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22 June 2021 morning

2021 - Third part-session Print sitting

Sitting video(s) 1 / 1

Opening of the sitting No. 17

Debate: Media freedom, public trust and the people’s right to know

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

09:04:30

Good morning, everybody.

The sitting is open.

This morning the Agenda calls for the election of a judge to the European Court of Human Rights in respect of Croatia.

The list of candidates and biographical notices are to be found in Documents 15295 and 15318 Addendum 2.

These elections will take place by individual electronic secret ballot voting between 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. today.

Each political group has appointed a teller according to the rules. The tellers are:

EPP : Ms Danuta JAZLOWIECKA (Poland)

SOC : Mr Stefan SCHENNACH (Austria)

ALDE : Mr Claude KERN (France)

EC : Mr Axel KASSEGGER (Austria)

UEL: Mr Ólafur Þór GUNNARSSON (Iceland)

I will announce the result of the election at this afternoon’s sitting.

For this first ballot, an absolute majority of the votes is required. If a second round has to be organised, it will take place tomorrow morning.

I now declare the ballots open.

The first item of business this morning is the debate on the Report titled “Media freedom, public trust and the people’s right to know” (Doc. 15308) presented by Mr Roberto RAMPI on behalf of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media.

In order to finish by 11:30 a.m., I will interrupt the list of speakers at about 11:15 am to allow time for the reply and the vote.

I call on Mr RAMPI, Rapporteur. You have 10 minutes in total, of which seven minutes is for your opening remarks and 3 minutes for your reply.

The floor is yours. 

Mr Roberto RAMPI

Italy, SOC, Rapporteur

09:06:37

Mister President, ladies and gentlemen,

We come today to the approval of an important, complex work, the result of a collective intelligence that involved many parliamentary colleagues, that involved the people of the office staff and the leadership of our committee, who really put in their heart and soul and helped us to produce a very complete and very important result.

We went through this strange period, we were the first committee, Chair, to be meeting remotely. We tested this new method just to deal with the report on the right to knowledge. Today we are here in this session: still hybrid, still with these masks on. Yet we have demonstrated a resilience of democracy.

However, this is precisely the point. Tonight I was thinking about the emotion that must be felt by those who, while sailing across the ocean, see land and scan the horizon to understand when a new land appears for the first time. I believe that we in democracy are in this choice. We can try to continue to navigate in our own calm sea, as our Mediterranean used to be, where many dangers loom, or we can try to cross the Pillars of Hercules and attempt to reach a new land.

I believe that the time has come for democracy to try to cross these Pillars of Hercules, and I believe that this right of a new generation that we are trying to define today in this Assembly is precisely along these lines.

Let us start with some well-established elements. For example, this Assembly, this institution of ours, has been working for a long time on the Tromsø Convention. It is an important convention. Many countries have yet to ratify it; there are now 11. It guarantees transparency, transparency of access to documents and transparency of access to information for citizens. The ratification of this convention is a fundamental element.

Then there is the fundamental issue of freedom of the media, freedom of journalists, and awareness of who owns the tools of our information. Therefore, citizens must be able to understand how we are informed, why we are informed and what interests there are. This Assembly has worked hard on this, adopting reports and reports. There is work that we can do.

Then there is an important issue that concerns political freedom more generally, freedom of debate. However, all these questions are issues that we have already addressed and are not enough. Today, when we say the right to knowledge, we are saying something more. We are saying something which concerns the effective possibility for citizens to be informed, to have access to information, to understand the information they receive and to be able to truly intervene in the public debate, to be able to truly influence issues and to be able to truly access and have their say.

This is something that must be built up using other instruments that we have not yet dealt with. As the Committee on Culture, we deal with cultural institutions, cultural venues, theatres, museums, libraries, concerts and live performances. We believe that all these instruments, for example, are fundamental for giving citizens those critical tools and intellectual conditions, those abilities to understand, which are a necessary condition for the right to knowledge.

Then there is the fundamental issue of the quality of debate, political debate and debate within parliaments.

We are parliamentarians. We take part in the parliamentary activities of this House, but each of us takes part in the parliamentary activities of our own national parliaments. We know how today there is a risk that parliamentary debate will become increasingly reduced, that it will be reduced to pre-established suppositions, and that parliamentarians will vote only on the instructions they are given.

Marco Pannella, who was a great Italian political figure and who was undoubtedly the inspiration behind this report, used a term evoking an old motto of Italian Fascism. The motto was "believe, obey, fight". Marco Pannella said "believe, obey, vote". That is, the instructions would come and you would vote without really putting your side in.

Well, I believe that the fact that parliamentarians are increasingly free to choose, to understand, to evaluate from time to time amendment by amendment, report by report, law by law what to support, what to vote for in their free conviction, is an element. However, for this, the political debate must be qualified and the timeframe must also be qualified.

One last thing. In the report, we think a great deal about the possibility of genuinely monitoring the sources of information, and of monitoring which, please note, does not only concern the possibility of sanctioning, which is always very dangerous, because the borderline with censorship is immediate. No, the issue is to give citizens the opportunity to understand, to understand what mechanism has developed within the construction of that television presence. For example, in Italy for a certain period of time there was an observatory in Pavia that told us what relationship existed between the presence of politicians on television and the results in elections and polls. Because the more a person is visible, the more his consensus grows. But this is a consensus that is obviously induced.

One last issue, I'm almost out of time, is the issue of artificial intelligence. This assembly has worked on it. We have adopted documents in this direction. Artificial intelligence is an important tool today. It can also have important positive results, but awareness on the part of citizens of what the algorithm is that conditions the possibility of accessing or not accessing certain information is fundamental.

I will end with this, Mister President, ladies and gentlemen.

Today is a special day, and fate has seen to it that this debate of ours, this approval, I hope and wish, falls on the day on which what we all know happened to Galileo Galilei. Galileo Galilei was forced by the powers that be to accept as true something that was not true and which he was not convinced was true. I believe that this is a point: power must not force us to accept a truth that is not true, power must encourage intelligence and the creative capacity to discover new ideas and issues that represent our future. This was the case with Galileo, and I believe that we should always ensure that if there are any Galileo Galileans around in Europe today, the power helps them, lends them a hand and does not complicate their lives or force them to abjure.

Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

09:14:13

Thank you, Mister RAMPI.

We now come to the debate with speakers on behalf of political groups. I first called on Mr André GATTOLIN on behalf of ALDE.

Mr André GATTOLIN

France, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

09:14:36

Thank you, Mr President.

I thank the rapporteur, Mr Roberto RAMPI, whom I greet fraternally for his excellent report.

The report was excellent,

Democracy is in danger. The Council of Europe had to be able to respond to the needs of the people of Europe and to the needs of the world. I apologise for this perhaps somewhat dramatic tone, but coming from a country where the elections held last Sunday in France saw an abstention rate of 67%, there is cause for concern.

Yes, pluralist debate is respected in France. Yes, we have political forces from the extreme right to the extreme left running for office, yet citizens are deserting the ballot box and refusing to participate in the electoral process. We are in a society that has become extremely paradoxical: the more our inhabitants, the more citizens have a high level of education, the more the number of media – or in any case, I would say, companies that act as media, such as social networks – develop, the more we see a desertion of interest in decision making and public debate.

If we want to find some structural explanations for this, it is the fundamental evolution of our societies. First, we have an acceleration of political time. More and more decisions are taken by governments before parliaments, with an increasing number of laws being drafted ever more quickly. We also have an increased technicalisation of subjects. The strengthening of technical and administrative decision-making in our democratic functioning to the detriment of politics and the time for debate and deliberation is extremely serious.

Political power is also challenged by the economic power of new large international groups, the so-called digital or Internet giants. These no longer have much in common with the multinationals that were denounced in the 1970s. They are no longer just players in the debate: they have become the masters of ceremonies of the debate, the place of debate and, with algorithms, we are building individuals who, if not open, are closed in a digital bubble.

This whole debate, this proposal on the rule of law and especially on the right to know, is essential. I would also like to pay tribute here to the memory of Marco Pannella, whom I knew well, who was a member of this House in the late 1980s and who was also a member of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, because it was he who initiated this debate on the right to know. I believe that it is extremely important to develop it today as a right that allows all rights. There is no right without the ability to know, to have access to knowledge, and that is essential.

I naturally call on you to adopt this report. Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

09:17:53

Next speaker on behalf of the European Conservatives Group is Ms Nigar ARPADARAI from Azerbaijan.

Ms Nigar ARPADARAI

Azerbaijan, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

09:18:08

Dear colleagues,

First of all, I thank the rapporteur for working on this extremely important subject.

I would like to attract your attention to the issue of algorithmic transparency. Virtually any member of parliament in any country today must use social media. It is the largest avenue to project ideas and collect feedback from society, and in theory, social networks are a perfect tool for promotion of democracy and freedom as they allow direct and live public discussion, but are they in reality?

An influencer, in order to reach out to public, must adapt to the algorithms of social media, presenting information in a way which fits into current agenda and format of social media owners and managers. But once he does, the agenda and format changes, and so do algorithms. One has to adapt again, and again and again. This permanent change affects both the form and content of communication, and it happens at will of social media owners. Without much scrutiny. What are the motives of social media captains when they keep on changing the algorithms and filters, making money? Definitely yes. It is the legitimate goal and social media investors and owners absolutely entitled to gain profits but when the current size on social media and their influence over markets and societies, there is one very dangerous past that must be watched carefully. It is gaining leverage over market and societies and eventually making mega profits through providing political favours.

Unclean politics is the most profitable business in the world, and today's social media are at the core of this temptation. Helping one candidate against another, censoring a politician on ideal logical grounds because you don't like his ideas. Where is the thin line between banning someone from a social platform because he's a danger to society and doing the same because you are helping his political adversaries? Is it a big deal if you change your algorithms just a little bit to favour one idea or politician and to suppress another? Social networks are owned and managed by people just like us and all people are subjected to temptation and power gone unchecked. From this point of view, the right know is very important, but I would go further and state that this right should be mirrored by the obligation to disclose. In particular, in respect of algorithms use, the algorithms of social networks should be published automatically and should be open to scrutiny. A feasible mechanism for finding the right balance between public interest and private interest based on confidentiality of commercial information, intellectual property and know-how is needed. Obligation is disclosed paired with the right to know, ask questions and get answers is the only way to protect public interest in a long term. However, even firm implementation of these two mirroring principles will not serve as a one hundred per cent firewall, and it will allow people to just ask to duly represent our people and not to swim in the ambiguous waters of today's social media with it in online bullying misinformation and manipulative data searches and filtering. Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

09:21:27

Thank you.

The next speaker online is Mr Alexandros TRIANTAFYLLIDIS for the Group of the Unified European Left followed by Mr Stefan SCHENNACH.

Mr Alexandros TRIANTAFYLLIDIS

Greece, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

09:21:40

Thank you Chair.

Can you hear me? Can you hear me dear Chair? Okay.

Dear Chair, dear colleagues, speaking on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left, I would like to agree with Mr Roberto RAMPI's exceptional work.

Although it's been 73 days since the murder of the Greek well-known journalist Giorgos Karaivaz in broad daylight on 9 April in Athens, it still remains an unsolved case. When a journalist is murdered democracy is wounded. The feeling of insecurity spreading across the press community and society. It is our moral obligation to put an end to violence. Being a journalist and politician I still feel deeply disappointed to stand by the mother of Karaivaz. Murdering a journalist is a despicable and cowardly act, a shocking act of violence that caused damage to the heart of democracy.

Freedom of the press may be the most sacred of all. Journalists must be able to work safely.

Obviously the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe unanimously condemns the brutal murder of journalist Giorgos Karaivaz. We hope the criminals will soon be brought to justice.

Dear Chair, dear colleagues, in recent years we have observed a progressive deterioration of the conditions in which media professionals work, since journalists, photographers and camera operators were killed, injured, arrested, imprisoned, kidnapped, threatened or sued. More efforts must be made to preserve media diversity and pluralism. This includes providing good public resources to support all media outlets without any exceptions and without compromising editorial independence.

Laws and transparency regulations must be enforced regarding media ownership.

On the other hand we will have to fight misinformation, fake news, anonymous posting, the operations to ruin people's reputation, the making up of facts and the violation of personal data which are not related to any public interest.

Journalism is a discipline of verification, checking and deciding the news, and not a practice of manipulation as so-called journalists in the service of political, financial and business interests.

On my mind there is always the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Urgent actions are required by the Council of Europe and governments members of the Council of Europe. A first fundamental step that should be taken is the release of all journalists imprisoned. The release of all journalists imprisoned because of the views they have expressed. Now, today and immediately.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

09:25:10

Thank you.

The next speaker is Mr Stefan SCHENNACH from Austria, for the Socialist Group, followed by Ms Annicka ENGBLOM online.

Mr Stefan SCHENNACH

Austria, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

09:25:19

Thank you very much, Mister President,

Not only as spokesman for my group would I like to warmly congratulate the rapporteur, but also as General Rapporteur on media freedom and the safety of journalists. That as a comprehensive right, namely that one actively gives knowledge and also has the opportunity to obtain knowledge at any time and anywhere, that is one of the core elements of democracy and also of empowerment.

Mister Roberto RAMPI, you reminded us of Galileo Galilei today and I would like to quote just one sentence "And yet it moves". That is, because a colleague before criticised very much about social media. In some countries, that phrase  "and yet it moves" is not possible without social media. And how important it was to have social media in Iran, for example, to have it in China — so that the world public also has appropriate information and that appropriate information also goes out of state control.

Our rapporteur has referred to the Council of Europe's Tromsø Convention. It is a little regrettable that so few member states are active and have ratified it. I believe that this debate should remind us all to sign and ratify this important Tromsø Convention.

Because it says one thing; we have a right to know, it says journalism or authorities must inform correctly. Citizens, conversely, have the right to obtain knowledge and, last but not least, the whole thing must take place in a positive educational and cultural environment. These are key elements that we need to emphasise here.

It is also important that there is transparency in the ownership of media, because we have such high concentration of ownership and a crossover of ownership, which is more than dangerous. And that is why it is important that citizens also know who owns the media — and from that, try and understand in whose interests they are acting. 

My friend Mr Alexandros TRIANTAFYLLIDIS mentioned earlier the murdered journalist in Greece. I can only say it is unfortunate that at the centre of Europe we have a dead journalist in Malta, a dead journalist and his girlfriend in Slovakia, an inspirational journalist in Bulgaria, now in Greece, in Ukraine, and so on. Most of the journalists at the moment are imprisoned in Turkey. This must be stopped.

I thank the rapporteur.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

09:28:54

Thank you.

The next speaker is Ms Annicka ENGBLOM from Sweden for EPP online.

Ms Annicka ENGBLOM

Sweden, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

09:29:04

Mister President and dear colleagues,

I, on behalf of the EPP group, would also like to say thank you to the rapporteur Mr Roberto RAMPI, not only for an excellent report, but also a tremendously important one.

The right to know for our citizens is the very soul of democracy and the very soul for democratic countries. And the right to be informed, the right to understand what is the information, and the right to participate in the discussions, in the decision-making and to fully understand and also to be part of it, is fundamental for our respective citizens.

It has to do with trust, trust for what we do, trust for our respective governments and our legislative systems. And the opposite of trust is distrust. And not being informed, not fully understanding and not participating in democratic decision-making brings distrust, which is a threat towards democracy.

The rapporteur in his draft resolution sets up a large number of recommendations, one of them being the ratification of the Tromsø Convention. My own country is one of them and I fully support the rapporteur's recommendation that more countries of this esteemed Assembly to ratify it. It's a very clear and simple one and it goes very fundamental rights to transparency, so to speak.

One of the recommendations brought up by the rapporteur is of course the importance of free media and the protection of journalism. And this has, in the times in which we are now, in the times of crisis due to the pandemic, has really been challenged in many of our countries. And I would like to put, dear colleagues, your attention especially to this issue, which has been debated in many ways in the Assembly and will be debated in the future as well.

So, for me, on behalf of the EPP group we fully support the report and also the amendment made by Mr Stefan SCHENNACH to bullet point number 9.

Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

09:32:07

Thank you this concludes the speakers on behalf of political groups.

In the debate, I call next Ms Laura CASTEL from Spain.

Ms Laura CASTEL

Spain, NR

09:32:22

Thank you, Chair.

First of all, I would like I could to thank Mr Roberto RAMPI for the this excellent report, which I support.

I do totally agree that limitation to the right to know intending to protect national security or the right to privacy must be narrowly defined. As the resolution says, the main responsibility for safeguarding the right to know lies with the public authorities. In this sense, the members of parliament, as representatives of the people, have an enhanced right of access to information. The mechanisms of parliamentary questions enables elected officials to request either information and to receive an answer from the government. This control function is an essential part of democracy and to counter secrecy.

As a report remarks, access of information regimes include a right to request information and receive it. It is for the above that we denounce the opacity, the lack of scrutiny and total inviolability of the crown in the Spanish system. We, as members of parliament, are denied access to information, including a specific request regarding the crown, their functions, their expenses, which we all pay and activities of head of state. So, no right to know here.

In this sense, we presented requests for committees of enquire and written questions to the government where most of the latter have been censored. I am talking about censoring the function of control of the legislative representatives and the conduct of executive, legislative and judiciary branches has been coordinated to keep this institution away from scrutiny. So here, no right to know either. This has also been denounced before GRECO, who is looking at the issue closely.

Finally, in order to strengthen democracy, justice, freedom of access to information and as a means to combat opacity and feudal-like practices, I really encourage all of you approve Mr Roberto RAMPI's report, resolution and recommendations.

Thank you very much.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

09:35:11

Thank you.

We have now two speakers online.

The first is Lord George FOULKES followed by Mr Joseph O'REILLY.

Lord FOULKES, please.

Lord George FOULKES

United Kingdom, SOC

09:35:24

Congratulations to my friend Roberto on an excellent report, which is of great interest as you will see that five other of my colleagues from the United Kingdom are participating, including my friend Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS, who is also a minister of religion. I hope he won't mind if I quote a parable: the parable of the Mote and the Beam. Now, we are rightly concerned about the lack of media freedom in countries like Russia and as a former general rapporteur on media freedom and the safety of journalists before my friend Stephan, we are also. I saw the growing threat to journalists in many countries including Turkey, Russia, and Azerbaijan.

We shouldn't be blind to problems in our own countries. Indeed that strengthens our arm when we are criticizing countries elsewhere. As we saw there was misinformation here in the United Kingdom particularly during the recent European Union referendum. We have concern about the concentration of ownership of the media in a few hands. Rich millionaires based in some cases in tax havens. There's also growing concern about the independence of the BBC, which has such a great reputation around the world with BBC World.

Now our government are putting placemen in charge of not just of the BBC, but also of the regulatory authority Ofcom. We are really worried about that in our own country. Indeed, in Scotland, as well as in my own part of the United Kingdom, the SNP are becoming increasingly authoritarian with their approach to journalists and to the media.

It is vital if we agree, and I hope we will agree, to Roberto's excellent report, then we follow it up in our own countries. Our delegation leader, John HOWELL, who is speaking later in this debate, has set a good example by asking questions and raising issues that have been agreed on at this Parliamentary Assembly in the United Kingdom Parliament. I hope that when this is passed, we will also raise it and get the United Kingdom to sign the Tromsø Convention and to make sure that our media is as free as possible. Otherwise we will be seen as hypocritical when we raise issues in other countries.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

09:37:59

Thank you.

The next speaker is Mr Joseph O'REILLY from Ireland, online.

Mr Joseph O'REILLY

Ireland, EPP/CD

09:38:23

At the beginning, it's so timely given the situation with the pandemic at the moment. We have what the World Health Organisation has called an infodemic to the extent that certain countries have used the pandemic as a pretext to distort the provision of proper information and the dissemination of information. Complicit in this is media.

Everybody has a right to know, a right to freedom of expression, a right to be part of public decision making.

There is often a lack of transparency in media ownership. We should have notification of media mergers. Thankfully, we have that in Ireland, and EU law provides for that. There should be notification of media mergers. There should be a competition authority control of media mergers and a whole transparency there.

Lord George FOULKES, my good friend, made a very valid observation around the Brexit campaign where there was a distortion particularly by social media there on the facts. 

An interesting point that Mr Roberto RAMPI came up with was the issue around cultural institutions. I think those cultural institutions should show transparency in highlighting the darker elements of our past so that people have a truly informed position.

Parliamentarians must be totally disclosed of any media interests and of their own interest.

The big elephant in the room at the moment of course is social media. It's the new media that's not yet properly controlled.

I know they are in discussion at the EU level. Regulations are being discussed for the control of social media. We need, internationally right across Europe and further afield, to control social media, indeed.

This statistic from our earlier speaker regarding the turnout in the French election and that a failure of 67% of people to vote is a very very serious one. We must protect our journalists. There should be no threat to the lives of our journalists.

We had some years ago in Ireland the murder of an eminent journalist because of our fearless exposure of gangs and crime. We then followed that with a rigorous set of laws, notably the CAB at the time which involved the seizure of assets of criminals and people trying to distort media at that time.

You need to protect our journalists, or journalists must know that they are free and must... Thus cannot tread on the murder of journalists in any country in the world. Indeed the recent incarceration of a journalist in a shocking event in Belarus is another example of a distortion of the freedom of our journalists.

We need a free journalism. We need transparency in ownership of media, a very clear delineation and public of who owns it and what their interests are. Each journalist who has an interest outside of media must be in a position to make such a declaration. You need legal control. It's a fundamental tenet of democracy that we protect our media. It's a very precious thing. A very precious element of civilised society.

There's a great onus on us as parliamentarians to ensure institutional structures, legal structures that ensure that transparency and that freedom of expression.

Thank you very much. I think it's a worthwhile debate.

Thank you very much indeed.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

09:42:38

Thank you.

Next speaker is Ms Nicole DURANTON, from France.

Ms Nicole DURANTON

France, ALDE

09:42:52

Thank you, Mister President, my dear colleagues.

I thank our colleague Mr Roberto RAMPI for his excellent report on this important subject for our democratic system. I want to support our rapporteur when he stresses the importance of the informed exercise of the right to vote and the right of citizens to participate in a responsible and democratic way in policy-making and decision-making processes.

I also want to support his words when he emphasises the importance of the role of parliament, at a time when there is a growing mistrust of the institutions in a number of countries. Hence the importance of this concept of the citizen's "right to know" which you propose that the Assembly support, in order to allow full democratic participation by citizens. This implies, in particular, that citizens can be informed and contribute to the drafting and evaluation of legislative or standard-setting measures, but also, and I shall come back to this, that the educational and cultural environment must be favourable.

The link between representative democracy and participatory democracy is not necessarily easy. We are experimenting with it in France, where we had a difficult episode with the "yellow vests" crisis. A citizens' convention was then set up, and we are currently examining a bill in the Senate that is the result of these citizens' reflections. The French Parliament is also trying to revive a very old right, the right of petition, to allow citizens to seize it of a subject. These are two very concrete examples that I think are important.

The fact remains that the cultural context and the quality of the information circulating in the press and on social networks play an essential role in the proper functioning of a democratic society. We know how much our societies are confronted with the risks of information manipulation and with a form of mistrust on the part of some citizens with regard to public information or data of a scientific nature.

I therefore consider it essential to develop scientific culture and to guarantee the general public free and easy access to scientific knowledge and other sources of knowledge, as well as to promote the cultural venues that have been so lacking in recent months, such as libraries, theatres, museums and concert halls. The sharing and dissemination of knowledge within society is, indeed, an important element of cohesion and confidence.

I thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

09:45:44

Merci beaucoup.

Next speaker is Ms Sevinj FATALIYEVA from Azerbaijan, followed by two online speakers: Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS and Ms Marianne MARET.

The floor is for Ms Sevinj FATALIYEVA.

Ms Sevinj FATALIYEVA

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

09:45:59

Thank you, Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,

No state can develop democracy without freedom of speech, press and dissemination of ideas and opinions. Democratic societies can only function sustainably if citizens are well informed, have free access to information and can freely change it and discuss different views and opinions. Free media is a platform for the free exchange of opinions. Progress is only possible if the prevailing opinion can still be challenged. If there is no such possibility, there wouldn't be any progress. The modern world defines new behavioural norms, new culture, a culture of dialogue and freedom of speech in a safe space where any opinion would be heard. 

Freedom of media remains important also in a digital age. New media, including the internet, mobile communication and other rapidly advancing digital technologies, have complimented but not replace traditional media in protecting democracy, peace and stability. This happened because the purpose of free media, whether it's social or traditional, is to inform people and earn their trust. We all recognise that combating this information is key to achieving desired results, but how this information is defined and identified is crucial. We have all witnessed manipulation of fake news sources to block information and expose it.

Ladies and gentlemen, in a democratic society journalists play a vital role in establishing the truth, in delivering the truth. Their job is to ensure that citizens receive timely, accurate and reliable information. Sometimes they are at risk fulfilling their duties. Thus, in my country, Azerbaijan, just recently two journalists carrying out their duties died in an explosion on a mine planted by Armenian occupants in Kalbajar region. They were simply making a reportage about the ruins and vandalism left behind by Armenian occupants.

By its very nature, freedom of expression is supported by media literacy because it helps us to understand the way citizens consume, use and comprehend the processes going on in the our societies and how media influences their lives. That is why integrating media literacy in system of governance in development and education is more crucial than ever.

In Azerbaijan, media and especially social media, plays an important role of bridge between people and government. One of the challenges of the country leadership is to raise public control in order to speed up the reforms and tackle certain problems in social, humanitarian and other spheres. These issues raised in social media immediately attract attention of authorities and find its solution. This is an example of public trust based on dialogue.

Ladies and gentlemen, people deserve to know truth. Public truth must be warranted. All this would be possible if only media would be free, reliable and equitable.

Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

09:48:56

Thank you.

The next speaker online is Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS from the UK.

Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS

United Kingdom, SOC

09:49:13

Dear Chair and colleagues,

In the short time I've been involved in the work of the Council of Europe, I've come to see how the subject we are discussing is at the heart of everything we do and represent. As others have said, the very idea of democracy and the rule of law is underpinned by the existence of a free and independent press, this should be axiomatic and need no further elaboration.

But the last things can be more complicated than that. Let me offer a story, a parable in the words of my friend Lord George FOULKES, to illustrate a very real concern I have. My wife is English, I am from Wales and I speak in the middle of a European football competition where both of our teams have reached the knockout stages. Whenever England play Wales a curious thing happens: my wife and I sit in the same room, we look at the same screen, we see exactly the same images, but she sees things through the prism of her Englishness and I colour everything with my Welshness. And nothing has brought us nearer to divorce then our differing views of the matches we watch in this way.

I believe we must recognize that having access to the full facts isn't always enough. Mr Roberto RAMPI's excellent report as well as noting the significant work done by the Council of Europe to enumerate and clearly define the obligations upon states to ensure plurality and diversity in the media sphere, points to the further need, and the previous speaker mentioned it too, for the need to work on media literacy.

Having the facts is not enough. Knowing how to assess, analyse, use those facts is just as important. Education is the key. The report hints at this. I wish it were more clearly spelled out. The unstoppable development of the internet and the role played in our lives by social media, again as has been mentioned, should alert us to this need for raising people's awareness not only of the facts, but also give us tools for evaluating information that comes our way.

It's not difficult to see how near we are being at the mercy of algorithms, whether benign to help us to patrol the ground opened up for us by the facts we so earnestly seek or else malign: the instruments of surveillance capitalism, commercial interests, or the dark web. Algorithms are now of course an inseparable part of our daily lives, necessary as they may be, but they are incapable, for example, of distinguishing nuance, irony or the most subjective aspects of our lives.

There's so much more I could say. Let me end by repeating my conviction that exercising our undeniable rights to gain access to information is only part of the story. Learning how to make the best use of that information and how to deal with each other when others using the same information come to radically different conclusions about its usefulness is just as important.

Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

09:52:27

Thank you.

The next speaker is Ms Marianne MARET from Switzerland online.

Ms Marianne MARET

Switzerland, EPP/CD

09:52:38

Thank you, Mr President.

Dear colleagues,

The right to know that our Parliamentary Assembly is proposing to establish and implement strengthens and develops the transparency that should prevail in general in states. It is therefore a welcome initiative because, in these times of fake news and manipulation of public opinion, citizens must be able to rely on quality and trustworthy information.

This draft resolution and recommendation on the right to know has three objectives, all of which are laudable.

Firstly, to strengthen existing citizens' instruments of knowledge, starting with the right of access to documents held by public authorities and the protection of whistleblowers.

Secondly, to create new knowledge instruments, designed especially to ensure the transparency of media companies, proactive communication of the state, the transparency of lobbying and the visibility and intelligibility of algorithms used in decision-making.

Thirdly, to promote general access to scientific knowledge and culture as significant contributions to the formation of public opinion and to societal debates.

However, I have some questions. As regards the point concerning the visibility and intelligibility of algorithms used for decision-making: given that an ad hoc committee of the Council of Europe, the CAHAI, is responsible for preparing a legal instrument to promote the use of artificial intelligence that respects human rights, I wonder whether it would be a good idea to avoid too many initiatives in this area, or at least to await the results of the work of this committee of experts.

Furthermore, with regard to point 16.10, the proposal to set up a national body to monitor the accuracy and completeness of information raises questions. Would such a body, even with independent status, not exercise a power of censorship from the point of view of freedom of expression, with the risk, in the end, of being perhaps unproductive?

As for the citizens' right of access to information held by the authorities, I also wonder. This proposed right to know would imply granting citizens the following prerogatives: the extension of the right of access to documents held by private entities delegated with government tasks and/or benefiting from large public subsidies. Does this measure not go a little too far?

Finally, I would like to thank the author of this resolution, which is full of content and gives us great hope, and I would like to thank you for listening.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

09:55:23

Merci beaucoup.

The next speaker in the plenary is Ms Petra BAYR. She will be followed by two online speakers, Ms Laurence TRASTOUR-ISNART from France and Mr Aleksandr BASHKIN from Russia. So please get prepared online, but the floor now goes to Ms Petra BAYR, here in the plenary.

Ms Petra BAYR

Austria, SOC

09:55:42

Thank you very much.

Question time with ministers has the structural flaw that it is no longer possible to respond in any way to ministers' answers, however unsatisfactory, incorrect or inadequate they may have been.

Yesterday, I used my 30 seconds with the Hungarian Foreign Minister to present a case. I want to use today's discussion on media freedom to do so and to have a little more time to do so – a case where two Austrian journalists are researching the political situation in Austria's neighbouring countries and they work for a newspaper. The profil is a weekly newspaper in Austria, which is not known for its dubious research or reporting. One of these two journalists asks three questions by email to a Hungarian Member of the European Parliament. Iinstead of getting answers, these three questions obviously go to the party headquarters of Fidesz and, obviously, from there on to the Hungarian public radio, to a TV station, where there are then an incredible five contributions, five TV contributions at prime time, where actually the only thing in the foreground is to denigrate the journalist who is asking; accusing her of being an amateur, accusing her of being a liberal, accusing her of spreading fake news, for the fact that a journalist – and this is the job of journalists – asks questions, nothing more, nothing less.

The situation in Hungary, as far as media freedom is concerned, also radiates to the neighbouring countries, also to Austria, which I would never have thought possible. It is particularly relevant from this point of view to emphasise that the Hungarian Foreign Minister also appeared on several of these five TV programmes and added fuel to the fire and also claimed that they were simply spreading fake news.

I think it is really necessary to keep a very special eye on the situation of freedom of the press in Hungary and to use all the mechanisms that we have as a parliamentary assembly and to see how other human rights, such as the rule of law, are implemented in general.

Allow me to spend my last 30 seconds on an area of media freedom that is often left out when we talk about it. It's school newspapers: newspapers that the young people themselves run, that they own. They, too, are very often affected by censorship. They, too, often can't publish what they would like to publish – whether it's in print, whether it's online, whether it's blogs or podcasts. School newspaper editors of today are very often politicians of tomorrow. Here stands one and they are also the journalists of tomorrow. I would ask them all to pay attention to freedom of expression and freedom from censorship for school newspaper editors in their work, in their countries as well.

Thank you very much.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

09:58:56

Vielen Dank.

The next speaker online is Ms Laurence TRASTOUR-ISNART from France followed by Mr Aleksandr BASHKIN from Russia.

Ms Laurence TRASTOUR-ISNART is not online. So we continue with Mr Aleksandr BASHKIN from Russia.

Mr Aleksandr BASHKIN

Russian Federation, NR

09:59:31

Thanks, Mister President. 

I would like to start with a quote of part of Article 29 of the constitution of the Russian Federation. I quote, "everyone should have the right to freely look for, receive, transmit, produce and distribute information by any legal way. The list of data comprising state secrets shall be determined by a federal law." 

Now why have I mentioned this? Because the concept of Mr Roberto RAMPI's report, the right to know, is very much in line with this, and it can perceived as the right of citizens to receive information. At the same time, we need to insist on the need to combat deliberately false information and disinformation in critical periods. Any state has the right to protect national security through certain measures in order to protect citizens against the danger of information manipulation. At the present time, there is so much disinformation about everything having to do with the COVID-19 pandemic. I would like to stress the importance of the point in the report, about artificial intelligence and algorithms used to moderate information provided online, which is often done by monopolistic digital American platforms. At the same time, I have some doubts about this term "reliable information or information that is worthy of trust". Now, as I see it, that could be a dangerous concept. There is no judicial, clear criteria about what this really means. How do we characterise this information? This could result in the drawing up by western non-governmental organisations of lists of so-called "reliable sources of information". That would mean with doing away with inconvenient mass media, in particular Russian mass media in many cases. 

Then there is this issue of the recommendation to set up a mechanism to monitor information or the information sphere. This could be a very desirable concept, if this were to be set up. It would be very important that there be a geographical fairness when there comes to appointing the staff for such a monitoring mechanism. 

Insofar as the idea of setting up such a mechanism in each country that is concerned, it seems to me that in the Russian Federation, we already have an institution that has some of these tasks, namely the council of the president of Russian Federation on the development of civil society and on human rights and their tasks could simply be extended.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

10:02:31

Thank you.

The next speaker is Mr Erkin GADIRLI from Azerbaijan.

Mr Erkin GADIRLI

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

10:02:43

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

Dear colleagues, I also would like to join those who express their gratitude to the rapporteur. This is really a great deal of effort that he has put in it. This is visible. I can feel the spirit of this report. I also understand its essence. It is also understood that is written in good will, but I disagree with certain terminology in this report, as a lawyer.

First of all, the right to know. Let me make it clear that there is no such a right as a right to know. This is legally simply an ill-defined concept. The right to access information is understood. The right to be informed is understood. The right to an informed choice is also a clear legal concept. But the right to know.. what is it about?

Let us now make clear that there are four types of knowledge: factual knowledge, procedural knowledge, conceptual knowledge, and meta-cognitive knowledge.

Factual knowledge, yes, it is easily defined. It is what the access to information is about.

Procedural knowledge is knowledge about where to find information, how to get it. This is also legally covered and also comes under the concept of right to information, access to information.

But conceptual knowledge has nothing to do with the freedom of media. It's a knowledge, it's an educational issue. For example when you hear the question "what do you mean by democracy?", assuming that the question is asked sincerely, you can clearly understand that this is a lack of concept.

And meta-cognitive knowledge absolutely has nothing to do with any field of law. It's about how someone who claims to know something relates oneself to what is claimed to be known. And law simply cannot regulate that.

Also, I'm troubled with the fact that in this report the right to know sometimes is defined as an individual right, the citizen's right, and is sometimes defined as a collective right, the public's right to know. Such an interchangeable use of terminology is potentially dangerous and simply misleading.

Also, I'm really troubled by paragraph 5, which claims that the right to privacy and other human rights must be narrowly defined. Since when the right to privacy has become so little valuable? And what are the other human rights? For example, would you narrowly define the presumption of innocence just because the public has a right to know?

I mean, this is simply unacceptable. I don't want to take much of your time. I'm really puzzled by this report. I don't want to vote against it. I wouldn't have voted against it actually, because there are very good recommendations in this, but unfortunately I was not a member of the committee when this was discussed and I simply disagree with the terminology and I think I find it troubling.

Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

10:05:56

Thank you.

Next speaker is Mr Yunus EMRE from Turkey.

Mr Yunus EMRE

Turkey, SOC

10:06:03

Mister President,

First of all I would like to thank Mr Roberto RAMPI for this important report.

The concept of people's right to know, will be one of the crucial aspects of discussions on democracy in the forthcoming periods.

As elaborated in the report, the right to know is directly related with the democratic participation of citizens and an accountable government is not possible in the absence of this right.

So this concept will occupy a greater place in the discussions on democracy in the future.

I would like to emphasise one issue that should not be ignored in these discussions. We cannot disregard the distinction between different political regime types and their consequences on the people's right to know. Different regime types result in divergent outcomes on the basis of the effects of the social media and digitalisation on democratic practices.

Hybrid regimes contain democratic and authoritarian features and the existence of such regimes has become the main question of our politics today.

In hybrid regimes there are great obstacles to the people's access to accurate information and the government controls most of the mainstream media. Social media can be the only alternative source of information for the public. For this reason, when we evaluate these regimes, the protection of digital media channels and the removal of barriers to access these platforms are the main issues in the discussions on the people's right to know.

However, in consolidated democracies this is not the case. In these regimes social media and digital platforms might be considered as the source of practices that corrupt democracy, such as disinformation, manipulation of public opinion, circulating false information and foreign intervention in elections and so on.

Digitalisation has become the most important cause of info-pollution that poisons democratic life in these countries.

As it can be seen, different results emerge because of different social needs and conditions in two different regime types. In hybrid regimes under government control over traditional media, social media is the only alternative source of info for the people. However, in consolidated democracies social media and digitalisation may degenerate the rational and critical public discussion. As the root causes are different, the solutions should also be different.

Furthermore while there should be minimum standards, the possibility of misuse of these standards by national governments should not be ignored. For example, as emphasised in the report, the national independent monitoring systems for monitoring the legality, correctness and completeness of information is a necessity. However, this institution may produce results that are far from democratic purposes.

In many countries, as a result of authoritarian approaches, national radio and broadcasting monitoring administrations have turned into a tool of the parties to punish the media owners.

Once again I thank Mr rapporteur for his work.

Thanks.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

10:09:14

Thank you.

The next speaker is Ms Tatevik HAYRAPETYAN from Armenia.

Ms Tatevik HAYRAPETYAN

Armenia, EPP/CD

10:09:21

Thank you very much.

Dear colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I also value the discussion we are having here. I think it is very important to understand what kind of role the media can play. I would like to ask ourselves to look at it from another perspective.

For instance, can free media and the journalists who have freedom to write, freedom to create discourses sometimes avoid wars? I was thinking recently that, for instance,  judging from the speeches my Azerbaijani colleagues are giving here when they are proudly talking about so-called victory in the war, I was thinking what it would be like if Azerbaijan had free media and discourse on peace, if the topic of peace weren't taboo in Azerbaijan, if they had freedom to talk about the solutions which were proposed by different mediators during the negotiation process, which lasted for 20 years. What would it be like if Azerbaijan did not have a blacklist of the journalists who were visiting Nagorno-Karabakh and writing about the humanitarian aspect of the conflict? What would it be like if, during the war, Azerbaijanis didn't attack Armenian and international journalists, putting aside that they were wearing press armlets?

In the end, unfortunately, even after the ceasefire statement, recently we have witnessed that the UEFA was even surprised that Azerbaijanis rejected giving accreditation to some journalists who have Armenian surnames from Armenia and Russia. All of this, shows that topic of peace, the discourse of peace was taboo in Azerbaijan. Now my Azerbaijani colleagues, unfortunately, think that the only way was war because it was that propagated.

I value this report and I think getting that media freedom is important. With their work, which is very hard, sometimes they work in a very hard conditions, sometimes journalists can even help to avoid wars and can even help to fight against hate speech and hate propaganda.

Thank you very much.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

10:11:50

Thank you.

The next speaker online is Mr Paul GAVAN from Ireland.

Mr Paul GAVAN

Ireland, UEL

10:12:09

Thank you very much.

I want to commend this excellent report, it deserves every support.

I think this concept of a right to know is both timely and very welcome.

I particularly welcome the highlighting the importance of the Tromso Convention. I would echo the rapporteur's call for member states to sign up to this excellent initiative.

When we talk about media freedom of course we have to highlight the horrific cases of the murders of journalists. I think whenever we think of media freedom we should always echo the name of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese journalist who was murdered. That incredibly courageous woman.

I also want to give brief mention to my colleagues from Ireland Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, who were arrested by the Police Service of Northern Ireland a few years ago for basically trying to expose horrendous murders by loyalist death squads in the seventies and the effective collaboration of the RUC in those activities. Those journalists were arrested but thankfully they were rewarded with compensation and damages eventually, after three years. But it just shows the dangers to press freedom even here in the West.

But the key thing I want to sa,y because my colleague Mr Joseph O'REILLY earlier mentioned an elephant in the room. Well, to my mind the elephant in the room in this whole conversation is one name. That name is Julian Assange. I'm genuinely surprised that we haven't heard mention of Julian Assange in this debate.

Julian faces up to 175 years in prison for publishing truthful information in the public interest. He's being sought by the United States for publishing US Government documents that expose war crimes and human rights abuses in 2010. The politically motivated charges represent an unprecedented attack on press freedom and the public's right to know, seeking to criminalise basic journalistic activity. If he's convicted Julian faces a sentence of 175 years, likely to be spent in extreme isolation.

The United Nations working group on arbitrary detention has called for the UK government to end Mr Assange's deprivation of liberty, respect his physical integrity and freedom of movement and afford him the right to compensation. Amnesty International says "were Julian Assange to be extradited or subjected to any other transfer to the USA, Britain would be in breach of its obligations under international law".

This is a man who spent two years in prison. He's still in prison. Let's be clear on what he's done: he has exposed US war crimes. The most horrific practices like the time in Afghanistan when a US Apache helicopter slaughtered 18 people and the US pilot was heard to say "let's light them up".

Now let's be clear, if we're talking about press freedom and we are, and I commend this report entirely, then I think there's an onus on all of us regardless of where we are to call for Julian Assange's freedom and I make that call today.

Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

10:15:20

We go on with the speaker's list.

The next speaker is Mr Kamal JAFAROV from Azerbaijan.

Mr Kamal JAFAROV

Azerbaijan, NR

10:15:39

Thank you very much, Mister President.

According to the moral philosophy of Kant, every person is worthy of respect. Not because we own ourselves, but because we are capable of reason, that we are rational beings. He argues that the market freedom and consumer choice is not true freedom simply because it involves satisfying the desires we have not chosen in the first place.

Let me elaborate this point more. When we seek pleasure or avoid the pain, we are not really acting freely. We are acting as the slaves of our appetites and desires. For example, I like to drink espresso, but after all I did not choose my desire for espresso in first place. Whenever my behaviour is biologically determined and socially conditioned, it is not truly free. And if there is no democracy without a real possibility of making conscious, rational choices, then are we really free in our choices in social media? Even though social media users have a greater space to publication but a lesser freedom on expressing their own opinions because they are afraid of bullying. Their preferences and choices are formed based on general agreed views of the social media users. If you add the social and religious context in this matter, you will have more complicated issues to think about.

And does traditional media really define the agenda of the public? It does not any more. Traditional media has replaced its place with the social media. Now people set the public agenda. And this has its own specific advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are clear. Regarding the disadvantages, I have to say that, which also challenges our democratic values and the functioning of our democratic institutions, fake information, false information, have already invaded our public space. Honestly it seems that people like to believe sensational news even if it may not be right and this causes public distrust.

Therefore, I think this report focusing mainly on the traditional media and its freedom and the people's right to know will not produce accurate and timely conclusions, because we are not living in the traditional word any more.

Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

10:18:26

Thank you.

The next speaker on the list is Sir Tony LLOYD from the United Kingdom.

Please, ask for the floor.

Sir Tony LLOYD

United Kingdom, SOC

10:18:43

Joining the congratulations to our rapporteurs for what I think is a generally worthwhile incredible report. I just wanted to say a few words, first of all, about the the obvious central importance of freedom of the media, free and independent media of all kinds, social media, traditional media, is fundamental in our democracies. We cannot have free and fair elections without those and along with the independence of the judiciary, I can think of nothing more important than independent, investigative and high-quality journalism. They have an underpinning of the values that we hold. But we know those are under pressure all over the world but in particular here within Europe. A number of our countries fall Into the bottom third of those nations where media freedom is not respected. That, I think, is not simply sad; it is a central importance.

I have adopted along with some of my UK colleagues and some in Germany as well, a number of Belarus journalists in particular, Darya Chultsova, a young camera woman who was arrested for doing her job of filming a demonstration and is now serving a serious prison sentence. This can't be right. As the situation in Belarus develops she, of course, becomes just another forgotten name if we're not careful, but we do have to insist that we uphold those names like Darya and say that we stand with them and we stand with her in her protest against the outrageous decisions of the Belarus authorities.

But of course, in the end, there are people whose journalistic bravery has led to deaths. We heard earlier on about to judge Giorgos Karaivaz in Greece murdered, his killers are still unknown, and of course, Daphne Caruana Galizia, a very brave Maltese journalist whose investigative and professional behaviour led to her death, again the full details of her killing have not yet come to the fore. It so important because to intimidate journalists by death is to make sure that other journalists stay silent.

I would like to say a word about Turkey. Turkey, I think, is disappointing because it has been moving down the list of shame in terms of journalism with journalists sacked, journalists under attack, journalists threatened with prosecution. This cannot be good for democratic Turkey, but finally, Chair, let me just say this, as my colleague Lord George FOULKES said a few moments ago, we in the UK, have to look to our own resources. The BBC used to be a hallmark and, hopefully, still is round the world for independent journalism, but that does come under threat with the government that tries to politicise its governance. We have to be aware of that because, actually, independent journalism requires a management that guarantees and respects that it is independent. 

Thank you. 

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

10:21:51

Thank you.

The next speaker on the list would be Ms María Valentina MARTÍNEZ FERRO from Spain but I could not see her in the allocated seat. Is she around elsewhere? That doesn't seem to be the case. The next speaker would be Ms Martine WONNER from France and she's online, I understand.

Could you please ask for the floor?

No?

Then the next speaker is Ms Naira ZOHRABYAN from Armenia.

Ms Naira ZOHRABYAN

Armenia, EC/DA

10:22:36

Dear colleagues,

Today we are discussing a very important report on media freedom and the right of citizens to receive accurate information. Yes, in our information world, the media are often more powerful than weapons, and here is a country in our European family where even the most superficial monitoring of the media is terrible.

When the head of this state, Azerbaijan, talks about the reasons for their victory in the last Artsakh war and mentions that they won because they were able to educate a generation that is growing up in hatred and hostility towards Armenians, he is right: the Azerbaijani media undoubtedly contributed to this. They have preached and continue to preach anti-Armenianism, violence, hatred and falsification. When an Azerbaijani politician announces that an Armenian should be killed in Nagorno-Karabakh and all Azerbaijani media resources broadcast it, when a 13-year-old Azerbaijani girl announces that she wants to become a sniper to kill an Armenian, it becomes a major media topic in this country.

We have the horrible picture we had during and after the bloody 44-day war: atrocities, lies, falsifications and media manipulation. The trial of Armenian soldiers who are presented by Azerbaijan as terrorists and saboteurs is underway in Azerbaijan these days and all Azerbaijani media are full of falsification and disinformation of these immoral hearings. What accurate information are we talking about and protecting the public from fake news today, in the age of media freedom, if we fail to protect our societies from false information that fuels, especially in totalitarian countries, racism, intolerance and lies? As a result, we will have Azerbaijan, where the media field is flooded with torture and humiliation of Armenian prisoners of war, with videos and public opinion justifying it all.

Thank you, colleagues.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

10:25:33

Thank you.

The next speaker is Mr Enis IMAMOVIĆ from Serbia.

Mr Enis IMAMOVIĆ

Serbia, NR

10:25:41

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

Dear colleagues, I fully support the Resolution. It is a good framework, good directions, and I would like to congratulate Mr Roberto RAMPI for the wonderful resolution.

I am the representative of the Bosniak people in the parliament of Republic of Serbia and at the same time I am the member of the only opposition parliamentary group which is formed by three Bosniak and three Albanian MPs. Therefore I will focus on this Resolution from the perspective of the national minority parties.

The Resolution provides mechanisms for balanced representation of overall political diversity and, importantly for us, for improvement of access to information to national minorities in their mother language as a human right. Today Bosniaks are facing not only discrimination, but even denying of the very existence of the Bosniaks as a people by the public-financed national broadcasting service, RTS, in Serbia.

When we initiated the establishment of the editorial office for Bosniak language in RTS, the programme board answered by saying that the Bosniak language doesn't exist at all. So, according to them, there is no reason for establishing such editorial board. This is denying of the language, and if you deny the language then you deny the existence of the people itself. The service, this is the service financed by all citizens, including Bosniaks. With this, RTS violated the law, violated the Constitution and at the end violated the ratified European Charter for regional and minority languages.

The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality confirmed in its official opinion that the programme board of RTS discriminated Bosniaks. And what happened after? Well, nothing much. Nobody was sanctioned and we still don't have not a single second information in Bosniak language in this public broadcasting service. The resolution of the Committee of Ministers about the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in Serbia in its media section recommends strengthening and supporting media that broadcast programmes in national minority languages and adequate following of media privatisation focusing on the minority language media.

Regional media in Sandžak region, where I come from, are fully in control of the ruling majority party, and in Preševo Valley, populated dominantly by Albanians, there are only small private media in Albanian language, which are struggling with competition supported by the government. Privatisation of minority languages, causing the closing of many of them, in some cases has totally changed their programmes. Such an example of Radio Subotica which reduced broadcasting programme in Croatian language from 21 hours per week to 1 hour weekly. The Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media, RAEM, does not react on the hate speech, fake news, violence, threats, even death threats towards journalists, and the list goes on.

We believe that this Resolution will initiate the necessary improvements of media freedom.

Thank you very much. Sorry for...

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

10:29:14

Thank you.

Next we go back to the speaker's list.

Now to Ms Martine WONNER from France.

She is available online, I understand.

Ms Martine WONNER

France, ALDE

10:29:26

Dear President,

Dear colleagues,

First of all, I would like to thank Mr Roberto RAMPI for his excellent report.

The debate today takes us to a fundamental issue: the knowledge of citizens. This is a prerequisite for the functioning of our democracies. How can we ensure the consent and free and informed choices of citizens without giving them exhaustive information, especially in a crisis situation? Going on a crusade for democracy means defying all attempts at disinformation and manipulation of public opinion. Thus, it is fundamental to preserve a space for education, culture and information within our borders in Europe. It is on this same factual basis that points of view and critical analyses can be freely exchanged.

Today, however, our democratic societies find themselves under the threatening shadow of censorship, which is now being fuelled by the health crisis. The same restrictive measures of recent months are accompanied by a general decline in freedoms. The challenges of our time are illustrated by the closure of cultural venues, the slowing down of the education system for the youngest and the absence of a real space for debate.

France, despite being a member of this Council, embodies the new fragility of our democracy, which is being abused by disinformation and the rupture between the right to knowledge and free access to this same information. But then, if even the country of the Enlightenment, of the Declaration of Man, no longer recognises its heritage, what about its neighbours? Why does our Europe suffer from this neglect of the freedom of the press, which is so important to our nations?

The recent events concerning vaccine disinformation remind us of the extent to which these freedoms are being undermined. Thus, the absence of informed consent cannot guarantee the rule of law and the right to criticism. At the top, the loss of our primary rights concerns the most manipulable among us, the most fragile, the children. For example, to open vaccination to teenagers without providing them with full information, seriously undermines the right to information. So let's mobilise to restore what is dear to us, what belongs to our European heritage and which is enabling us, at this very moment, to hold a unique debate in this House.

I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Roberto RAMPI, once again for the quality of this report, which allows us to express ourselves without any media censorship.

I thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

10:32:22

Thank you very much.

Next speaker online is Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE from Turkey followed by Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN from Ireland.

Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE

Turkey, SOC

10:32:38

In the context of erosion of democracy and erosion of the rule of law, where populist authoritarian leaders who seek to elude accountability and transparency are gaining power. Our times are ridden with rising corruption. These trends go hand in hand.

Non-democratically driven politicians seek to expropriate all economic rents. They seek private benefits rather than the public interest. To conceal that expropriation of valuable public resources, they seek to demolish the rule of law, institutions of accountability and institutions of transparency. In short they seek to hijack public information from the people. As such, corruption, rent-seeking and the lack of rule of law and democracy go hand in hand.

The panacea in reinstating is in fact re-instating the right to know. The right to information. This will guarantee not only participatory democracy but also sufficient public resources for the benefit of the people and a sustainable and inclusive development.

The right to know will mean protecting public interest, and this will be necessary in preventing corruption. The right to know encompasses an intersectionality of rights: clearly the freedom of media, the right to access official documents, a strong parliamentary representation.

However, I wish to underline to critical political economy issues that are usually sidelined.

First and foremost the right to know means protection of public interest. Neoliberal economic policies and austerity policies have blurred the line between the private and the public sphere. They have blurred the line between private benefits and public interest. This was done through extensive privatisation of critical strategic public services and it was blurred by the extensive use of public private partnerships, PPPs, largely in infrastructure projects.

This transfer of human rights related areas from the public to the private sphere meant that the right to know was hijacked. Projects that were meant to serve the public became areas of wealth transfer from the public to the private.

Through PPPs the public only remains in the name and as the financier of private profits. The public questions of where their valuable tax money was spent was hidden behind the curtain of what was called trade secrets of the private actors in these very public PPPs.

The blurry line between the private and the public sphere through economic policies meant the loss of right to know. As the loss of right to know was lost, the violation of public interest deepened, and there was an increase in transfer of wealth to private actors. This is a vicious cycle we have to break.

At a time of a pandemic when we're reminded of our need to change our economic and social model, installing and instating the right to knowing is therefore the step in the right direction of reclaiming public interest as the core of our politics and our economies.

Secondly, information is at the core of the right to know and should be treated as a public good. As Joe Stiglitz notes as a public good, information needs public support, and this is what this resolution does. It has a comprehensive framework, a set of our public duties to ensure information as a public good.

Therefore, I strongly support this report.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

10:36:04

Thank you.

So much Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN is apparently not online as we speak. So the next speaker is Mr Nicos TORNARITIS from Cyprus, to be followed by Mr John HOWELL online.

Mister TORNARITIS, you have the floor.

Mr Nicos TORNARITIS

Cyprus, EPP/CD

10:36:23

Thank you very much, Mister Chairman.

Dear colleagues, allow me first to thank our rapporteur Mr Roberto RAMPI for his excellent report. The ability of journalists to report freely and carry out their research on fact-based and valid information, as well as the right of civil society to access, analyse free and trusted media is a critical indicator of the quality of our democracies.

Attempts to throttle the independence of the media sector and the continued persecution of journalists are unacceptable. Threats to independent media are increasing globally and their impact on the state of democracy worldwide is truly worrisome. At the same time, the use of artificial intelligence must remain clearly within defined and acceptable boundaries that do not defy human rights nor the rule of law.

Against this backdrop the role of parliaments is crucial. We support the proposal to establish a widely and compassing right-to-know design as a tool to enable citizens to be actively informed and involved in all stages of policy making, while public officials and politicians can be held accountable for their acts or omissions. Ensuring that media remain free from political interests and manipulation is important. We must also guarantee the safety of journalists, while enhancing whistle-blower protection so that journalists can continue to investigate and expose incidents and practices that undermine our democracies.

Media freedom and pluralism play a key role in holding power structures to account. In this regard the Council of Europe's platform for the protection and safety of journalists must be further developed. The Parliamentary Assembly could consider and explore ways to develop the platform into an institutional monitoring body providing useful tool and mechanisms for all Council of Europe members.

Thank you very much.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

10:39:40

Thank you.

The next speaker is Mr John HOWELL from the UK online.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA

10:39:50

I'm afraid that I must take a somewhat different stance to those who have spoken before, as I find this report rather confusing. I'm sure that the confusion comes out of the fact that earlier in my career I had worked for the BBC as a presenter, so I do understand the pressures that journalists are under.

But I'd like to think that I ask questions as a presenter to elicit a response rather than to make or to score political points. Now I am all for transparency in the media and I fully support media freedom, but I just wonder whether this report deals with the situation where there is no one factual account of events or all so-called facts are open to interpretation. We've seen this, of course, with regard to the pandemic. There should of course be free discussion, that we need to be able to challenge governments and we need to have the ability to make discussions that are informed, that that information we must accept that that reflects the political stance of the person that is asking the questions.

And the key to this, as has already been said by Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS, the key to this is by putting more investment into education to ensure that the people can ask and evaluate the questions in a much more fundamental way. My own government has neither signed nor ratified the Tromsø Convention, but that does not mean that it does not support transparency. And I will certainly support transparency myself in this.

We have of course introduced a Freedom of Information Act within the country, which allows people to make requests for information. But there are a number of exemptions to that and one of those exemptions is members of parliament. And that is because a lot of the work that we do is confidential and we wouldn't want to have that confidentiality of discussions with individuals made public and made available for everyone to see.

So I don't believe that there is an absolute right of access to information. I don't believe that that is possible and I think that that ignores very much the complexity of the issues that are involved. But one thing the report hints at, is that there needs to be transparency in lobbying. I do think that that is an important area that the Council of Europe should look at because we have seen the activities of lobby groups here and we need to make sure that those are fully transparent as well.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

10:42:56

Thank you.

The next speaker in the Plenary would be Mr Koloman BRENNER from Hungary followed by Ms Tonia ANTONIAZZI from the UK, who is online.

Mister BRENNER, you have the floor.

Mr Koloman BRENNER

Hungary, NR

10:43:11

Thank you, Mister President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to congratulate the rapporteur, Mr Roberto RAMPI, for this excellent report and thank him for the good cooperation.

I would also like to pay tribute to all my colleagues who have worked in our Committee on Culture, Education and the Media. I believe that this is a particularly important report in this 21st century. In this century of information and knowledge, the media have changed radically, as previous speakers have pointed out. As a result of social media and — if I may say so — the demise of serious journalism, fake news and other problems have in part led to the right of citizens to get the right information being compromised and endangered.

I think that it is a great pity that, so far, the monitoring system proposed in this report does not exist. Dear friend, Mister Roberto RAMPI, I am extremely sorry that we did not manage our joint fact-finding mission in my home country, Hungary. But I hope that even after the adoption of this report we will still find the opportunity to do so, because if this monitoring system had existed, we might have heard the alarm bells ringing in my home country of Hungary many years ago.

Unfortunately, I have to admit that within a few months we are again entering an election campaign and a parliamentary election in Hungary. Already the OSCE election observers had stressed in 2018 that the elections in Hungary could be called more or less free, but certainly not fair — especially because of the media situation. In concrete terms, you have to imagine, dear colleagues, that opposition politicians get 5 minutes on Hungarian public radio and television in four years. And against my party, the centre-right People's Party Jobbik, has made so many denigrating articles and contributions that we have won over 200 court cases against the media close to Fidesz.

I think that it is a clear sign that we will run in a good electoral alliance of all opposition parties — starting from our centre-right party to all left, liberal and green parties — because for us, civic democracy and the social market economy are important. We need to re-establish that with balanced media.

Mister Roberto RAMPI, you are cordially invited to Budapest and I fully support this report.

Thank you very much.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

10:46:22

Vielen Dank.

The next speaker is Ms Tonia ANTONIAZZI from the UK online.

Ms Tonia ANTONIAZZI

United Kingdom, SOC

10:46:39

Thank you, Chair and colleagues.

I would like to thank the Rapporteur, Mr Roberto RAMPI, for this excellent report.

Now when I consider media freedom, public trust and people's right to know, in the front of my mind, over the years, you know, I have seen family friends and constituents influenced by the media that they choose to read. We have seen this from Brexit, to COVID-19.

It is usually the easiest media that they choose to access and it tends to be social media, as we have seen, but what is important here is how people get their knowledge and information. We are increasingly living in this age where political education is key to informing people, however, as my colleague Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS of Burry Port has said and Mr John HOWELL has just spoken about, we need to focus on media literacy.

I was a teacher for over 20 years. I know how young people, particularly, digest their information, is really key; how we inform our opinions.

I believe, there is an obligation on parliamentarians, such as myself, and on us in the Council of Europe, to ensure that the facts and the truth are given to people and they are learned, that they have the skills to be able to develop their opinions around receiving this information.

But I would also like to echo the words of my good friend Sir Tony LLOYD and say how it is of utmost importance that parliamentarians throughout Europe continue to demand the release of prisoners in Belarus, who have been illegally detained. I show my support for these prisoners and I stand by them. I am part of a campaign with Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS and and others to adopt a Belarusian – and I am very supportive of Kanstantsin Svidunovich, who is a TV presenter and hosts "Morning Espresso". These people have been detained for no reason apart from their political views. I think that it is wrong that we have to continue to raise awareness for these political prisoners in Belarus, so I encourage my colleagues to do the same.

We need the strongest of international sanctions to be placed on the country. I welcome that the UK government has notified all UK airlines to cease all the flights over Belarusian airspace and to suspend the operating permit of the Belarusian airline Belavia with immediate effect. The people of Belarus have shown extreme courage and determination since the fraud election last year. I support them in their continued fight for a democratic and free society. We cannot allow journalists to be attacked in any country. We live in a world which continues to be heavily influenced by its own governments.

Here at home, we have a government that lacks transparency and works to influence the media through a biased press.

Thank you, Chair.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

10:49:51

Thank you.

The next speaker in the room is Mr Frédéric REISS from France. He will be followed by two online speakers: Mr Fazil MUSTAFA from Azerbaijan and Mr Jeremy CORBYN from the United Kingdom.

The floor is for Mr REISS.

Not speaking, OK?

Then we go to the next speaker online, Mr MUSTAFA from Azerbaijan.

So we go to Mr Jeremy CORBYN from the United Kingdom.

He's on?

Then we go to Mr MUSTAFA from Azerbaijan.

 

So, now we try Mr CORBYN.

 

OK, there he is. Do we have sound as well?

Mr Jeremy CORBYN

United Kingdom, SOC

10:51:30

Thank you very much for calling me to speak in this debate.

I support the report and congratulate those that worked so hard to produce it. It is very welcome indeed.

Journalists around the world have died because they've tried to expose the truth about corruption, about drug cartels and about many other issues. So we mourn those that have died such as Jamal Khashoggi who were working as journalists. We should also be very well aware of the power of social media and the power of algorithms to influence people and which direction they wish to follow news, how they wish to be informed. We also, I think, have to challenge the question of ownership of the media by a small number of global corporations that seek to influence both politically and commercially what's happening in this world.

I'm also concerned about, and I'm pleased that the report refers to this, the way in which news values are manipulated and that in turn leads to attitudes, often attitudes of racism, attitudes of xenophobia and attitudes of attacks towards minorities around the world. So I do think that this report is timely, useful and very, very valuable indeed.

The report also talks about the right to know. Contrary to what other speakers have said, I do believe there is a right to know, there is a right for the public to know what is going on, there is a right to know what public officials and governments do. And if we deny people that right, then obviously autocracy eventually takes over through a lack of information.

I support absolutely what my friend Mr Paul GAVAN said earlier on and I'm quite surprised that not more people have mentioned it. That is the situation facing Julian Assange at the present time. Julian Assange came to Britain at the request of the Guardian to work with them on exposing what had been happening around the world with US military secrets, with what the US has been doing in Iraq and other places. And he did the world a service by exposing so much of what's going on: the abuse of human rights, contemptuously and cynically done by powerful military forces.

He was then sought for extradition from Britain and the case has been handled through the British courts for a very long time and he was not extradited. The court denied the request for extradition to the United States and he now remains in a maximum-security prison in Britain languishing there, hoping that somewhere along the line he will be freed. We have sent, a number of MPs have sent a letter to President Biden, asking the US to stop the appeal against this decision by the British court so that Assange could be freed. He is a journalist, he was standing up for press freedom, he was trying to expose the truth of what is going on around the world.

I think it would be very helpful if the Council of Europe joined in this call to President Biden to ensure that Julian Assange is freed and able to continue his excellent work as a real journalist.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

10:54:36

Thank you.

Now we go back to Mr Fazil MUSTAFA from Azerbaijan, if he is now online.

Mr Fazil MUSTAFA

Azerbaijan, ALDE

10:54:48

Thank you very much.

As noted in the lecture, both media freedom and the right of people to information are linked to fundamental human freedoms enshrined in their constitutions.

There are norms in both International documents and local legislation that will guarantee and support this right to control so much freedom.

Freedom of the media begins with economic freedom. It is already a world's reality that the phenomenon called the media economy has its guiding character in the market economy system.

Public and private sector advertising orders can be considered a guarantee of the independence of the media. The level of the advertising market in different countries also determines the level of development of the media. In the age of the internet, on the eve of the loss of information agility of the print media, the sphere of activity of the internet media is expanding. This raises the issue of media responsibility and leads to an increase in contradictions and disputes in the information space.

On the other hand the professionalism of the media is one of...

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

10:56:19

Can we retrieve him?

Okay, the connection was interrupted.

I don't see the next two speakers, Mr Aleksander POCIEJ and Mr Andrej HUNKO in the Plenary. No, they are not here.

Then the next speaker on my list would be Mr Scott SIMMS from Canada, if he is there, I would give him the floor, unless we could retrieve Mr Fazil MUSTAFA.

Then the floor goes to Mr Scott SIMMS please...

[there's a connectivity problem.. with everyone?]

The next speaker on the list would be Ms NURULLAYEVA Konul from Azerbaijan also online. Is she available? No.

Then we would go on to Mr Barna Pál ZSIGMOND from Hungary. He is in the... Yes, welcome.

Mr Barna Pál ZSIGMOND

Hungary, EC/DA

10:58:00

Mister Speaker, let me behold the key role in agenda-setting and providing timely, pluralist and reliable information.

The report contains general rules on the media. I agree with the majority of the recommendations. It is a high-quality report but this is only a façade. These rules, unfortunately, are misused by the mainstream liberal media and by global companies. This is what we have experienced also in Hungary, too. The fundamental law in Hungary stipulates that everyone should have the right to freedom of expression and that Hungary recognises and protects the freedom and diversity of the press. The fundamental law ensures also the diversity and the balanced functioning of the media market. The Hungarian government is committed to ensuring these rights and is committed to promoting and protecting the freedom and pluralism of media, as well as granting equal access to media content for everyone, as reflected by the powerful, legal and constitutional safeguards of media freedom in Hungary.

We also have to be aware that the hypocrisy of press freedom and freedom of expression should not be used to censor certain ideas. We see cases that in the mainstream liberal media there is no room for conservative ideas. More than that, public figures are penalised for taking a position that went against liberal mainstream ideology, for example, due to remarks against illegal migration or same-sex marriage. The Hungarian government, based on a referendum, is against illegal migration and when we say that we regard that our opinion is a legitimate European restrained and civilised statement, made in defence of a European identity, we are regarded in the liberal mainstream media, that we are xenophobic. We saw even yesterday that some liberal journalists are successful in spreading fake news about Hungary when our colleague Mr Speaker, Andreas NICK asking of what Minister Mr Péter SZIJJÁRTÓ stated that the Central European University was closed down in Budapest. This is the fake news, the university is still operating in Budapest. This is a fact. Still the liberal media reports on the end of the University. Another fake news story mentioned was the Klubradio case, a radio station, which was closed because it violated media law. Again the government was attacked based on fake news by the left. Let me repeat the text of the Hungarian law which is by the way strikingly similar to French and US federal regulation and could not be clearer, "should the broadcaster repeatedly violate the rules, – Klubradio did not even contest the fact that they did on several occasions – its application to automatically extend the licence must not be assessed favourably." To sum up our understanding, facts are the most efficient weapon against the fake news spread by the left.

Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

11:00:40

I think attacking the sitting president in this way is quite inappropriate but I will refrain from responding and not bend the rules like you do.

Next speaker on my list would be Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR from Iceland. There she is. You have the floor.

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Iceland, SOC

11:01:03

Thank you, Mister President.

Dear colleagues, I'd like to congratulate the rapporteur on his report.

I think it's very important that we have this discussion especially at a time where it's vital that the public can depend on the information that it receives.

I would like to use this opportunity to point out a situation that we have ongoing in my own, in Iceland, where a very powerful fisheries company has taken it upon itself to attack the media, to actually stalk the journalist that has exposed their corrupt practices in Namibia in Africa, and to undermine our freedom of the media by actually producing their own propaganda shows to attack anyone really that criticises this company and its dealings.

This company is called Samherji. It is the biggest fisheries company in Iceland. As you might know or not, Iceland as an island nation is very dependent on the fisheries. It is a big industry here in my home country, and there are a few hundred people who have gotten enormously wealthy from these natural resources that we have in our country. They have used this wealth to fund media to direct what the media writes and to impact public opinion in Iceland regarding how our resources are being used, especially, of course, our fisheries permissions but also just how politics are done in Iceland. This muddies the water in terms of the public's right to know how dependable the information is.

If you have a gigantic fisheries company that owns a huge part in a media and then actually threw a gift dealing, sort of gives it to an elected representative in the city council belonging to the biggest party of the country, and he somehow has now a part in the biggest media in Iceland through a loan that never has to be repaid. Where does this public official stand, and where does the independence of this media stand?

In Iceland we have a problem of the independence of the media because powerful interests own the media. This ownership is not transparent. It is not clear, it muddies the water, and it impacts the people's right to know in Iceland. It threatens the liberty of our journalists and our freedom of expression.

I would like to say that it's a regrettable situation. I would like to point it out to this Assembly because I think we too often are considered a very great example of freedom of expression, and it's a matter of concern for this Assembly. I hope that we can take it up at a better time but I thought this was an appropriate time to bring it to the Assembly's attention because we know freedom of the media is vitally important.

Thank you very much.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

11:04:30

Thank you.

We try again for Ms Konul NURULLAYEVA from Azerbaijan, online.

Ms Konul NURULLAYEVA

Azerbaijan, NR

11:04:43

Thank you honourable president.

Thank you, Mr Roberto RAMPI, for presenting a very constructive report on this important issue, especially in the digital age.

As a parliamentary member, I find the media's role in providing timely, transparent, and accurate information for public use very crucial. I believe that media freedom, together with correct execution of people's right to know, can create a democratic society, driving people to actively participate in constructive debate, political elections and other decision-making processes.

The Azerbaijani state supports every individuals' right to information free expression and free speech. According to article number 50 of the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, everyone has the right to see, receive, prepare and disseminate information legally. Moreover, internet in Azerbaijan is free of all restrictions and censorship, as well as is used by more than 80% of the local population.

Now, let me once again relate the recent unfortunate incident that happened in Kalbajar about which my colleagues informed you. Two  Azerbaijani media representatives, Siraj Abishov and Maharram Ibrahimov, who fell victim to a mine explosion while exercising their rights to collect and prepare information about one of our liberated lands, Kalbajar. The video footage they had filmed however was saved and enabled everyone, including international institutions, to witness the horror of mine terror committed by the Armenians in our territories. Although my colleagues already touched this tissue, I felt obligated to restate the happenings as this is of utmost importance not only for us Azerbaijanis, but for the whole international community. Since international media representatives reporting from Karabakh may come to share similar fate with our journalists as well.

In this regard I call on all countries to take extra measures to ensure their citizens' secure access to legal information. Additionally, I urge our rapporteur and encourage not only the government and public authorities but also private media, educational centres and cultural institutions to engage in informing and educating the population. As a parliamentarian, I'm also confident that we can enhance people's right to know and public trust by raising issues concerning public interest and by standing up for people's rights in plenary sessions.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

11:07:33

Thank you.

People are filtering in and out here.

Mister HUNKO, you missed your slot to speak. Do you want to speak now?

No. Okay. Doesn't want to speak.

Then we give another try to Mr Scott SIMMS from Canada, online.

Calling Canada.

Okay, so I give the floor to the next speaker in the plenary which is Ms Jennifer DE TEMMERMAN from France.

Thank you very much.

Ms Jennifer DE TEMMERMAN

France, ALDE

11:08:20

Thank you, Mister President.

Dear colleagues,

I would first like to thank our colleague, Mr Roberto RAMPI, for the quality of his work, which highlights both the importance and the fragility of the right to know.

I would like to thank Mr Roberto Rampi for his excellent report, which highlights the importance and fragility of the right to know, as defined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which deals with freedom of expression and information. Whether it is, quite rightly, as you point out in your report, because the standards that already exist are not sufficiently applied or because our inability to anticipate and manage the development of digital networks has led to inadequate responses, such as the law against hateful content on the Internet in France, which was largely censured by our Constitutional Council. Like the rapporteur, I also regret the small number of accessions to the Tromsø Convention and that my own country, France, has still not signed it.

I would like to alert you, ladies and gentlemen, to the risk of false pretenses, particularly in terms of participatory democracy. The Citizens' Climate Convention has been referred to in this Chamber as an exemplary step by France. The reality is that most of the participants are disappointed with what has been done with their work and that the last elections, whose low turnout I also deplore, have very largely sanctioned these pretenses. The best reports in the world will have no effect if we continue to talk amongst ourselves without being offensive in defending rights in our own countries.

It is not only states and public authorities that contribute to the right to know, whether they are actors in culture, education, the media or whistleblowers. Other colleagues have mentioned before me the too many journalists imprisoned or murdered in the world or in some Member States of our Council. Some people stand up to shed light on the realities and abuses of our societies and our policies, and sometimes of our armies. Julian Assange is still imprisoned in the high-security Belmarsh prison in London, in conditions that have been denounced by the United Nations Special Rapporteur. Our Assembly has also expressed its concern about this in a written declaration on the initiative of our colleague Mr Andrej HUNKO. On 4 June 2021, Stella Morris, his companion, and a number of prominent people, including the Special Rapporteur, launched the Geneva Appeal calling for the immediate release of Julian Assange.

I therefore join our two colleagues, Mr Paul GAVAN and Mr Jeremy CORBYN, and invite you, dear colleagues, for those who have not already done so, to join and relay this appeal, so that our British friends refuse extradition to the USA. Together we can urge the new US President, Joe Biden, to stop the prosecution of Mr Assange. It is high time to finally put an end to this terrible renunciation of freedom of knowledge.

Thank you.

Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:11:07

Thank you.

I call Ms Yuliya LOVOCHKINA from Ukraine, please.

Ms Yuliya LOVOCHKINA

Ukraine, SOC

11:11:18

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the rapporteur Mr Roberto RAMPI who carried out a complete and broad-ranging examination on a matter of increasing need to establish a wide right to know in the member states of the Council of Europe.

Indeed a citizen's real possibility of making conscious choices depends on obtaining timely, pluralist and reliable information. Media components play an important role for safeguarding the right to know.

I fully share the position of the honourable rapporteur stating that it is of crucially important that Council of Europe standards on media freedom, editorial independence and pluralism, protection of journalists, funding benchmarks and guarantees and the transparency of media ownership should be fully implemented.

However the recent data offered by world renown NGO's and agencies causes grave concerns regarding media freedom all over the world. Unfortunately Ukraine is no exemption. We have to admit that the situation with freedom of speech in Ukraine is indeed very dangerous. Thus media workers, particularly journalist investigating corruption and fraud, continuously face the threat of violence and intimidation in Ukraine. Their work is often obstructed by limited access to information and different types of pressure.

The 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders has classified Ukraine as problematic, ranking in 97th place. This is in the middle of Europe. Concern continues to focus on news manipulation, violations of the confidentiality of sources, cyberattacks and excesses in the fight against fake news.

Moreover, in February of this year, sanctions against a number of TV channels namely 112 Ukraine, News One and Zik, were introduced unlawfully. These sanctions make broadcasting for these channels impossible for five years.

According to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, this decision is contrary to international human rights standards as it lacks justification of its necessity and proportionality and was not taken by an independent authority.

There is no doubt that attacks on media freedom extend far beyond the immediate damage for journalists and media institutions. Those infringements, first and foremost, undermine the public sphere and fundamental human rights. Those who censor or suppress media freedom wilfully choose to silence the exchange of ideas, block the quest for knowledge and promote unaccountability of power.

So, let's support this wonderful report.

I truly thank the rapporteur once again.

By supporting this report let's secure our democracies as well.

Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:14:30

Thank you, Miss Yuliya LOVOCHKINA.

Our last speaker will be Mr Mehmet Mehdi EKER from Turkey, please.

Mr Mehmet Mehdi EKER

Turkey, NR

11:14:43

Thank you, thank you Mister Chairman,

As your might all acknowledge, one of the most important elements of democracy is free and democratic elections. Elections play a special role in the best manner only if every citizen is able to make conscious choices on the basis of undistorted and factual information. Freedom of expression, as well as independent, free and plural media, is no doubt indispensable for people to access the right information. Thus, freedom of expression and media freedom are also essential for our democracies. However, these two rights do not allow any person to spread misinformation. Furthermore, the freedom of expression is not absolute. It is rather a qualified right that can be restricted in certain instances provided that these restrictions are narrowly defined and are in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, misinformation and disinformation are the main problems which diminish public's trust in media outlets. Misinformation is generally caused by ignorance, while disinformation which refers to the intentional spread of inaccurate information with the aim to deceive people.

We must fight these two obstacles, which prevent citizens from accessing to the right information. In order to combat misinformation, people should be informed of ways to identify which media outlets are impartial. Also, people could fight disinformation individually by checking and verifying news for spreading it in social media. Thus, any government could and should occasionally take necessary actions with a will to protect people from misinformation and disinformation and to uphold media freedom.

These actions should not be considered as an interference into the freedom of the media. On the very contrary, it should be considered as a just and necessary step to protect this fundamental right. In this sense, I would like to emphasise that making sure that people are deciding democratically and on the basis of exact, precise and complete knowledge of factual elements requires governments to be watchful and ready to undertake a series of measures whenever the right of access to information is under threat.

Thank you very much.

Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:17:52

Thank you.

I must now interrupt the list of speakers.

The speeches of members on the speaker's list who have been present physically and remotely during the debate but have not been able to speak may be given to the table office for publication in the official report.

I remind colleagues that typewritten text can be submitted electronically, if possible, no later than four hours after the list of speakers is interrupted.

This concludes the list of speakers. Now I call Mr Roberto RAMPI, the rapporteur, to reply.

Mister Roberto RAMPI, you have three minutes.

Please.

Mr Roberto RAMPI

Italy, SOC, Rapporteur

11:18:33

Thank you very much, Chairman.

First of all, I would really like to thank all my fellow members. It was exciting to receive so many appreciations, but I must say that the appreciations do not go only to me. They go to a group of people who have worked on this report, international experts, people from many countries who have devoted years to it, and they go to our working group in the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media, our officials who have really put their intelligence, heart and expertise into it. This Parliamentary Assembly has qualities that should also be better known in our states. Because it can really help democracies, governments to work with quality.

Some observations and doubts have been raised, which are naturally very legitimate. However, I believe that if we read the paragraph carefully, precisely because of the quality of the contributors, and I believe that in particular in paragraphs 4 and 16 where a definition is given of this new right — which is clearly new and therefore cannot yet be found in existing legal systems — it is well defined as a right which, like many others, strikes a balance between being an individual right, which it certainly is, but with a collective, social dimension. With a public value, as can be the right to health or many others.

I believe that the challenge today is precisely this. We are trying to think about the construction of an ecosystem, an ecosystem that is made up of many elements: the possibility of accessing information, the balance between privacy and access to information, the very important value of democratic debate and therefore the tools to foster it, the possibility of verifying information. Not so much with sanctions, not so much with interventions from the outside that say what is true and what is not, because this is exactly something we absolutely want to avoid — I would like to make it very clear —, but with the possibility, for citizens, to understand where the information comes from.

So both the issue of algorithms and the issue of media ownership, because the point is awareness building. That is why in the report we have given so much importance, and I think this is a great innovation, to the cultural system. To the importance of investing in the cultural system, of having cultural sites, of having cultural initiatives and of monitoring this system as a democratic element, just as we do with more traditional subjects.

I believe that today, with your vote, a new frontier can really begin. The work in the individual countries will be important. This report may give rise to other reports that go into certain issues in greater depth. I therefore thank you for your support.

Thank you for the quality and value of the debate and I believe that we can start from here.

Thank you.

Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:21:37

Thank you.

Does the chairperson of the Committee wish to speak?

Thank you.

You have three minutes.

Mr Olivier BECHT

France, ALDE, Chairperson of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media

11:21:48

Thank you Mr President.

Ladies and gentlemen,

A well-known French philosopher called Voltaire said: "Let us support the freedom of the press, it is the basis of all other freedoms". For more than two centuries, we have seen that media freedom and democracy travel the same path: when one deviates from it, the other is lost. In recent years the forms of media have multiplied: from the written press to radio, television, etc. As our rapporteur Mr Roberto RAMPI has said, we are now sailing on a new ocean, the digital ocean, the ocean of social media.

From this point of view, we have reached a rather paradoxical situation: just a few decades ago, we did not have enough information or, in any case, we had problems in accessing information, and today we have reached a situation where we are drowning in information. In a few seconds, through our smartphones, we have access to billions of pieces of information from all over the world.

But today there are two problems, two issues. The first is obviously to distinguish, in this information, between what is essential and what is superficial; however, we often tend to drown in the superficial to avoid talking about the essential. We can find all the information on the private life, for example, of an actor or a singer; on the other hand, it will be much more difficult to find information, for example, on the capacity of a state to tackle, for example, a health crisis. That is one issue: transparency.

And then there is a second very important issue: distinguishing the true from the false and, beyond the true from the false, also the real from the virtual. We now know that with artificial intelligence algorithms, we can fake a video or a photo and make it look like a person is broadcasting a message when in fact they never did. So we can see that we are at an essential moment here: that of public trust. Do we trust what we have on social networks and in the media, since everyone has become both editor and publisher of the information?

That is why our excellent rapporteur, Mr Roberto RAMPI, has produced this report, which sets out essential ways of trying to restore not only this media freedom but also public confidence and the public's right to know. That is why I call on you to vote for this report without reservation on behalf of our committee.

Thank you.

Ms Mònica BONELL

Andorra, ALDE

12:57:55

Speech not pronounced (Rules of Procedure, Art. 31.2), only available in French.

Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK

Ukraine, ALDE

12:58:11

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

I congratulate the Rapporteur with the excellent and very acute report and very relevant drafts of the Resolution and Recommendation.

These are very right words to define the scope of the Report - a wide right to know the unbiased information, so that to make people able to make the thought-through choice.

The citizen’s civil and political right to be actively informed of all aspects regarding all stages of the policy-making and administrative/rule-making processes. This will allow for full democratic participation, and hold public goods administrators to account according to the standards of human rights and the rule of law.

Everything, what has to be restricted due to the security reasons, protection of the human rights with the right to privacy inclusive - shall be defined by the governments as accurate as possible.

In this regards I’m honoured to represent Ukraine - a country who ratified the Convention on Access to Official Documents (CETS No. 205, the “Tromsø Convention”) and thus was the 10th country, who let the Convention to come into force. This is the document, which laid the international law grounds to the draft Resolution and the draft Recommendation, we’re considering today.

I would like to conclude saying that I’m fully supportive of the call to the member states the rapid establishment of the Tromsø Convention Monitoring Committee and to commit sufficient funds for it to operate effectively.

Ms Minerva HERNÁNDEZ RAMOS

Mexico

12:58:29

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Without any doubt, freedom and equality are the goal to be achieved through democratic processes. Bobbio stated the need for a reciprocal attenuation of these principles in order to achieve the democratic ideal: finding an adequate balance so that both are compatible and mutually fulfilling.

In the balance of this delicate equation lies an essential condition for citizen participation in public affairs, the possibility of citizen involvement in administrative decision-making processes, in the creation of regulations, as well as in exercising citizen checks and balances regarding the actions of public institutions, because power must necessarily be exercised for the benefit of public interests.

However, citizen participation requires premises that must be accomplished for the benefit of the democratic ideal; otherwise, they would be limited to superficial issues, but would not address the systemic problems of governance.

Let us banish the idea that people’s democratic vocation begins and ends with just casting a vote; undoubtedly, we require active citizen participation for better collective decision making.

To achieve this, it is necessary for each citizen to have full knowledge of all the facts and factual evidence for them to be able to make informed and reasonable decisions, strengthening the democratic process.

Nevertheless, public interest in engaging in real debates about ideas based on accurate and complete facts is being lost. The narrative of alternative facts, of post-truth or, as it is known in Mexico, of the other data, has taken over the public discourse, increasing the population polarization and reducing democratic plurality to opposing factions on various issues that are summarized in a them versus an us, which has only resulted in greater civil distrust towards public institutions, endangering democratic governance.

From Mexico, we are pleased that the rights of citizens are being expanded to move from simple access to information to a true right to know allowing the population to guide its criteria towards clear and credible information away from the thunderous noise of fake news that is reproduced in social media and the media in general with low ethical standards.

In this information age, let us strive to create safe spaces to exercise the right to know, educational and cultural environments that stimulate continuous learning of citizens and provide them with tools to develop the critical thinking needed so as to participate much more consciously in democratic processes, always guaranteeing that their individual choices are informed and reasonable to benefit the majority of the population.

Thank you very much.

Mr Bob van PAREREN

Netherlands, EC/DA

12:58:45

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Thank you Chair,

I welcome the report as expressed by rapporteur Mr. Rampi. Interesting the input of different members of this Parliament. Some with concerns about other countires.

I like to talk about small concerns about our country in this aspect.

The Netherlands a small country at the seaside. Great to emphasize on Right to Know and very important Public Trust.

A lot has been said about Social Media: a business model with high speed and high influence. And censorship on behalf of the owner and help of unknown algorythms. That is one concern.

An other concern are our State paid ( taxpayers ) Radio and Television institutes. They tend on concentration on “left” news. Whilst the majority of our people tend tot he “right”. So freedom in neutral and fair information is a need for wide Public trust.

A third concern is the lack of the function of Commissioner in this aspect in The Netherlands.

So not only the messenger but also the receiver is key for Public Trust.

Thank you.

Mr Éctor Jaime RAMÍREZ BARBA

Mexico

12:59:16

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

In Mexico we recognize the freedom of the press and the human right of people to access information as a pillar of every modern and democratic society.

The states that defend and guarantees these principles, develop high-level commitments in the construction of a citizenry that actively participates, is informed, can evaluate their governments and seeks to obtain a better and dignified life for all.

All good government must aspire to be transparent and to be accountable, and this is achieved to a great extent, by guaranteeing the channels and spaces in which the citizenry, civil society and other actors can inform and express themselves.

The government of the President López Obrador has undertaken an active fight against the media, mainly against the press, even going against international media companies such as the New York Times, The Guardian or El País, accusing them of lying and trying to destabilize his government, being bribed, be his political opponents, and make many other claims against him that frankly lack support.

The López Obrador Presidency is characterized by opacity, by keeping hidden contracts that should be public given the nature of being in the national interest; of hiding the many records of the beneficiaries of social programs, and even of keeping as confidential information, the number of deaths caused by the current pandemic, which considering the data and real evidence, could be at least double that which is officially reported, that is to say, close to half a million unfortunate deaths, many of which could have been preventable.

The right to know in Mexico is experiencing a deep crisis; The National Institute for Access to Information and Data Protection, which is our only guarantor institution of the right to access public information at the national level, is at risk of being annihilated by the government, all in order to keep uncomfortable information opaque for the government.

By next September, the Mexican Congress will begin its LXV Legislature, a new period of ordinary sessions, in which, in my capacity as citizen representative and as member of the main opposition party, the National Action Party, I will ensure compliance with the fundamental rights of Mexicans.

We want a Mexico with freedom of the press and that guarantees the right of access to public information.

Mr Fazil MUSTAFA

Azerbaijan, ALDE

13:00:18

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Dear colleagues!

As noted in the lecture, both media freedom and the right of people to information are linked to fundamental human freedoms enshrined in the constitutions. There are norms in both international documents and local legislation that will guarantee and support this right to control so much freedom.

Freedom of the media begins with economic freedom. It is already a world reality that the phenomenon called the media economy has a guiding character in the market economy system. Public and private sector advertising orders can be considered a guarantee of the independence of the media. The level of the advertising market in different countries also determines the level of development of the media. In the age of the Internet, on the eve of the loss of information agility of the print media, the sphere of activity of the Internet media is expanding. This raises the issue of media responsibility and leads to an increase in contradictions and disputes in the information spaceOn the other hand, the professionalism of the media is one of the important factors. The reliability of the information and the ability of the recipient to digest the information correctly are very important here. Open truths are often communicated to the public in different forms and sometimes lead to erroneous conclusions by the subjects who receive the information.

On June 4 this year, two journalists traveling to carry out professional activities in the Kalbajar region of Azerbaijan, liberated from Armenian occupation, were killed by a landmine planted by Armenians. Such actions should be understood as an attack on media freedom and should be strongly condemned. Because free movement and safe work are the first conditions for the delivery of objective information.

The exchange of information between media structures of different countries is also an important element in the implementation of media freedom, as well as the right to information. It also prevents the closure of the information space and prevents the political isolation of information.

Vote: Media freedom, public trust and the people’s right to know

Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:25:02

Thank you.

The debate is closed.

The Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media has presented a draft resolution and a draft recommendation.

One amendment has been tabled to the draft resolution which we will deal with now.

I understand that the chairperson of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media wishes to propose to the assembly that Amendment 1 to the draft resolution, which was unanimously approved by the committee, should be declared as agreed by the Assembly.

Is that so Mister BECHT?

Does anyone object. If so, please ask for the floor by raising your hand in the hemicycle.

Mr Olivier BECHT

France, ALDE, Chairperson of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media

11:25:45

That is the case, Mr President. Thank you.

Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:25:48

No one is objecting.

As there is no objection I declare that Amendment 1 to the draft resolution has been agreed.

There is an objection so I will...

There is no objection, so I call Mr Stefan SCHENNACH to support Amendment 1.

Mr Stefan SCHENNACH you have one minute, please.

Mr Stefan SCHENNACH

Austria, SOC

11:26:26

This amendment takes care that also the media, which has to support a lot, are free media, are free from any pressure or any harassment, and I think this is very important. It was unanimously in the Committee.

Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:26:49

Thank you.

Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment?

I cannot see such a person.

So the Committee unanimously accepted the amendment.

I shall now put the amendment to the vote.

Members present in the Chamber should use the hemicycle voting system. Members participating remotely should vote using the remote voting system.

The vote in the Hemicycle and by remote voting is now open.

The vote is closed.

I call for the result to be displayed.

Amendment 1 is agreed to.

We will now proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained in Document 15308.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

I call for the result to be displayed.

The draft resolution is adopted.

We will now proceed to vote on the draft recommendation contained in Document 15308.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

I call for the result to be displayed.

The draft recommendation in Document 15308 is adopted.

Thank you. Congratulations.

I remind members that the ballot for the election of a judge to the European Court of Human Rights in respect of Croatia is open until 2 p.m. Members are invited to cast their votes.

The next item of business this morning is the debate on the report titled Covid Passes or Certificates: Protection of Fundamental Rights and Legal Implications, presented by Mr Damien COTTIER on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

We shall also hear an opinion from Ms Carmen LEYTE on behalf of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development.

The debate must finish at 1 p.m. so I will interrupt the list of speakers at about 12:40 p.m. to allow time for the replies and the vote.

The rapporteur has 7 minutes to present the report and then he will have a further 3 minutes to reply to the debate at the end.

Mr Damien COTTIER you have the floor. 7 minutes please.

Debate: Covid passes or certificates: protection of fundamental rights and legal implications

Mr Damien COTTIER

Switzerland, ALDE, Rapporteur

11:31:54

Thank you, Mr President.

Dear colleagues,

The Covid-19 pandemic is still with us. However, a major change has taken place: vaccination, which is promising because vaccinated people are much less likely to be infected or to become seriously ill, and much less likely to transmit the virus.

It is therefore to be hoped that those who have been vaccinated will be exempted from certain restrictions. As summer started yesterday – although we cannot see that today with the weather in Strasbourg – this is therefore welcome. It is all the more welcome after months of restrictions that have left holiday and leisure facilities, hotels, restaurants, cultural venues and also gyms, for example, in great difficulty.

The social and economic pressure to reopen and resume normal life is enormous. It is perfectly legitimate: life must be resumed, as much as possible and as quickly as possible. But we know that lifting restrictions too quickly could also lead to a new upsurge of cases. Governments must therefore proceed cautiously, even with vaccination underway. We are seeing in several places in Europe at the moment, for example in the UK, that the Delta variant is causing an alarming increase in cases, in a country that has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.

The idea has been gaining ground in recent months of introducing a document that proves a person's health status and allows them to access certain services or places, access to which may remain restricted for others.

There are some important considerations in this debate.

Firstly, even if the risk is greatly reduced, a vaccinated person can still be infected and transmit the virus. They are not immune. If they travel abroad, they can bring back new, potentially more dangerous or transmissible variants.

Secondly, while the current evidence suggests a greatly reduced rate of transmission, we do not yet know precisely how well vaccines protect against transmission of the virus, whether all vaccines are equivalent in this respect or whether they are equally effective against the different variants.

Thirdly, we do not yet know exactly how long the vaccines will be effective, although the latest data are quite positive in this respect.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, not everyone will be vaccinated. Some cannot, for medical reasons, and some do not want to. Vaccination is not compulsory and should not become so: that is the position of this Assembly, which reiterated it in a resolution adopted in January.

Covid-19 is a highly transmissible and deadly disease and health policy must continue to take this into account. On the other hand, governments have a duty to lift restrictions on fundamental freedoms if they are no longer proportionate to the actual health situation. Many states, as well as the European Union, are planning the introduction of the covid pass as an auxiliary means of lifting restrictions. Several countries have already introduced such a certificate.

There are therefore important legal and human rights issues to be resolved. Some are relatively simple: parliaments are there to ensure that there is an appropriate legal basis; data protection issues, which are particularly important for medical data, can also be resolved; and digital certificates can be protected against counterfeiting, which is essential because the risk of counterfeiting is high.

The most complex issues concern discrimination. The introduction of health passes introduces direct and indirect risks of discrimination between different segments of our populations. It will not be enough to say that those who have been vaccinated, cured or tested can return to normal life and those who have not can. Far from it. We need a differentiated response that minimises the potential for discrimination. Essential services and public services must remain accessible to all.

My report seeks to set out the issues involved and to suggest ways forward. All these questions can be answered appropriately. They need to be analysed in detail, with nuance, and the right balance sought, always taking into account the national context and in particular the current health situation.

One point that seems important to me is to ensure that this pass is accessible not only to those who have been vaccinated, but also to those who have been cured or tested, so as not to introduce a kind of indirect obligation to vaccinate. It is also important that access to the tests does not constitute an excessive barrier, particularly in financial terms if the tests are too expensive.

These are essential obligations for states. But it is also a political issue: we must avoid dividing our societies. Excessive differentiation between categories of the population would undermine the sense of fairness. We should also be wary of introducing expensive pass systems if they can only be used for a short period of time. This could divert important financial resources from other effective measures to combat the pandemic.

Finally, let us ensure that this system is designed for a short period of time. For who would want to live in a society where you have to certify your health status in order to access everyday services?

I am pleased that the Committee on Social, Health and Sustainable Development supports the draft resolution of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. I can support almost all of its amendments, which provide useful clarifications. I have reservations only about Amendment 4, which introduces a partial list of grounds for discrimination that does not correspond to existing international instruments and is, on some points, imprecise. From a legal point of view, these loopholes could be problematic, which is why I will propose an oral amendment to find a wording that will enable us to agree.

I am grateful to the Committee secretariat for its essential support, and it did so in a very short space of time. We had less than a month to produce the report and submit it to the Committee. The report also draws on the work of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and its expert committees on bioethics and data protection.

As you can see, my report aims to provide some answers to the many concerns about this means of combating the pandemic. It does not argue for or against covid passes: it recognises that they will be used, that they can be used, that they are probably already being used. We must ensure that they are used safely and in accordance with human rights standards.

The report therefore calls on all member states to ensure that their decisions are well thought out and justified, the social consequences anticipated and the right balances sought.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:39:35

Thank you, Mister COTTIER.

I now call Ms Carmen LEYTE, rapporteur of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, to present the Committee's opinion.

Please.

Ms Carmen LEYTE

Spain, EPP/CD, Rapporteur for opinion

11:39:47

Thank you, President.

As things stand today, I think most people in this Assembly would believe there are good reasons to roll out our Covid-19 passes provided they are in full compliance with human rights.

This is in line with the position of the ECDC, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and it stated this 4 days ago. As rapporteur for the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, my analysis will see this question through the perspective of public health. In the middle of a worldwide pandemic, the main task of governments is disease control. At the same time they are,of course, obliged to try to protect the right to life. A right which extends to all human beings.

At the same time governments have the duty to guarantee their economies, which have suffered so much over the last 16 months while being in a position to get back to life as quickly as possible without threatening our health systems or our right to health. There is no doubt that the pandemic is not yet over, either in Europe or even less at the worldwide level.

At the same time it is clear that we do now have various different effective tools to keep it in check: the various different vaccines, improved treatment, PPE, and the growing certainty that people who have survived a Covid-19 infection will have lifelong immunity. All of this gives rise to hope.

However, not everything is rose-tinted. Although we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, the rise in the presence of virus variants, such as Delta, are increasing uncertainty. There is a risk that they might actually evade immunity, including through the vaccination process. It is essential, however, that the whole world has access to it. As we have heard quite often: nobody is safe until everybody is safe. This is why we shouldn't simply make do with Covid-19 passes.

We should place priority on international solidarity so as to suppress the pandemic globally in compliance with resolution 2361 of 2021 adopted by this House and so that Covid-19 vaccines would be available to all. Rapid worldwide vaccination is the only way we can defeat this virus.

Coming back to the question of Covid-19 passes, I would remind you that the agreement voted in the European Parliament is subject to certain conditions. It's time-limited, it's in line with data protection rules, it can be suspended by any member state if the epidemiological situation deteriorates, and it's not the only access to travel since PCR tests would also be valid. In other words, I think it's a good basis, which might also inspire other countries to get with PCRs, this will be an important tool to enable people to start travelling again and to breathe new life into the economy.

We can't believe that certificates will provide carte blanche as if the virus doesn't exist for those who got certificates. This is why individual protection and collective protection is still recommended in every country.

This report has been approved by the social FS Health and Spend Development Committee. I'd like to thank Mr Damien COTTIER for his extremely intense work and also I'd like to thank our secretariat.

Finally, I want to congratulate Mr COTTIER for his excellent report defending equality and the respective human rights, which is of course the underlying principle of the work of the Council of Europe.

Many thanks.

Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:43:08

Thank you, Madam Carmen LEYTE.

In the debate, we start according to the tradition with the representatives of political groups. In the debate, I call first Ms Katalin CSÖBÖR from Hungary, please.

Ms Katalin CSÖBÖR

Hungary, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

11:43:30

Thank you, Mr President.

Dear president, dear colleagues,

Although a certificate can help to lift restrictions, the real solution to the pandemic is mass vaccination, so the main objective of the other member sºtates should also be to step up the vaccination campaign.

The experience of the last one and a half years shows that it is the governments of the member states that can provide quick and effective solutions to the problems associated with the pandemic. For example, at present, vaccination coverage in Hungary is over 53%.

We welcome the fact that the proposal on the EU's Covid-19 digital certificate leaves the possibility open for Member States to take extraordinary measures to protect in healthcare crisis situations.

However, it is not correct to pick and choose between vaccines. A vaccine has no nationality or ideology, only effectiveness. Thus, member states must accept all types of vaccination that have been used in the EU and have proven to be safe and effective. Agreements to this effect must be concluded.

The Union is based on freedom of movement. This must again be guaranteed for those who have been immunised against the coronavirus.

The issue of vaccination certificates concerns the protection of personal data, since the fact of being vaccinated is health data linked to the person concerned, whereas the card is presumed to be a document issued by an authorised body containing relevant information connected to such data.

Furthermore, with regard to the issue of fundamental rights and vaccination certificates, the main question is whether there is a restriction or discrimination to fundamental rights with regard to persons who are not holders of a vaccination certificate, when the restriction is imposed in order to enforce another fundamental right or to protect a constitutional value, to the extent strictly necessary, proportionate to the aim to be achieved, while respecting the essential spirit of the fundamental right

Thank you.

Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:46:15

Thank you.

I call Mr George KATROUGALOS from Greece. After him will be Ms Marietta KARAMANLI from France.

Please, Mr George KATROUGALOS.

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

11:46:32

Mr George KATROUGALOS could not be here, so I will speak for the Group of the Unified European Left. 

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

11:46:40

Thank you very much, Mister President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I believe that, with regard to all the repercussions of the Covid-19 crisis, this Assembly has reacted very well and at a very early stage. If you look back, by producing a report at a very early stage on the measures, on the effects on human rights, but also, as early as January, on the issue of the voluntary nature of vaccination, patents and so on and so forth. I believe that this report continues this tradition, that it is a good report and also a very timely one.

I want to highlight a few points in particular that are in this report; one is that vaccination certificates must not lead to an indirect obligation to vaccinate, so points 10 and 13.38 of this resolution. The need for data protection and for decentralised storage of data is highlighted in points 11, 12 and 13.5.

The need for a clear legal basis in point 13.4, that vaccinations must be available to all, 13.3.1, and that there must of course be other categories for such certificates than just vaccination. Namely natural immunity, if you have been through Covid-19 or also if you have been tested accordingly.

Also, of course, the time limit, which is referred to in point 13.7. This is all very good, which is why the Group of the Unified European Left supports this report.

However, I would also like to raise a few critical points in connection with the current discussion on certificates. This has already been mentioned because not all vaccines are recognised, for example by the EMA, by the European Union. We have the problem that Sputnik — which is used in Russia, but also in Hungary, Slovakia and San Marino — is not recognised. We have the problem that Sinovac, which is used in Turkey, is not recognised. And it must not cause any problems for the people, so to speak.

When I think about the fact that in San Marino the entire population has been vaccinated with Sputnik, but cannot leave the country with this vaccination certificate, so to speak, that is already a problem and I don't know what the point is. The EMA says that the data has not yet been delivered, the Russians say that it is there. But I think this problem has to be tackled, because in my opinion all vaccines — the ones that are safe — have to be recognised.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:49:52

Thank you.

Now I call Ms Marietta KARAMANLI from France. She will be speaking online.

After her please be prepared, Mister Yuriy KAMELCHUK, from Ukraine.

Ms Marietta KARAMANLI

France, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

11:50:05

(FR) Dear President, ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to thank our colleague for his report, which proposes to strike a balance between the introduction of such a health pass, the protection of people's rights and the implications in terms of discrimination between citizens that could result from it.

The issue of such a pass, provided that the conditions of non-contagiousness verified after testing or vaccination are met, would make it possible to escape all or some of the restrictions imposed in the interests of public health and its preservation during the pandemic. In concrete terms, it would be conditional, for example, on the negative result of a virological screening, proof of vaccination or a certificate of recovery from an infection. It would be a kind of condition for the freedom to come and go, to assemble or to demonstrate, in the sense of participation in public or private events.

The report emphasises several important points: on the one hand, it points to the risk of discrimination that would be neither justified nor proportionate; on the other hand, it recalls the uncertainties arising from medical science and the need to give equal priority to health protection.

I would like to make three observations.

The first concerns the implementation of such a system, which will make automated use of personal data, most of which will be digital. It is essential that we know what guarantees will be attached to the protection of this personal and confidential information and to its use, including by third parties. The question of access, the type of medical information accessible, the duration of storage and the limitation of its use must be guaranteed and placed under the control of a high authority independent of a judge.

At the same time, the fight against discrimination also involves guarantees that access to techniques that provide proof of non-contagiousness, healing or vaccination protection is equal for all. This clearly means that access to screening or vaccines must be free, open to all, and that, in general, equal access must be the cornerstone of such a system.

Finally, it is hardly conceivable to reserve it for those who have been vaccinated, to give rights only to those who have been vaccinated, because that would be tantamount to making vaccination compulsory. Obviously, vaccination should be encouraged, and people should be informed of its real benefits and its exceptional uncertainties, but making it compulsory would raise the question of penalties and their proportionality.

The definition of strict guarantees limiting the purpose of this pass, the information held, access by third parties and the length of time the data is kept are better than any other measure for ensuring strict use, thus limiting the dangers to our freedoms.

That is what I wanted to share on behalf of my Socialist Group.

I thank you for your attention.

Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:53:26

Thank you.

I now call Mr Yuriy KAMELCHUK from Ukraine and after him will be Ms Maria JUFEREVA-SKURATOVSKI from Estonia.

Please, Mr Yuriy.

Mr Yuriy KAMELCHUK

Ukraine, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

11:53:41

Thank you.

Dear Mr Chairman, dear colleagues, first of all let me extend my congratulations to all rapporteurs and also to our other colleagues who contributed to their very impressive work on this report.

In some countries of the Council of Europe they are discussing the introduction of immunity passports with the note that the person is not contagious.

You need to be very careful with this phenomenon. The maintenance and use of immunity passports will not help governments solve a problem that among other things has a serious ethical side that needs to be scrutinised.

To resolve this issue an operational testing system with reliability that excludes any error is needed as well as uniform rules for all countries.

Given that the role of vaccines in reducing transmission has not yet been established and the availability of vaccines is currently extremely limited, the World Health Organisation has already recommended that countries not require Covid-19 certificates from arrivals.

The use of Covid-19 passports to renew the enjoyment of certain rights or freedoms by partially lifting restrictions is fraught with legal and human rights complications. It above all depends on a high degree of confidence in the medical risks.

The possible use of vaccination certificates as well as immunisation data for purposes other than strictly medical, for example to give individuals exclusive access to rights, services or public places, raises numerous human rights questions. It should be considered with the utmost caution.

Indeed such use could prevent the enjoyment of certain fundamental rights by individuals or even by a large part of the population who would not hold such a certificate or could not justify immunisation.

In addition to the risk of discrimination in relation to the right to freedom of movement, this exclusive access approach could have consequences for the enjoyment of their fundamental rights and freedoms.

At the same time Covid-19 passports will allow organisations in the tourism sector to return to normal operations, which will be critical for the recovery of the global economy.

We all understand that most of the countries in Europe, those with income heavily dependant on tourism, have advocated the introduction of Covid-19 passports in order to launch international tourism as soon as possible. That is why we should find a reasonable balance.

It is necessary to ensure that measures such as Covid-19 passports which exempt their holders from certain restrictions on protected rights and freedoms are applied in such a way as to avoid discrimination and violation of the rights of persons who are not yet vaccinated or cannot be vaccinated because of health restrictions.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:56:33

Thank you.

I now call Ms Maria JUFEREVA-SKURATOVSKI from Estonia and after her, will be speaking Mr Pere LÓPEZ.

Please, Miss Maria.

Ms Maria JUFEREVA-SKURATOVSKI

Estonia, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

11:56:46

Honourable President, colleagues, rapporteur,

Half of numerous European countries have introduced Covid-19 passport systems including my own home country Estonia. This system should not be used to limit our everyday actions and, worse, deepen inequality and discrimination in our societies.

As Israel did in February this year, a number of countries have followed by creating Covid-19 passport apps that show whether an individual has been vaccinated against Covid-19, has recovered from Covid-19 and/or has tested negative for infection. In less than three months after coming into effect, the Israeli Covid-19 vaccination certification system was abolished on 1 June, along with almost all the remaining Covid-19 restrictions in public places. I think this is what we should aim for: to use their certificates for as long as is necessary but not a moment longer.

I am extremely glad that the Digital Green Certificate I talked about in April will go live in July, but there are more improvements needed before we can think of it as a success story. What we still need is cooperation between public authorities and public and private enterprises to ensure good practices that are understood by all sides, especially people whom the services are intended for, and to provide certain common understanding of how to operate in these turbulent conditions.

I am mostly speaking about the current situation concerning airlines that have yet to harmonise the conditions of air travel. While some companies accept the Covid-19 passport as a certificate of safety, some other require extra tests before boarding the plane without taking into account what the requirements in the destination country are.

Dear colleagues, I would like to remind you that this is after you have been either vaccinated, tested or recovered from Covid-19, you needed to prove your own safety yet again before entering the same premises. It did not matter whether you did or did not have an app to prove your previous actions. We should support fast proceedings and the implementation of a digital certificate of vaccination in order to return to normality. However, in the same way, we must ensure that the basic freedoms of citizens and human rights are not violated because of insufficient access to vaccination. 

To conclude, I would like to remind you, that all societies are not and should not be built on discrimination in the context of having access to certain services and healthcare. The Covid-19 passport is indeed necessary at the moment but we should monitor with utmost care that we do not cross the necessity line. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the rapporteur for raising such an important topic.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:59:30

Thank you.

Now I call Mr Pere LÓPEZ from Andorra.

After him Mr Alain MILON form France.

Please.