committee of Ministers sees a need for urgent, resolute and systemic responses. These crimes and abuses would have a grave chilling effect on the freedom of expression as safeguarded by Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

The Recommendation was elaborated to strengthen the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists and to enforce more effective implementation of existing international and regional standards and enhance compliance with existing monitoring mechanisms and initiatives. Therefore, the Committee of Ministers outlined that the Member States have to fulfil a range of positive obligations and set them out in the principles of the recommendation. Such obligations are to be fulfilled by the executive, legislative and judicial branches of governments, as well as all other State authorities.

The guidelines of the Council of Europe are built on four pillars: prevention, protection, prosecution and promotion of information, education and awareness-raising. Within each pillar the Recommendation is offering a detailed guidance to Member States on how to fulfil their relevant obligations, combining legal, administrative and practical measures. The last part of the Recommendation is concentrated on giving an overview of principles anchored in the ECHR and in the relevant judgments and decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

The Recommendation shows that the Committee of Ministers is aware of the problems of journalists as well as those of whistleblowers and bloggers and is offering a detailed help to Member States to rectify the current situation and to minimize the risks investigative journalists are faced with. If the Member States will implement the Recommendations, the freedom of expression and corresponding the function of the press as a public watchdog will be strengthened.

Katrin Welker works as a scientific researcher at the Institute of European Media Law (EMR), Saarbrücken/Brüssel.

Read more

Recommendation CM/Rec(2016)4 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors is available here.

German version