C Explanatory memorandum by Ms Olena
Sotnyk, rapporteur for opinion
1. I congratulate the Committee
on Culture, Science, Education and Media for its report on “Media
freedom as a condition for democratic elections” and wish to pay
tribute to the rapporteur, Ms Gülsün Bilgeham, who left our Assembly
last year after more than 15 years of valuable work in defence of
democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
2. The report rightly addresses the problem of the technological
and social shift towards new media, online media and social media,
which is having an impact on the whole democratic decision-making
process, notably around elections, and raises specific challenges
that the current regulations do not fully address. Furthermore, media
coverage related to electoral processes must be regulated in such
a way as to reduce information disorder and hate speech.
3. There is concern that social media is undermining the quality
of information and that disinformation people receive has a potential
to weaken democracy. Furthermore, as stressed in a 2017 Council
of Europe report on “Information disorder: toward an interdisciplinary
framework for research and policy making”, which was presented to
our committee in June 2018, there is a lack of meaningful debate,
with internet users being split into “filter bubbles” of like-minded
people who are locked in echo chambers that reinforce their own
The Parliamentary Assembly already noted its concern over
the influence of online media on elections in Resolution 2143 (2017)
“Online media and journalism: challenges and accountability”.
According to a report by Freedom House, manipulation and disinformation
tactics damage citizens’ ability to choose their leaders based on
factual news and authentic debate. Over the last few years, the
practice has become significantly more widespread and sophisticated,
with bots, undue propaganda producers, and fake news outlets exploiting social
media and search algorithms to ensure high visibility and seamless
integration with trusted content. These actions are destroying trust,
polluting the information space and attempting to destroy public
discourse and democratic institutions.
5. A number of OSCE/ODIHR final election observation reports
highlight the overall lack of investigative and analytical coverage
in the media reporting of elections. In view of my experience of
election observation campaigns, frequent media bias in favour of
incumbents, particularly with regard to public service media, is
also one of the challenges identified by the election observation
missions which the Assembly regularly contributes to. In response
to undue propaganda and disinformation, there is a need for good
quality journalism, and it is advisable to support initiatives and
training courses aimed at enhancing the overall quality of election-related reporting.
At the last committee meeting on 11 December 2018, I pointed to
the dishonest propaganda which was disseminated during the elections
in Brazil and deemed it essential to educate critical minds. Restrictions on
internet freedom are doomed to fail as users will always find new
ways to disseminate information and fake news.
6. Media pluralism and independence are not enough to guarantee
a well-informed electorate. It is also essential that the receiver
of the information is capable of decoding it. Civic education, including
media education, can be of great help, and member States should
develop school curricula which reflect this concern. In this regard,
the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media is currently
preparing a report on “Media education in the new media environment”.
7. I would also like to point out that in paragraph 6 of the
explanatory memorandum, the rapporteur refers to the Venice Commission’s
Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters, which was an initiative
of our Assembly, and defines it as “practical guidelines”. We must
strongly reaffirm the Code as a “standard-setting document”, which
has provided significant assistance, since 2002, for the legislators
of a number of member States to improve their electoral legislation.
It is the most detailed legal instrument on electoral matters and
is used by the Assembly Bureau’s ad hoc committees for the observation
of elections as a basis for their work. The Code stresses in particular
that “media failure to provide impartial information about the election
campaign and candidates is one of the most frequent shortcomings
arising during elections”.
On 11 December 2018, our committee adopted a report prepared
by Dame Cheryl Gillan on “Updating guidelines to ensure fair referendums
in Council of Europe member States”,Note
which has been debated during the
January 2019 part-session, and which suggests that the Code should
be updated to take account of changes arising from the growth of
the internet and social media. Currently, the Venice Commission,
through its Latin America Sub-Committee, is also studying the role
of social media and the internet in democratic development, which
our Assembly should carefully follow.
9. The committee is also preparing a report on “Setting minimum
standards for electoral systems in order to offer the basis for
free and fair elections” (rapporteur: Mr Hendrik Daems), which will
include media freedom and elections in its analysis. Another report
on “Democracy hacked: how to respond?” (rapporteur: Mr Frithjof Schmidt)
is addressing the most pressing issues, such as election security
and society's resistance to misinformation. As stressed by our President,
Ms Liliane Maury Pasquier, on the 2018 International Day of Democracy,
“our societies must protect democratic processes of opinion-forming,
especially during elections. In the face of new realities, it is
up to us as elected representatives to formulate bold proposals
with new ideas for the future”.
I would like to suggest the following six amendments to the
The word “propaganda”
is used throughout the report (including in the draft resolution)
as referring to something negative and dishonest, which should be
absolutely avoided at all times. While the term may be slightly
pejorative, it is a form of communication that attempts to achieve
a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.Note
such, it cannot always be avoided in politics and put on the same level
as disinformation. The term could therefore be qualified as “undue
propaganda” in the resolution.
c Since the text under consideration is a resolution and
not a recommendation, the Assembly should call on member States,
and not recommend, to take action.
e The same as amendment c.
f I believe the World Forum for Democracy would represent
an excellent platform to discuss different aspects related to media
freedom, information and democracy, gathering media outlets, social
media players, journalists’ associations, civil society organisations,
internet users and policy makers.