The state of media freedom in Europe
- Parliamentary Assembly
debate on 24 January 2013 (8th Sitting) (see Doc. 13078, report of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education
and Media, rapporteur: Mr Johansson). Text adopted by
the Assembly on 24 January 2013 (8th Sitting).
1. The Parliamentary Assembly stresses
that freedom of expression and information constitutes a cornerstone
of good governance and thriving democracy, as well as a fundamental
obligation of each member State under Article 10 of the European
Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5, “the Convention”). Member States
have, in particular, a positive obligation under Articles 2 and
10 of the Convention to protect journalists against attacks on their
lives and freedom of expression, and prevent impunity of the perpetrators.
2. The Assembly condemns the numerous attacks against investigative
journalists as well as threats against people working with investigative
media, such as Sergei Magnitsky who was tortured and murdered in a
Russian prison in 2009. The Assembly calls on the competent authorities
to properly investigate such cases in order to bring to justice
those who instigate them.
3. Regarding the assassination of Rafiq Tagi in Azerbaijan in
2011, the Assembly reiterates its 2007 condemnation concerning a
death fatwa that had been issued against him in Iran for having
published the Mohammed cartoons of the Jyllands-Posten in
a newspaper in Azerbaijan. Welcoming the arrest and adjudication
in Denmark, in June 2012, of a group of Islamist criminals who had
planned a major assault on the Copenhagen office of the Jyllands-Posten, the Assembly condemns
the recent Iranian death fatwa against Shahin Najafi in Germany
and emphasises that authorities in member States must fight against
religiously framed or other terrorism which threatens human lives
and the freedom of expression.
Referring to paragraphs 4 and 5 of its Recommendation 1897 (2010)
on respect for media freedom, the Assembly welcomes
the fact that the respective murderers of Ivo Pukanic and Niko Franjic
in Croatia, Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelov in Russia,
as well as of Hrant Dink in Turkey, have been arrested and adjudicated
by national courts. It remains necessary, however, to further investigate
the personal environment of these murderers in order to find possible
collaborators and to combat effectively those environments which
are hostile to media freedom.
5. In view of the numerous murders of, and serious physical attacks
against, journalists in Russia, the Assembly notes the establishment,
in 2011, of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation
under the Russian President. The Assembly calls on this committee
to continue the work of previous investigative bodies, publish periodically
the progress of its work and establish rules for its good governance
and judicial supervision. The Assembly invites the Commissioner
for Human Rights to prepare a report on the efforts by the Russian
authorities to combat effectively the de
facto impunity for the numerous murders of journalists
and human rights defenders in Russia.
6. The Assembly is shocked by the extremely high number of journalists
imprisoned, detained or prosecuted in Turkey for having expressed
their political opinions and contributed to the political debate necessary
in a vibrant democracy. The enormous number of cases has a paralysing
effect on Turkey’s media environment and journalists.
7. While welcoming the fact that the Third Judicial Reform Package
adopted by the Turkish Parliament on 2 July 2012 may prevent excessively
long detentions in the future, the Assembly notes with concern that previously
imposed detentions still continue and ongoing trials continue to
be adjudicated by the previous special courts. The Assembly calls
for the findings of the Commissioner for Human Rights in his report
of 12 July 2011 to be fully implemented by the Turkish Government
8. The legislative revision in 2008 of Article 301 of the Turkish
Penal Code has not resolved the problem that this article can be
applied unduly against journalists and others, as stated by the
European Court of Human Rights in the case of Altuğ
Taner Akçam v. Turkey on 25 October 2011. Therefore,
the Assembly calls on Turkey to repeal Article 301 immediately.
9. It is rather difficult for the Assembly to comprehend the
large number of criminal investigations which have been initiated
against journalists under Articles 285 and 288 of the Turkish Penal
Code, Article 6 of the Turkish Anti-terror Law and related legal
provisions, in particular for having reported on the massive court
trials concerning the Ergenekon criminal organisation. The sheer
number of cases is an indication of a serious violation of media
freedom, also in the light of Committee of Ministers Recommendation
Rec(2003)13 on the provision of information through the media in
relation to criminal proceedings.
10. Welcoming the assistance and co-operation projects established
by the Council of Europe with Turkey upon the invitation extended
by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in April 2011,
the Assembly invites the Secretary General of the Council of Europe
to assess the impact of this action and to review and possibly increase
co-operation activities in the field of media freedom.
11. The Assembly notes the amendments made in May 2012 to the
media laws adopted in Hungary in 2010, but regrets that those amendments
address only a small number of the concerns raised by the Commissioner for
Human Rights in his opinion of 25 February 2011 and do not prevent
the abuse of such laws for restricting media freedom. Therefore,
the Assembly calls for the Commissioner’s findings to be fully implemented
by the Hungarian Government.
12. The Assembly condemns the persistent and systematic violation
of media freedom in Belarus and reminds its government of its obligations
under Articles 9, 19 and 25 of the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights. With Belarus being a candidate for membership
of the Council of Europe and a Party to the European Cultural Convention
(ETS No. 18), the acquis of
the Council of Europe, including the case law of the European Court
of Human Rights, constitutes a relevant frame of reference for the
authorities in Belarus. In this context, the Assembly welcomes the
recent establishment by the United Nations Human Rights Council
of a special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Republic
of Belarus and invites this rapporteur to co-operate with the relevant
committees of the Assembly.
13. The Assembly urges the authorities in Belarus to properly
investigate the disappearance of the photo journalist Dmitry Zavadsky
in 2000 and the death of the founder of the news website “Charter
97”, Aleh Byabenin, in 2010; release immediately Ales Bialiatski
from prison and Anton Suryapin from detention; waive the penalties
for Iryna Khalip, Andrzej Poczobut, Pavel Sverdlov, Yulia Doroshkevich
and Iryna Kozlik; drop the prosecution charges against Natalya Radina,
Andrzej Poczobut, Pavel Yevtikheev, Andrey Tkachev, Roman Protasevich,
Oleg Shramuk and Sergei Bespalov; and stop their practice of issuing
administrative warnings to media and associations, in accordance
with the opinions of 17-18 December 2010 and 17-18 June 2011 adopted
by the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission).
14. The considerable growth in Internet media has widely increased
the possibilities for everyone to receive and impart information
and ideas without interference by public authorities and regardless
of frontiers in accordance with Article 10 of the European Convention
on Human Rights. The Assembly condemns the prosecution, detention
and imprisonment of Internet users for having expressed political
criticism of the government, for example in Azerbaijan, the Russian
Federation and Turkey, as well as in Belarus.
Recalling its Resolution
“Towards decriminalisation of defamation”, the Assembly
deplores the excessive application of criminal laws on defamation
in Azerbaijan and Turkey, as well as the excessive legal actions
under related civil law in Bulgaria and the Republic of Moldova.
The Assembly, while welcoming the efforts of Armenia to address
the issues with regard to libel suits, encourages the Armenian authorities
to continue work in this direction. The Assembly expresses its concern
regarding attempts to restore criminal prosecution for defamation
in the Ukrainian legislation. Referring to the recent fourteen-month
prison sentence imposed on Alessandro Sallusti in Italy, the Assembly
asks the Venice Commission to prepare an opinion on whether the
Italian laws on defamation are in line with Article 10 of the European
Convention on Human Rights.
16. The Assembly recalls the crucial importance of freedom of
expression and information through the media before and during elections.
The Assembly therefore calls in particular on Armenia, Azerbaijan,
the Russian Federation, Turkey and Ukraine to take steps to remedy
shortcomings identified in recent election observation reports.
Member States are reminded of Committee of Ministers Recommendations
CM/Rec(2007)15 and No. R (99) 15 on measures concerning media coverage
of election campaigns. The Assembly expresses its concern about
the record number of violations against journalists recorded in
Ukraine in the last ten years, especially during the 2012 parliamentary
17. The Assembly regrets that media ownership is not made transparent
in all member States and asks them to adopt the necessary provisions
to this end. Lack of transparency is typically used to hide political
or commercial interests in controlling major media companies. The
Assembly calls on member States to take proper action for ensuring
media transparency and pluralism and promoting journalistic standards.
It welcomes the report on transparency of media ownership in Europe
prepared by Access Info Europe (Madrid) and the Open Society Media
Programme (London) in October 2012 and invites the European Audiovisual
Observatory (Strasbourg) to develop further its MAVISE database
on media ownership and to provide assistance to its members in establishing
transparency of media ownership.
18. The Assembly notes with concern recent incidences of collusion
of media and media owners with politicians and State officials,
which undermine public confidence in democratic government and independent media.
Politicians and State officials must avoid any relations with the
media which may lead to a conflict of interest, anti-corruption
laws should be implemented and media and journalists should adhere
to their professional ethics. In this context, the Assembly welcomes
the establishment in 2011 by the British Government of the public
inquiry led by Lord Justice Leveson into the practices and ethics
of the British media, following the police bribery and phone-hacking
scandal of the News International Group.
Despite the multiplication of digital media outlets, public
service broadcasting remains a major source of information in Europe.
The Assembly notes with concern recent reports about political pressure
on public service broadcasters in Hungary, Italy, Romania, Serbia,
Spain and Ukraine and invites the European Broadcasting Union to
co-operate with the Council of Europe in this regard. It reminds
member States of paragraphs 8.20 and 8.21 of its Resolution 1636 (2008)
on indicators for media in a democracy: “public service broadcasters
must be protected against political interference in their daily
management and their editorial work; senior management positions
should be refused to people with clear party political affiliations;
public service broadcasters should establish in-house codes of conduct
for journalistic work and editorial independence from political
20. The Assembly regrets that governments in some member States
have replaced senior staff in their public service broadcasters
after a change in government in order to influence the political
orientation of those broadcasters. In this regard, it is particularly
alarming that the Georgian Prime Minister suggested merging the Georgian
public service broadcaster with the private broadcaster TV9 owned
by his wife and amending the Georgian law on broadcasting.
21. The Assembly expresses concern over a series of surprise financial
inspections of the Georgian public broadcaster, following aggressive
political statements by senior government officials in parallel
with the introduction of controversial amendments to the law on
broadcasting. These steps preceded statements by Prime Minister
Bidzina Ivanishvili on the desirability of the public broadcaster’s
merger with TV9, owned by his wife, as well as of ownership shifts
in the private Georgian media.
22. The Assembly regrets that many journalists in Europe work
in precarious situations resulting from an increase in freelance
positions, lack of respect for social rights and generally low income.
Where the journalistic profession is weakened by such circumstances,
professional quality and ethics are at stake. The Assembly reminds
member States of the revised European Social Charter (ETS No. 163)
and invites journalists to use their collective rights in order
to improve their employment conditions.
23. The Assembly welcomes the successful organisation of the Inter-parliamentary
Seminar on the Independence and Financing of Public Service Broadcasting,
which was hosted by the Croatian Parliament in Zagreb on 15 October
2012 with the financial support of the Open Society Media Programme.
It invites national parliaments and partner organisations to collaborate
on similar projects in the future.