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25 January 2022 afternoon

2022 - First part-session Print sitting

Sitting video(s) 1 / 1

Opening of the Sitting No. 4

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

15:34:28

Dear Colleagues,

The sitting is open.

First, the usual reminder.

I remind members that it is a legal requirement for everyone here to wear an FFP2 mask covering your nose, mouth, and chin, even when taking the floor.

Sorry for that. These are the rules.

I remind members taking part remotely that they should take part in proceeding from a quiet location and should not speak from cars, trains, or modes of transport. Sorry for that again, but we have to try to communicate in a proper way.

I inform you that Mr Petr TOLSTOI has not achieved in the vote this morning the required absolute majority, so we will hold a further ballot under the same arrangements for which a majority of the votes cast is required.

The vote will be conducted using the electronic voting system on the Scytl platform. The arrangements are the same as for the first round of voting.

I remind you that only those of you who were on the voting list this morning can vote in this ballot.

Five tellers representing the five political groups will help to oversee the election and the counting, assisted by the Secretariat.

The tellers are: for the Group of the European People's Party, Ms Boriana ÅBERG; for the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group, Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE; for the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance group, Mr John HOWELL; for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, Ms Béatrice FRESKO-ROLFO; and for the Group of the Unified European Left, Mr Hişyar ÖZSOY.

Colleagues, the vote is open and will close at 6 p.m.

We will now continue with the agenda. The first item on our agenda is the address of our Secretary General Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ the Secretary of the Council of Europe, our Secretary General, because I remind you we elected our Secretary General. We are most happy that our Secretary General will address our Assembly as we are used to in the beginning of each year.

Many things have happened, Madam Secretary General. This was not an easy year for you to deal with. I think that I am not over pessimistic if I say that there are some challenges ahead for you and in the year that just has started. Let's be happy that we have you as a Secretary General, that you are there to act, to benefit both our Assembly and the Committee of Ministers. We are looking forward to hearing your address to inform us about the major points that you think are of importance for us to know as an Assembly. Then we'll take the questions of our members after your address.

Madam Secretary General, I'm honoured to give you the floor.

Address: Communication from the Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Croatia, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

15:37:52

President of the Parliamentary Assembly dear Mr Tiny KOX,

Thank you very much and once again my felicitation for your post, which will also not be easy. I think we live in difficult times.

State Secretary Della Vedova,

Distinguished Parliamentarians,

Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

I begin by thanking the outgoing President of the Assembly and welcoming his successor to the role.

Mr Rik DAEMS has been dedicated and proactive throughout his term in office: pushing for progress on pressing issues, including the environment and human rights, about which his concerns are clear and just.

And in Mr Tiny KOX, this Assembly has an able and experienced hand to help guide it through the uncertain times that lay ahead. We wish him every success.

Certainly, the challenges are real. The format of this Session is testament to that.

We all hoped that by the start of 2022, Covid-19 would be causing much less disruption. However, the situation remains difficult.

In recent weeks, some of our member states have had record numbers of cases. It is encouraging that the Omicron variant appears to be less severe than others, but it too causes serious illness and deaths, and the sheer volume of infections poses an ongoing threat to health systems, and to the ability of public and private services to function.

So, while we look forward to full, physical meetings resuming as soon as possible, I commend the difficult decision to hold this Session in a modified format that puts health first, but which allows the Assembly to make progress on its important work too.

Of course, national authorities are also continuing to make hard choices about what measures are required for tackling the pandemic as it evolves. Early in this crisis, I wrote to governments making clear that the measures they take should be necessary, proportionate and limited in duration: that they must comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. This remains the case.

I know that the use of restrictions, the introduction of COVID “passes”, and most recently the debate over mandatory vaccinations, has caused controversy in some countries.

Many members of this Assembly have deeply held views on these matters, as do millions of citizens across our continent. They are looking for answers to complex, ethical issues. And many of these are winding their way through domestic legal systems, with some, ultimately, arriving at the door of the European Court of Human Rights.

More will doubtless come. It is not for me to pass judgement on these matters. Rather, it is for governments to take the actions they think are right, just and in accordance with our common European standards. For national courts to ensure that those standards are not breached. And for the Strasbourg Court to decide on cases where domestic remedies have been exhausted.

This is the right and proper way. Covid-19 is however not the only serious challenge facing Europe today. Far from it. Headwinds are buffeting our continent and its neighbours and creating deep fears.

Take the unrest in Kazakhstan and the recent worrying developments in Belarus, or the ongoing security tensions around Ukraine and the aftermath of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Council of Europe is not a security organisation, but these situations often have the potential to impact on human rights, democracy and the rule of law within our member states. To that extent, they are relevant for us too. So throughout the course of the past year I have taken initiatives to address them within the terms of our mandate.

These actions – confidence-building measures for example – don’t necessarily hit the newspaper headlines. But they do matter for the people living in the countries concerned and for our common, democratic security. The context in which we operate, however, is not always easy.

In last year’s annual report, A Democratic Renewal for Europe, I warned that democracy is in distress. That Europe’s democratic environment and democratic institutions are in mutually reinforcing decline, with a range of heavy, interlocking factors providing the downward momentum: populism, extreme nationalism, and Covid-19, which has worsened the trends that were already there for those who wanted to see.

This can be stopped. Our democracies can rise again and provide the open environment in which human rights and the rule of law ensure certainty, equality and dignity for all.

But this requires determination: political will.

At last May’s Ministerial Session in Hamburg, member states recommitted to the Council of Europe’s common values. This is important and welcomed. Because, above all else, we rely on those member states to ensure that the European Convention on Human Rights is implemented at the national level along with all of the instruments that we have developed.

Members of this Assembly play an important role in making that happen. With our unique strategic triangle of standard-setting, monitoring and co-operation, our organisation will continue to support governments in making the changes that benefit their citizens.

That’s why I raise these issues so often with the ministers and other high-level representatives I meet, and why I also took the step last month of exercising – for the first time in my mandate – my prerogative power under Article 52 of the European Convention.

This has opened a formal inquiry with respect to Poland, whose Constitutional Court has judged that there is incompatibility between its national constitution and the European Convention. That judgment is unprecedented and deeply concerning. Under Article 52 procedures, national authorities have now been asked to explain how they now intend to ensure the implementation of the Convention as they are legally required to do.

It is in everyone’s interests that this initiative leads to a resolution of the issues in line with international law.

Throughout 2021, in this and other cases, I have not hesitated to sound the alarm when I have seen actions that were out of line with our standards. But I offered our support too, whether the so-called "foreign agents" law or the situation of Alexey Navalny in Russia which you are debating this week, or Turkey’s deeply regrettable withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention.

Now, as the threat of conflict looms in Europe, I will continue reminding our political leaders that the relative peace we have enjoyed over the past decades has been underpinned by this very organisation, and our commitment to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. We should never forget that these shared values far outweigh the single issues that divide us.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Croatia, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

15:48:24

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There are, of course, many other priorities that we must address.

Freedom of expression, online and offline; the role of the diversity of civil society, including human rights defenders; or non-discrimination and protection of vulnerable groups, such as children, LGBTI+ people, migrants and refugees.

We must also, of course, fight against human trafficking, inequality and racism, xenophobia and discrimination, but also against poverty and social injustice which have worsened with the pandemic.

We will also redouble our efforts to promote education for democratic citizenship, to strengthen the role of young people in decision making, and to re-inforce the independence, effectiveness, and resilience of judicial systems. These are bulwarks for protecting democracy in all our member States.

The Council of Europe is active in each of these areas, as is its Parliamentary Assembly. I am convinced that together we can go even further. However, I would like to draw particular attention to three other priorities, all of which have one thing in common.

In the field of artificial intelligence and new technologies, our Committee is examining the possibility of drawing up, among other things, a cross-cutting binding legal instrument. We must take the lead in this area to ensure that artificial intelligence serves our common standards and does not undermine them. A new Council of Europe treaty on this subject would be a huge step forward for Europe and for the rest of the world.

In the fight against corruption, money laundering and cybercrime, several initiatives are being implemented. In particular, a new instrument has been adopted to improve the collection and use of electronic evidence to tackle cybercrime. It will be open for signature in May, and I hope that the members of this Assembly will be able to convince their governments to ratify it.

Finally, on the front of the fight against environmental degradation and climate change, the dynamic initiated by our Organisation includes a series of texts adopted by this Assembly in September.

For my part, I have made several proposals that were accepted by the Committee of Ministers and included in our new Program, notably with a view to replacing or updating our convention on the fight against environmental crime, as well as continuing work on the drafting of a new recommendation to member States on human rights and the environment, which could be followed by a binding treaty if, of course, the States so decide.

There are indeed major challenges to overcome in Europe today, but these three examples show that it is always possible to move forward when the political will is there. Even more, they show how our timeless principles apply to new challenges.

When our founding fathers drafted the European Convention on Human Rights or when the European Social Charter was adopted, who could have imagined the changes our societies would go through in the following decades?

Yet, by applying our standards to all these new situations, in this fast-changing world where technology can enhance our way of life or undermine it, we can ensure that human rights, democracy and the rule of law protect our citizens, now and for the future.

We simply must have the will to act.

That is why I am pleased that the Committee of Ministers accepted my proposal in November to preserve the Organisation's budget in real terms.

Of course, we would all like to have more resources, but in a context of economic uncertainty and in the face of the hardships inflicted by the pandemic, an increase in line with inflation is a clear sign of the will of our member States to see us continue our work. Of course, not all of our objectives require a significant amount of additional resources; I am thinking, for example, of my ambition to co‑operate more closely with other international organisations, including our efforts to secure the European Union's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. This step would greatly improve the coherence of human rights protection mechanisms on our continent.

That said, much of our action obviously requires a financial commitment. The means at our disposal will be spent wisely. For while our priorities may change in these uncertain political and economic times, our role remains vitally important to support and protect citizens.

By working together, we can do more for the good of Europeans. I appreciate your determination to do so and look forward to your questions.

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

15:56:29

Thank you very much, dear Secretary General, for your evaluation of what happened in the recent past and what it's going to be in front of us and the measures you are thinking about, and other issues that need to be known by our members.

We now will take the questions from our members.

I remind the assembly that questions must be limited to 1 minute. We first will hear the questions of the five speakers on behalf of the political groups and, as they are members of the Assembly, also for them it's 1 minute, and not more.

First question is on behalf of the group of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group, Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE.

Selin, you have the floor.

Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE

Turkey, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

15:57:34

Thank you, Mr President, Madam Secretary General.

I'd like to welcome you on behalf of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group.

I have two questions that are linked.

The first is: there is the drama unfolding for years now with regards to an ongoing flow of migration and asylum-seeking bringing about the displacement of millions of people and this is only being aggravated further and further. So, as Secretary General of the Council of Europe, what are your plans specifically on fighting the instrumentalisation of the lives of millions by politicians?

And do you have, in line with our organisation's core values, any revision in the plans on dealing with this very serious humanitarian challenge?

And secondly, as you know we will have a current affairs debate on the recent challenges to security in Europe. What would you like to tell us in advance about what you, as a Secretary General, think the role of the Council of Europe is in regards to security challenges?

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

15:58:36

Thank you, Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE.

Madam Secretary General.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Croatia, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

15:58:39

Thank you for this too pertinent question.

Let me start with the first one. We are all witnessing terrible situations, be it at sea or at the borders where people are losing lives and others are, as you said, instrumentalising traffickers or smugglers and earning big money on their very often tragic destiny. You have other UN agencies and EU agencies who are dealing with that more as they are mostly only on the subject.

When it comes to the Council of Europe, what needs to be applied where our member States are concerned is that migration and asylum seekers in particular are dealt with compliant with the European Convention of Human Rights, with the case law of our court, and of course with other standards and, needless to say, with the Geneva Convention which is internationally looking at how this should be done.

We are liaising and we are in co‑operation with the UNHCR and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. This is our international co‑operation, but again we are assisting these two agencies in complying with our standards that need to be put into place.

You may well know that the Secretary General in the previous mandate, which I have continued, has a Special Representative for Migration. There was a big wave starting in the middle of the last decade, which is lasting and, unfortunately, growing with more and more troubles around the world and people trying to flee from wars, from other hardships, and who are trying to mostly get to Europe, but it's not only a European issue. My new Special Representative on migration and refugees, Ms Leyla Kayacik, who started from the first of January, is continuing this important role in liaising with international organisations, but also in applying action plans. The Committee of Ministers approved the action plan last May on vulnerable persons in migration.

You may also know that our former action plan dealt in particular with children in migration, who are particularly in hardship, especially when they are unaccompanied. From that experience, from their last action plan, we have already developed a network of co‑operation among member States. We also developed some handbooks specifically about how to deal with with children when they are unaccompanied or found in this situation of hardship.

We are really trying to do as much as we can on these two fronts.

When it comes to some particular issues, I suppose that you referred to the unprecedented crisis challenging the Belarus border, which borders our member States Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and to some extent Estonia, where we saw the instrumentalisation of migration and politicisation in a very, very, hard way.

This again, no matter what, needs a human rights centered response. A number of our institutions within our system have been active in that. Our human rights commissioner was in Poland. The Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) was, I think, in Lithuania. The court issued a number of rulings under Rule 39, saying that of course it's the right of each and every member State to deal with migration, but they ask that this dealing be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights. I think the numbers that the Court has been dealing with is almost 70. They issued something like 60 rulings, out of which I think more than half are already in place.

Actually throughout our system, our organisation has been very active on that. What we see recently is the numbers decreasing, at least at this border, but the situation really was very, very, worrying in many respects.

Now in respect to your second question which deals with what the role of the Council of Europe would be at a time of rising political tensions, I think it was quite clear from my speech we are not security organisations, but we are very, very, very, much concerned about security issues, because they have the potential to impact on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. They do so. The Council of Europe liaises with our member States, to see what the security organisations and member States are doing bilaterally. What we should do, in our role and our place in international pan-European multilateral architecture, is our best with what is within our mandate: ensuring human rights, democracy and that the rule of law is respected.

This is what I am always reminding our member States when I go around and see them. Just for you to see how intensive that exchange is, over the last year, which was a Covid-19 year, and still in some parts of the last year, there were very high Covid-19 times, I spoke to or visited or had been visited here in Strasbourg or seen at the margins of different events that we had, more than half of our ministers, prime ministers and others from our member States. I really very intensively liaise with our member States regarding that.

We are at our best in assisting international problems when we are dealing with matters that we are mandated for.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:06:18

Thank you, Madam Secretary General.

The next question on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party comes from Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN from the Netherlands.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN, the floor is yours. 

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

16:06:34

Thank you very much, Madam Secretary General.

First of all, I would like to thank you for your presentation on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party.

My question concerns the Pegasus spyware case and the role of the Council of Europe.

Last summer, the press revealed that politicians, journalists and members of civil society were spied on in many countries using a software program for hacking into cell phones, called Pegasus. This spyware developed by an Israeli company would have been used by several states like Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Hungary but also Poland to spy on members of the opposition or journalists.

After being denied at first by the Polish government, for example, the latter recently admitted having used this method.

In our opinion, this is a blatant violation of the right to privacy and a danger to democracy and human rights. It is certain regimes that have used this software.

Faced with this scandal of international significance, the Council of Europe must do something. Someone has been appointed here to make a report, but our group wants to know. The Council has a role to play. What do you want to do?

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:08:35

Thank you, Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN.

Madam Secretary General.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Croatia, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:08:38

Thank you very much.

Yes, these are very serious allegations, and I share your view and the Group's view that it is neither acceptable nor legal in a democratic society to intercept the communications of actors of governments or others, even when it comes to security service matters.

You mentioned it well: all member States of the Council of Europe have to take into account Article 8, the right to privacy and the judgments of the Court, especially in one of the countries you mentioned, Hungary. There is this case, Szabó and Vissy, from 2016, which is followed by the Committee of Ministers, which the Court said in its judgment that there are gaps in the Hungarian legislation regarding the possibilities to intervene in surveillance in this way, which are illegal.

We have to see as far as Hungary is concerned. I believe that the next Committee of Ministers, which will meet soon, will review the case. As far as I know, the Hungarian government had said that it was going to change certain things in its legislation. I hope that it will do so, because it turns out that its legislation has not followed the European Convention on Human Rights for six years.

This also applies to other countries. I know because I followed the case of Poland where there were allegations, where there was also a denial by the government that it had not "misused" this situation. But I believe that now, as always, there is a national remedy if people find that this case needs to be taken further, to go to the national courts and, if that does not succeed, to go to our European Court of Human Rights.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:12:12

Thank you, Madam Secretary General.

The next question will be posed on behalf of the EC/DA group by Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO from Ukraine.

Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO, you have the floor.

Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

16:12:28

Thank you very much, Madam Secretary General.

The situation in Belarus is worsening from day to day. Alexander Lukashenko became the complete puppet of Putin and now together with Putin, he threatens Ukraine with war. He weaponises through migration and this so awful crisis on the borders with Council of Europe member States. He is killing opposition inside his country. The situation is awful.

During last year, we twice made resolutions in which it was said that a special body or group should be created inside our organisation on Belarus. But what has been done? Nothing.

If we are not executing our old resolutions, how could we move forward? I have an answer from former President Mr Rik DAEMS that on 19 November dialogue was started on this issue between him as a President, the US Secretary General, and the Committee of Ministers, but no result. Now I address you and our new President, Mr Tiny KOX, just not to start the dialogue but to finish it, to create this body, because we need to react to what is happening not just in a country surrounded from all sides by member States of Council of Europe but also by our applicant in this organisation.

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:13:46

Thank you, Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO.

Madam Secretary General.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Croatia, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:13:50

Thank you very much.

I think we all agree that the situation in Belarus is very concerning for a number of our member States, and this organisation has been very vocal about it. It was, as you rightly pointed out in this Parliamentary Assembly, not only with this proposal for the working group but on a number of other occasions. I was very vocal. I was vocal when it started two years ago, at the end of summer. The Committee of Ministers was also concerned about it.

It is true that Belarus, on the other hand, is not a member State of the Council of Europe. We are dealing with this country in a particular way because the Warsaw Summit decided that Belarus was the only next member State, which was expected to become a member of the Council of Europe provided that they abolish capital punishment and, of course, that they bring in a democratic regime. As you well pointed out, none of those has happened.

However, over the years the Council of Europe was engaging with Belarus. They became members of several partial agreements of some conventions, and some work was done. There were two action plans. We tried to really somehow prepare Belarus with a longer-term perspective for this membership until this horrible situation happened. Of course, there is a big worry about what is happening there, restricting laws of mass media and freedom of assembly, activist trials not compliant with the Venice Commission that was asking with that regard, criminal liability for citizens participating in non-registered NGOs as of January this year, and many many others, and conviction of some people who have been active in co-operation with the Council of Europe. There is a number of areas where we need to work.

I myself met twice with Ms Tsikhanouskaya once over the internet, while she was not able to come here. The last time in November she was here in Strasbourg, we talked about different things including the launched changes of the Constitution, which we appealed to the Belarus government that started and is announcing also to have a referendum on the issue that they should ask for other help or at least apply the standards that we have for the Constitution. But none of this happened. This organisation has been very, very vocal about the situation but was also engaged in different ways: the Venice Commission, the Commissioner for Human Rights, and some others.

Now to the questions you asked. Of course, as this is not a member state, so would a member State be much easier to react. As it is not, then the two statutory bodies need to talk and I think, as you rightly pointed out, these talks have started but we need to see really that we have an added value in that. Let me not forget, that at the very outset, when we knew that our action plan would expire, our office did not prolong the mandate as of March last year. We as the Secretariat had prepared a special document which can be put in place tomorrow if the conditions in Belarus would allow, which would mean that there would be a change of attitude and change of democratic environment and human rights compliant environment, which is not the case. The organisation really has thought of Belarus, is thinking of Belarus. Would we also need the working group?

I think we need to continue this dialogue, and I am looking forward to that.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:18:25

Thank you, Madam Secretary General.

Mr Damien COTTIER will ask the next question on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group.

Mr Damien COTTIER

Switzerland, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

16:18:36

Thank you, Mister President.

Madam Secretary General,

A few months ago, the Council of Europe launched a campaign which could have given the impression that our Organisation was promoting the wearing of the hijab. It was clumsy and it was regrettable for the messages that our Organisation usually carries since it could have caused misunderstandings.

You have announced, Madam Secretary General, reorganisation measures following this incident. What is the status of the implementation of these measures that you mentioned, in concrete terms, and, moreover, how do you intend to reorganise or modify the Organisation's communication to avoid this type of difficulty in the future?

We would also be interested to know a little bit more, as you said, we are not a security organisation, but we are all concerned about these tensions between Russia and Ukraine. We would be interested in knowing what measures you have taken, what steps you have taken or what steps you plan to take in this area to promote dialogue between two important members of our Organisation.

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:19:43

Thank you, Mister COTTIER.

Madam Secretary General.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Croatia, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:19:48

Thank you very much.

Regarding your first question about the Twitter and the campaign that was linked, I can only reiterate what I have already said publicly: when the tweets were brought to my attention, I immediately asked for them to be withdrawn and, secondly, I made it very clear that their content did not reflect either the views of the Council of Europe or mine. That is on the substance of your question.

Now for the procedure. That was the first immediate step; after that, it was clear that an internal investigation had to be launched – which I did, at two levels – to establish what had happened and what the consequences would be. Now, in parallel, I have also asked that we review the way we use social networks – which is underway – and I have also asked that we review the participation of some NGOs in our work of the Council of Europe. While admitting that, in our opinion, this Organization is very lucky to work with NGOs. On the other hand, we do not have an intelligence service, so we cannot know all the NGOs in this sense. All the same, this incident has shown that we certainly need to review the procedure a little when we choose the NGOs that work with the Council of Europe.

Finally, I asked my deputy, Mr Bjorg Berg, to follow all these investigations and, therefore, at the end, to arrive at a point where we will learn lessons, where we will change things and where, we hope, we will never again arrive at a situation or an accident like that happened. So much for the tweets.

Your second question was about the situation in Ukraine. Of course, we are very concerned; I think everybody is. There is, around Ukraine, a lot of troop movement across the border – Russia – but in that sense, as you said, and I've said it several times today, we are not included in the security aspects. What we can do is to follow closely what is happening, to send the message that tensions do not bring anything good for our member states; on the contrary, they can only lead to an environment where human rights, democracy and the rule of law will not be at the level that is desired.

We therefore call, on behalf of our Member States, to move towards dialogue, to reduce tensions and to be able to dialogue, but dialogue in the sense or substance of the problems, as far as we are concerned, is in the OSCE; the only format that has been recognized is the Normandy format. So we remind all those who have to participate to do their job and to reduce tensions, because I believe that this can be detrimental to peace: a peace that, as I said in my speech, is not absolute. In any case, in most of Europe, we have enjoyed fairly peaceful periods. Let us calm down and find answers to the questions that arise, from a diplomatic rather than military approach.

We are not a defense organization; all we can do is ask all our member states concerned to try, even when it is very difficult, to go towards dialogue rather than tension, because in the end we would only have more problems.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:25:31

Thank you very much, Madam Secretary General.

I forgot to say that Mr Damien COTTIER is from Switzerland, but it's not a big secret, Damien, is it?

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:25:40

The last question on behalf of the political groups comes from Ms Laura CASTEL from Spain and she speaks on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.

Laura, you have the floor.

Ms Laura CASTEL

Spain, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

16:25:54

Thank you, Mr President, and congratulations by the way. Thank you, Madam Chair, on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.

As the European Charter for regional or minority languages states, "teaching in minority languages is crucial. It fosters respect and tolerance towards ethnic and cultural diversity".

A positive example is the Catalan linguistic model that has been followed by other states and praised by the Council of Europe. Nevertheless, Spanish courts are deciding on Catalan education and language. Recently the Supreme Court has finally imposed 25% of Spanish mandatory in schools, based on a law not in force. Based on a law not in force. As you are aware, the Committee of Experts has warned that laws establishing mandatory percentages in Spanish violate the Charter. This is a hard blow for linguistic and minority rights.

Madam Secretary General, the use of Catalan nowadays is a real linguistic emergency. For the sake of our cultural heritage, not only in Spain but also in Europe, what steps have you taken?

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:27:10

Thank you, Ms Laura CASTEL.

Madam Secretary General.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Croatia, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:27:13

Well, our position on this topic is rule-based and grounded in our two major treaties related to our minority protection. One is the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and the other is the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.

As you mention, throughout Europe and throughout this difficult time of Covid-19, we have been witnessing an extreme situation for minorities. We are of a view that strengthening compliance with minority rights treaties is a priority.

In what concerns the importance of the two instruments for the Council of Europe shows the fact that we have recently reformed the monitoring mechanism of the two in order to gain more efficiency. I have recently also written a report on the application of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. In that respect, I would like to mention that there are very positive examples of Germany and the UK that have taken additional undertaking under the Language Charter but also by Portugal signing the Charter in 2021.

That shows that our member States show more and more commitment to these important treaties and their implementation.

Now as regards specifically your question, I am aware of the decision of the Spanish Supreme Court of December last year and the follow-up actions. I can only say that our Committee of Experts under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, which adopted half of the reports on immediate actions to be taken by countries, under review including Spain in 2021, will look at this and other issues during the next monitoring cycle.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:29:43

Thank you very much, Madam Secretary General.

We now must conclude the questions to the Secretary General because we have run out of time. That is a pity because we still have 17 people on our list, but time is time. The next issue will be on our Agenda.

May I thank you very much, Madam Secretary General, for answering the questions that were posed to you. We are looking forward to seeing you next time here and our hemicycle. Thank you very much.

Dear colleagues, the next item of business is Communication from the Committee of Ministers to the Assembly presented by Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA and Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation of Italy, which will be followed by questions to Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA.

I welcome the Italian Undersecretary of State Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA here in our Assembly. Mister DELLA VEDOVA, it is great that you are here. Our Parliamentary Assembly is looking forward to continuing the excellent co-operation we have enjoyed already with the Committee of Ministers, also now under your Italian chairmanship.

During our Standing Committee in Rome last November, we had a very productive exchange of co-operation towards the implementation on the priorities of the Italian Presidency of the Committee of Ministers. Today's exchange gives us a new chance to continue that dialogue.

We are eager to hear from you more about your quite ambitious agenda, in particular on your state of goals on recommitting to our shared principles and values, fostering co-operation and dialogue, enhancing women's empowerment and rights of children and adolescents promoting your policies while fighting discrimination, and thirdly, building a people-centred future, making sure technology and science serve the people's needs.

Mister Undersecretary, we are very eager to listen to your statement. You have promised that you will answer questions afterwards, so you have the floor.

Address: Communication from the Committee of Ministers

Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA

Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation of Italy

16:32:16

Mr President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Madam Secretary General, members of parliament, ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to be here before you today and to keep alive the traditional channel of dialogue between the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly.

I would first like to express my sincere congratulations and best wishes for the newly elected President of the Assembly, Mr Tiny KOX, and confirm our full readiness to work together towards our common goals. At the same time, I would like to express my gratitude to the outgoing President Mr Rik DAEMS for all the work which he has done.

In the framework of the constant institutional dialogue with the Parliamentary Assembly that we strongly support, I would like to mention the participation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Luigi DI MAIO to the Standing Committee of the Assembly in Rome last November.

Here today, I intend to review the main activities of the Committee of Ministers since the last session of the Parliamentary Assembly, and to review the most important developments related to the priorities set by the Italian Presidency. I would like to remind you that a detailed document has been circulated.

Let me first re-affirm my firm conviction that the Council of Europe is a fundamental part of the collective effort to counter global challenges.

It represents the continental emblem of the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the expression of a multilateral vocation. Italy fully endorses this. We see the Council at the forefront of this.

Our continent has a consolidated tradition in the protection of rights, an advanced maturity of public opinion, regulatory and operational tools that can allow us to face the most difficult challenges, such as the current pandemic, without failing to respect the fundamental principles of co-existence, respect for human rights, promotion of democracy and the rule of law.

Unfortunately, there is no absence of backward forces, yet the Council of Europe is a joint project, desired and affirmed by its member countries. We have built its principles and values together. It is therefore the Member States themselves that must give this body substance and it is more important than ever, to pursue dialogue and co-existence.

Faced with situations of conflict and growing tensions in some parts of the continent, the Council of Europe's responsibilities in maintaining peace are even stronger. Peace, from the point of view of ensuring that the great achievements of European civilization can be upheld, is one of the priorities of the Italian Presidency. 

For this reason, one of the priorities of the Italian Presidency is to promote a renewed commitment to common principles and values, starting from issues of common interest such as culture, the legal tools that are proposed to be available to States to deal with the pandemic; the protection of social rights; inter-religious dialogue.

This common ground, this willingness to engage in dialogue and inclusion, must serve to consolidate our common responsibilities.

Precisely for this reason, it is essential that the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights be executed, thus ensuring the efficiency of the supervisory system, which is a specific characteristic of the Council of Europe.

The action of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, in its capacity as the body responsible for supervising the execution of judgments, remains of crucial importance for the stability and credibility of the system. In this context, as the President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, I hope for a prompt resolution of the open cases, including the Kavala and Navalny cases, in line with the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

In this sphere of common responsibility, the protection of women's and children's rights holds an important place.

Italy continues to be convinced that the Istanbul Convention is the most advanced tool for combating violence against women and domestic violence, and for this reason its Presidency intends to encourage those States – that have not yet done so – to sign and ratify the Convention.

In this context, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November), the Minister for Equal Opportunities and the Family, Ms Elena BONETTI, issued a joint statement with the Secretary General Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ to further promote the Istanbul Convention.

The Italian Presidency gives priority to the theme of the empowerment of women, and in particular to the reconciliation between private and professional life, an aspect of particular relevance in the context of the health crisis to which a specific event will be dedicated in Italy.

The fight against discrimination of LGBTI people will have a prominent place. In Italy, we will host a meeting of the LGBTI Network and we will work to give the issue more and more relevance in the context of the program of work of the Council of Europe against discrimination.

Yesterday, the Parliamentary Assembly held a debate on children's rights, from which very interesting points emerged, as well as indications that we can largely share on the future work programme of the Council of Europe.

In the context of our presidency, a special event on the specific theme of "Making the circle of trust truly safe for children" was organized on 18 November on the occasion of End Child Sex Abuse Day.

The Committee of Ministers also adopted a recommendation on measures aimed at the protection of children against radicalisation for terrorist purposes, aimed at addressing the problem of the particular vulnerability of children to messages from terrorist associations and groups, conveyed through social media.

Finally, the new Council of Europe Strategy on the Rights of the Child will be launched at a high-level event in Rome on 7 and 8 April 2022.

Fighting counterfeit medicines has never been more important than it is today – not only to protect the health of our citizens – but also to inspire confidence in the fight against the pandemic. Hence, the importance of the MEDICRIME Convention of the Council of Europe, which is the only international instrument with the purpose of preventing and combating threats to public health.

On 25 November, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Convention, the Committee of Ministers invited interested states – that have not yet done so – to ratify it.

The program of the Italian Presidency includes a specific focus on the effective response of national social-health systems to the pandemic crisis, to which a specific online conference will be dedicated.

Cultural cooperation will also receive a renewed impetus with the organisation of a meeting of the Ministers of Culture (the last one in the framework of the Council of Europe took place in 2013) on 1 April, which aims to revitalise the existing tools, and to identify new initiatives for collaboration in this area.

On the subject of co-operation in the sports sector, last month, the Committee of Ministers adopted a recommendation on the revised European Charter for Sport, which formulates the principle of the "Right to Sport".

On 6 and 7 December, the Italian Department of Sport co-organized a Conference on Fairness in Sport in Rome, to take stock of the work developed in three main areas:

- preparation of guidelines on sport fairness

- fight against manipulation of sport competitions

- good governance in sport.

An informal Committee of Ministers on Human Rights and Sport was also held on 20 January 2022.

Debates on soccer governance and sports policies in times of crisis, which will be held in the Parliamentary Assembly tomorrow, will therefore be given extreme attention.

A high-level meeting was held on 18 October 2021, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the opening at the signing of the Social Charter in Turin. On that occasion, the Committee of Ministers adopted a declaration that reaffirmed the eminent role of the European Social Charter in guaranteeing and promoting social rights in Europe and reaffirmed its determination to ensure its effectiveness.

As a concrete follow-up, the Committee of Ministers also established a Working Group on the Implementation of the Social Charter System, with the task of making proposals and proposing solutions, for the May ministerial, to improve the implementation of the principles of the Charter and its monitoring mechanisms.

 

We expect that in May, it will be possible to reach an agreement to define the scope of action of the Council of Europe on a central issue for our future – that of the use of artificial intelligence – not to limit development, but to ensure that it is expressed in terms that respect human rights. A mix of non-binding and binding instruments seems the most appropriate solution and in line with the orientation of the membership. I hope that on the occasion of the May ministerial meeting, the start of negotiations for the definition of an appropriate transversal regulatory instrument can be announced and that they can proceed rapidly.

The Council of Europe has a regional dimension, but it also has a capacity to assert itself globally, as evidenced by the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime.

On 17 November, the Committee of Ministers adopted a Second Additional Protocol to the Convention that strengthens co-operation on the collection and dissemination of electronic evidence. The opening for signature of the protocol will take place under the Italian Presidency. As soon as in force, this instrument will represent a valuable aid for our respective national authorities in the fight against the complex and rampant scourge of cybercrime.

On 12 January 2022, the Committee of Ministers has endorsed the Venice Declaration on Restorative Justice in Europe, adopted at the Conference of Ministers of Justice of the Council of Europe, organised in mid-December by the Italian Presidency.

Italy wanted to give particular emphasis to restorative justice, which is an innovative complementary dimension of the traditional approach to criminal justice, although not new for the Council of Europe, which has already dealt with this issue, with reference to justice for children, under the Georgian Presidency. The conclusions of the Ministers of Justice in Venice last December represent a step forward which the Council of Europe is now called upon to make operational.

We sincerely hope that in 2022, there will be progress in the resolution of the conflict in Georgia and the reduction of tensions and conflicts in other geographical areas of the Council of Europe, such as Ukraine and the South Caucasus region.

With regard to the conflict in Georgia, the Committee continues to closely monitor developments on the ground, thanks to the valuable information provided by the Secretary General in her biennial summary reports. Last November, the Committee viewed and reflected on the Secretary-General's new report on respect for human rights in conflict zones, with particular reference to the civilian population and displaced persons.

The principle of respect for the territorial integrity of States and that of the peaceful resolution of disputes must remain our points of reference. In this context, we hope that the Council of Europe, although not having among its institutional tasks security issues, as the Secretary General has just mentioned, will continue to offer itself as a forum for dialogue.

The Council of Europe continues to provide assistance to its member states to support their efforts to implement at the national level the Council's standards on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Last December, the Committee of Ministers adopted a new Action Plan for Bosnia and Herzegovina for the period 2022-2025.

Assistance is also provided to countries that are not members of the Council of Europe, such as Morocco and Tunisia, with which the Council has close relations and with which it has concluded or signed partnership agreements until 2025.

The issues of enhanced co-operation with other international organisations, the reform of the Neighbourhood Policy and the contribution made by the Council of Europe to sustainable development and international order remain relevant and require our reflection.

Last November, Mr President, the Committee of Ministers adopted by consensus the Programme and Budget 2022-2025, presented for the first time in a four-year strategic perspective, as agreed at the Hamburg Ministerial last May. The budget cycle remains on a two-year basis and we agreed to implement a Mid-Term Review during 2023.

 

The Ministers' Committee adopted the budget on the basis of zero real growth, which allows for inflation recovery and maintains an adequate level of financial resources.

The decisions of the Committee of Ministers were accompanied by the implementation of administrative reforms, such as the new Staff Regulations, and the establishment of "results based management approaches" and working methodologies.

 

I am particularly pleased with this outcome, which was by no means a foregone conclusion. Adjustments will be possible, and even welcome, as the work progresses, but the direction is set. It is necessary to give security and perspective to The Organisation. These are the indications of the Secretary General Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ, starting from the Strategic Framework, that we have made our own and that allow us to look with more serenity at the material future of The Organisation.

 

Also in this perspective, we consider it essential to continue to work together with the Parliamentary Assembly, respecting the respective competences and the specific statutory provisions. We will therefore work to ensure that communication between the two bodies is further developed and deepened. We will explore them together, just as it will be useful to try to exploit every possible synergy.

In conclusion indeed Mr President, I am pleased to announce that the meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Council of Europe will be held on 20 May 2022 in Turin.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:50:35

Thank you very much, Mister DELLA VEDOVA, for your communication from the Committee of Ministers to our Assembly.

Our Assembly will now hear questions from 5 speakers on behalf of the political groups.

Questions should be limited to 1 minute.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:50:58

The first question comes from Mr. Frank SCHWABE, from Germany, on behalf of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens.

You have the floor, Mr Frank SCHWABE.

Mr Frank SCHWABE

Germany, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

16:51:08

Mister President KOX, Dear Minister,

This Parliamentary Assembly have the honour to elect judges for the European Courts of Human Rights, so we feel a special kind of responsibility as well for this court. In the end it's the, let's say, the honour but the obligation as well of the Committee of Ministers to guarantee the fulfilment of the judgments of the court. Maybe this is the most important thing in this world organisation.

The question is: we have an example, some examples, but we have the last example from Poland, where the Constitutional Court says that maybe judgments of this court in Strasbourg are not in line with the constitution in Poland. How you will act against this development?

The second one is the judgment on Kavala. In the next day as we will see a decision about it and in the end I think the Italian presidency has the most responsible position on this question. How you would like to guarantee that Turkey fulfils the judgment in the case of Kavala?

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:52:21

Thank you, Mr Frank SCHWABE.

Mister Undersecretary of State.

Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA

Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation of Italy

16:52:26

Thank you. Thank you for that question.

A clear point on the issue that you raised in general about the implementation of judgments and also in the specific case that you mentioned, that of Poland. By their accession to the Council of Europe all member States commit themselves to a whole range of obligations In particular to accept the rule of law and to respect the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Committee of Ministers, therefore, considers these obligations to be fulfilled. The reforms you mention in Poland raise concerns about the independence of Justice in these countries. The issue you raise, i.e. the discussion by some states of the non-applicability of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights with respect to the national legal system, as far as we are concerned (and the issue will be raised and deepened in this direction), as far as we are concerned the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights are binding for all countries that have adhered to the Council of Europe. No exceptions can be raised, nor can there be an attempt to exclude some countries from the application of these judgments.

With regard to the Kavala case, which you raised, as I said in my speech, and as I just repeated, the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights must be executed and specifically following the judgment of the European Court of 11 May 2020, according to which Turkey must take all necessary measures to end the detention of the applicant and to obtain his immediate release. The Committee of Ministers has closely followed the situation of Mr. Osman Kavala, examined his case in every human rights meeting since the judgment became final, in March 2021, decided also to examine his case in every regular meeting until his release and this has been done.

However, we know perfectly well that Mr Osman Kavala remains in jail, his detention was last reviewed by the national court on 17 January, and the next hearing is scheduled for 22 February 2022.

As the applicant has not been released during the review of the case, at its human rights meeting on 2 December, the Committee of Ministers adopted an interim resolution notifying Turkey of its intention, on 2 February 2022, to refer to the Court, pursuant to Article 46 § 4 of the Convention, the question whether Turkey has failed to comply with its obligation to respect the final judgments of the Court.

I wish to express the hope that the Turkish authorities will soon comply in a co‑operative spirit with the provisions of the European Court of Human Rights

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:56:18

Thank you, Mr Undersecretary.

The next question comes from Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS from Lithuania. He is asking a question on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party.

Emanuelis, you have the floor.

Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS

Lithuania, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

16:56:42

Thank you, dear Italian friends. Thank you for your broad perspective.

We see that the Italian Presidency will focus on the three main items: recommitting to our shared principles and values, enhancing women's empowerment, rights of children and building people's sense of future.

From my point of view, my question will be the following to you having your colleague Mr Piero FASSINO who is now the Chairman of Monitoring Committee, it will be good to know who is a great politician, it will be good to know your reaction to the new crisis but not from you not from your side, but from the north side, the immigration crisis artificially created by Lukashenko's regime and your reaction for that first.

We promised to create a Belarusian group within the Parliamentary Assembly and within the Committee of Ministers.

Secondly, the pressure on Ukraine from the Russian side and the situation of the memorial organisation in Russia after closing down and other human rights organisations and political groups in Russia who are under repressions.

Thank you so much for your goals.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:58:02

Thank you very much, Emanuelis.

Mister Undersecretary?

Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA

Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation of Italy

16:58:07

I start with the last part of your question regarding the Navalny and Memorial cases. As I have already mentioned in my intervention with regard to the Navalny case and reiterating the general principle of the fact that it concerns the obligation to which the states of the Council of Europe are committed to implement the judgments, the Committee of Ministers has examined with regard to the Navalny case this case in every human rights meeting since the applicant was placed under arrest to his return to Russia in January 2021.

It found that the sentence handed down in such a fundamentally flawed proceeding goes completely against the conclusions to the spirit of the European Court's judgment and called on the Russian authorities to release Mr Navalny.

The Committee of Ministers will shortly consider the case at its March 2022 human rights meeting. At that meeting consideration will be given to adopting an interim resolution if Mr Navalny is not released by then.

Regarding the issue of the closure, the cancellation of Memorial, Italy attaches great importance to independence from civil society, freedom of expression, and freedom of the media, which are an integral part of our common values. Without freedom of association, freedom of expression, and freedom of the media there is no true rule of law, and there can be no democracy that serves human rights and guarantees freedom. The media and civil society organisations contribute significantly to building democratic and plural societies. We therefore express our strong disappointment and opposition to the recent decisions of the Russian Courts regarding NGOs, NGO Memorial.

The issue has recently been the subject of a discussion in the Committee of Ministers and is also the subject of a firm statement by the General Secretariat. The case is currently pending before the Court. In the framework of this proceeding last month the European Court has decided the application of provisional measures, provided for in Article 39 of the Rules of Court, requesting the suspension of the measures of dissolution of Memorial International and Memorial Human Rights Center.

The decisions of the Court must be respected. The Committee of Ministers can only express its expectation that Russia will comply with its obligations under the Convention.

As far as the issue of migration flows is concerned, some considerations have already been anticipated in part. The emergency caused by migration flows is an issue on which Italy has been in the forefront for years, emphasizing the European and common nature of the dossier that requires mechanisms of solidarity and burden sharing that lead to marked differences in this sense compared to the current system.

What emerges once again is the importance of building solid partnerships with third countries, especially those of origin. This is a task that must be urgently addressed at European level. This is also the sense of the conclusions of the European Council in June.

With respect to the role that the Council of Europe can play, it is important to underline that the organisation is already operating with its own mechanisms and tools, starting with the visit of the Commissioner for Human Rights to Poland a few days ago.

Possible further initiatives of the different articulations of the Council should be carefully evaluated, considering the complexity of the context and the initiatives already in place in other forums. Yet, I agree with you that the issue of violation of basic human rights in that context of politically exploited immigration as in other contexts, moreover often involving the lives of women and children, I think it is an issue that should be addressed and whose unacceptability should be reiterated.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:03:28

Thank you, Mister DELLA VEDOVA.

Now we are going to listen to Mr John HOWELL from the United Kingdom who is going to ask you a question on behalf of his European Conservatives Group (EC/DA).

John, you have the floor.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

17:03:46

Thank you very much, Mister Undersecretary.

You repeated what the Secretary General said about this not being a security organisation, but can you tell me first how that contributes to the unity of purpose that is being caught for by NATO?

Secondly, could you say what objections you would have for this organisation to link with the OSCE in providing a mediated service to the Ukraine and to Russia to help to protect the position of Human Rights?

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:04:24

Mister DELLA VEDOVA?

Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA

Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation of Italy

17:04:31

Therefore, I have reiterated what is, let's say in some way, the starting point, namely that the Council of Europe is not an organisation whose primary objective is security in the conviction that the dialogue for peace, democracy, and the rule of law is one of the main, if not the main medium-long term instrument to achieve peace.

As far as the Ukraine issue is concerned, of course, it is very dear to all of us. It is very dear to the countries of the European Union and to my country.

As far as the Ukraine issue is concerned, the issue you raised of a link with the OSCE is another very important issue that concerns the possibility of putting in place, starting from the Council of Europe or involving the Council of Europe, also in a network with the other associations to the other multilateral fora, each with different skills and roles, but converging in the objective of reaching through a dialogue, [...] to add and avert a solution to a military escalation.

Our goal, with the tools we have here, is dialogue that can lead to descalation. In terms of co‑ordination with the OSCE, I will be in Vienna next week or the week after, I mean, 3 February, representing our priorities in the OSCE headquarters.

I believe that this should be the specific role of the Council of Europe having in mind and sharing the concern about what is happening in Ukraine.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:07:18

Thank you, Mr DELLA VEDOVA.

The next speaker is Mr Iulian BULAI, from Romania, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe

Mr BULAI, you have the floor.

Mr Iulian BULAI

Romania, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

17:07:34

Thank you so much, Mister Chair.

Mister DELLA VEDOVA, I was about to ask you about the decisions of the European Court on Human Rights.

I am very happy that Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS has asked all these questions before me. But I have got some very short questions: what message can we send to the Committee of Ministers beyond the deception and disappointment?

And the second one: what can PACE do right now in order to be helpful there? And then what to do when states continues to refuse to execute the European Court of Human Rights' decisions? And what's the Committee of Ministers proposing in case of no compliance.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:08:34

Thank you for your question.

Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA

Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation of Italy

17:08:39

On the Memorial issue, I repeat what I said before or I can repeat what I said before.

You ask me what message we can send. I myself will meet tomorrow or the day after in Rome the representatives of the Memorial association present in Italy. The message that we can give is that the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers, has the matter at heart. It will not accept decisions that are contrary to the fundamental values of the Council of Europe, all the more so if they are taken by countries that belong to the Council of Europe, that have signed all the documents, all the charters, all the treaties, all the conventions that are the basis of this.

Of course, as I said before, we must also wait for the cycle of proceedings in Russia to be completed, in the event that there are judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, there are convictions in the Committee of Ministers, we can only take the consequent measures.

We have instruments that take time to implement. Yyou are aware that we have a joint procedure that has been activated already since the previous year, since 2021.

The message that we have to send and that no one forgets about them is that here we protect human rights in general, and human rights and human rights associations, in all the countries of the Council of Europe.

Mr Mehmet Mehdi EKER

Turkey, NR

17:12:04

Dear President, Dear colleagues,

I would like to thank the rapporteur for her inclusive and incisive report. The COVID-19 pandemic clearly showed us that media plays a key role in the perception and management of crises...

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:12:30

Sorry, Mr Mehmet Mehdi EKER. We are now in question time with the Committee of Ministers, you are talking about the rapporteur and the report, perhaps there is a mistake.

Mr Mehmet Mehdi EKER

Turkey, NR

17:12:45

There is a mistake, sorry. I misunderstood.

Actually I have a problem with the connection and I could not exactly here you and I thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:13:04

OK. Then we will come back to you when you are asking the floor for the report.

We now go...

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:13:15

The next speaker is Mr Bernard FOURNIER, from France, member of the EPP Group.

Mr FOURNIER.

Mr Bernard FOURNIER

France, EPP/CD

17:13:23

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

Mister Under Secretary of State,

During its presidency of the Committee of Ministers, Italy has chosen to carry out important work on justice and, in particular, to focus on the function of punishment, considered both as a moment of rehabilitation for the offender and of reparation for the victim. This is an angle that is too often neglected.

On 13 and 14 December, you organised a ministerial conference in Venice on the role of restorative justice in Europe. Can you share with us the conclusions you draw from this conference and the follow-up that could be given to it?

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:14:14

And our next question comes from Mr Dara CALLEARY from Ireland and is a member of the ALDE group.

You have the floor, Mr Dara CALLEARY.

Mr Dara CALLEARY

Ireland, ALDE

17:14:28

Thank you, President.

And I want to congratulate you on your election. We say in Gaelic "go n-éirí leat": may you rise and may you have every success for your term. And to thank Mr Rik DAEMS for his presidency during an extraordinary time in PACE's history.

The undersecretary spoke of the worldwide effect of the Council of Europe and that it could be used to reduce tension and conflict in Europe. In an earlier response he spoke of the need for dialogue to assist in de-escalating tensions in the Ukraine. I'd like to ask him, has he a specific plan under a specific time scale in mind given the escalation of the military build-up along the Ukrainian border that is ongoing as we meet?

And has a specific plans to reach out to organizations such as the OSCE to assist?

Thank you, Mister President.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:15:37

 

Thank you, Mr Dara CALLEARY.

Now the third question comes from Ms Elvira KOVÁCS from Serbia. She is a member of the Group of the European People's Party.

Elvira.

Ms Elvira KOVÁCS

Serbia, EPP/CD

17:15:51

Dear Colleagues,

One of the themes of the Italian Presidency strongly accented was the protection of the cultural heritage as an outstanding tool for dialogue and social inclusion. Without any doubt culture, landscape, and our common heritage are topics of utmost importance. I would like to point out that although the cultural heritage of minorities and their contribution is recognised within the Council of Europe and the European Union, such recognition falls short when it comes to the protection of the cultural heritage of autochthonous national and linguistic communities.

Would the Italian Presidency, as part of the planned awareness-raising activities, open the question of the adequacy of the non-discrimination standards, recognition and protection that are proved to be inadequate to address important issues of autochthonous minorities' culture heritage control as well as the question of guaranteeing their effective participation in the development of and decision making of their cultural heritage?

Thank you. 

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:17:14

Thank you, Elvira.

Mr DELLA VEDOVA, your reaction to the three questions, please.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:26:24

Thank you.

As we are running out of time, I can allow 3 more questions.

Sir Tony LLOYD is not with us, so Mr Armen GEVORGYAN from Armenia, Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA from Ukraine, and Mr Levan IOSELIANI from Georgia are the three last to pose a question.

First I give the floor to Mr Armen GEVORGYAN from Armenia.

You have the floor, sir.

Mr Armen GEVORGYAN

Armenia, NR

17:26:57

Thank you very much.

Mister Undersecretary, many experts note that the fact that the role of importance of our organisation is declining. This is also because it acts more as an observer in crisis situations in member States.

It has been more than a year and three months since the Armenian prisoners have not returned from Azerbaijan. It is not normal when the citizens of one member State are illegally held by the another member State. Azerbaijan, which has violated the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Armenia, has not withdrawn its troops from Armenian territory. President Ilham Aliyev continues to put new ultimatums and expresses new territorial claims in his public statements. This is behavior of the member States of the Council of Europe, a State that has the obligations towards the Council of Europe.

Mister Undersecretary, when will our voters see more efficiency and effectiveness of our organisation to stop such aggressive behavior of some member States? 

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:28:11

Thank you, Armen.

The next question is coming from Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA from Ukraine. Mariia is a member of the Group of the European People's Party.

You have the floor, Mariia.

Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA

Ukraine, EPP/CD

17:28:20

Thank you, Dear President.

I am very touched by the priorities of the Italian presidency. In Rome we have faced a very dedicated programme for fighting gender-based violence and helping victims across Europe to find justice.

My question would be, what are the suggestions to fight specifically economic violence which has exaggerated over the pandemic times and what would be the suggestions and concrete steps on the Italian side?

As a country which is going forward to the process of ratification of the Istanbul convention, Ukraine is very much interested in co‑operating in this very specific field.

Grazie mille.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:29:11

Thank you very much, Mariia.

The last question at least the last question to our undersecretary for today comes from Mr Levan IOSELIANI from Georgia.

You have the floor.

Sir?

Mr Levan IOSELIANI, is he here in the hall? No.

So then the last question will be...

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:29:50

The next and last speaker will be Ms Nicole DURANTON from France.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:30:03

We are now stopping with the questions and, Mister Undersecretary, you can have your last remarks with regard to the last questions.

Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA

Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation of Italy

17:30:14

Thank you, President,

Let me pick up a pessimistic, realistic cue from the Parliamentary Member from Armenia who spoke on how much this organisation is in danger of being so, seems to be in decline.

Actually we know that in this historical phase in Europe, and not only in Europe, multilateralism has been put in trouble, all multilateral organisations. It is also true that in this more recent phase there is an attempt, an awareness, in particular on the part of the community of countries based on democracy and the rule of law, to strongly relaunch the instruments of multilateralism.

There is talk of effective multilateralism, precisely to counter the idea that multilateralism is in crisis. If we were to give up the idea of multilateralism as a mode of approach with regard to the negotiated solution of disputes or crises, of course, we would not be taking a step forward. We would all be taking a step backward. This and I am also aware of the frustrations that there may be in many regions, or the frustration of countries that have responsibilities and that are unable to be as incisive as they would like in the resolution of disputes. However, I believe that we are also here to reaffirm our common will not to give up using the instruments of dialogue, of the rule of law, of justice, of international justice.

Regarding more specifically the question, according to the ceasefire of 2020 and2021, all parties involved are called to work for a lasting peace settlement of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I therefore appeal to both sides not to take actions that could worsen the situation even leading to further suffering for the people. The resolution of the conflict is not the responsibility of the Council of Europe, nor is it one of the objectives of its mandate, but of the presidents of the Minsk Group and the group that has my full support. They are also responsible for the release of prisoners, humanitarian issues and access. However, the Council of Europe has an important role to play, and our organisation is ready to help alleviate the suffering caused by the conflict and to help implement measures leading to peace, including confidence-building programs.

We must ensure that all parties respect the standards of common values of human rights, including those set forth in the European Convention on Human Rights.

In this regard you will be aware that there are cases related to the conflict still pending before the European Court. I will not discuss it here as it is a subject already regularly dealt with by the Court itself. However, it is necessary to mention that Armenia and Azerbaijan, by their accession to the organisation in 2001, committed themselves to seek a peace solution, and both countries must act consistently with their commitment.

The second question was about the priorities of the Presidency and the issue related to the condition of women and the Istanbul Convention.

As I said in my speech, for us this is essential as it has been mentioned: there is a double issue that as we have seen from all the data also in Italy, but in general the pandemic has aggravated two situations that were already not happy.

On the one hand that of domestic violence, because in the periods of confinement in particular, the situations related to tensions and often domestic violence have in many cases exploded. The numbers have increased. The second element, which certainly concerned Italy, for which I know the data, but it is certainly a more general consideration, is that women have been more penalised by the contraction of employment, and they are the ones who respond less positively in statistical terms to the recovery of employment that has taken place.

As far as we are concerned, these are both very important issues.

On the first issue of domestic violence, we can do nothing but make the best use of the instrument we have, which is the Istanbul Convention, to promote ratification by countries that have not done so, to try to convince those who have chosen to pull out or who want to change, to change orientation, and those who have adopted it to implement it in all its parts.

With regard to the second aspect, employment in the context of a recovery in view of a review of the social charter, certainly the issue of women's empowerment in general, women's employability in terms of quantity and quality of women's employment, is a topic that will have to be part of this review.

In conclusion, if I have two more seconds, Mister President, in addition to reiterating my best wishes for your Presidency assumed yesterday and wishing you and all Members of the Parliamentary Assembly a good and fruitful 2022, I also want to express my personal appreciation for the appointment of Mr. Piero Fassino as Chairman of the Monitoring Committee.

It is an important role for all of us. Piero Fassino is the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Italian Parliament, and therefore in some way my controller. Therefore I am very pleased that being a colleague of yours, he has been appointed to this prestigious position.

Thank you Mister President.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:38:49

Thank you very much, Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA.

Yes, there are important posts in governments, there are important posts in the Committee of Ministers, and there are important posts in this Assembly.

May I thank you very much for your communication on behalf of the Committee of Ministers and for answering the many questions from our colleagues of the Parliamentary Assembly. May I wish you well in the rest of your most important Presidency of the Committee of Ministers. You still have a lot of months to go and a lot of things to do.

Once again, Mister Undersecretary, thanks a lot for being here with us. Also, thanks a lot to the Secretary General to be with us. We are the three organs: the Committee of Ministers, the Assembly, and the Secretary General. This was a most useful exchange of thoughts. Thank you very much.

Before we go to the next item, I remind members that the ballot for the election of a Vice-President of the Assembly in respect of the Russian Federation is still open until 6:00 pm. I invite those who have not yet voted to do so. As I said, the vote will close at 6:00 pm.

I now hear that we have a point of order by our colleague Mr Sergey KISLYAK from the Russian Federation.

You have the floor.

Mr Sergey KISLYAK

Russian Federation, NR

17:40:28

Thank you, Chair. 

As this is the first time that I am taking the floor, I would like to congratulate you on your election and wish you every success in this work which is of interest to all of us. 

President, given what you have just said about continuation and completion in the near future regarding the election of Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly, I would like to say that my delegation and I myself are experiencing constant difficulties in voting for two hours now. Our experts are technicians and those helping here have been in contact with the Parliamentary Assembly staff. We keep on receiving assurances that we are given due notification and so on, but nothing is coming through. Now, first of all, we are disappointed and surprised that we are not being able to vote in our election. Some are not being able to vote at all and some are not having time to vote.

That is the first thing. The second question is this going to happen continually in the future when you have people attending unable to take part in a vote? I would request that you, President, ensure that we have a timely and normal working of the voting system. 

Thank you very much. 

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:42:09

Thank you very much, Mister KISLYAK.

I do deplore that there are problems with the electronic voting system. We are aware of it. People are working hard here to overcome that problem. But I think your complaint has to be met and, therefore, I announced that the vote will stay open longer, until 6:30 p.m.

I hope that our people will be able to solve the problems that you quite rightly mentioned, but we now allow our members to have more time to vote until 6:30 p.m. I promise you that I will investigate what the real problems are and how we are going to continue in the rest of the week.

The voting for the vice-president on behalf of the Russian Federation, voting time will be prolonged to 6:30 p.m.

Then, colleagues, we come to the next item of business at this sitting. It is the debate on the report titled “The role of media in times of crisis” (Doc. 15437) presented by Ms Anika ENGBLOM on behalf of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media.

I liked it very much, and I congratulate you on your election also as the chair of the of the committee. There's a lot of work to do, Madam ENGBLOM .

In order to finish by 7:30 p.m., I will interrupt the list of speakers at about 6:55 p.m. to allow time for the replies and the vote. Our rapporteur will have 7 minutes to present the report and then will have a further 3 minutes at the end of the debate to reply.

Now I give the floor to Ms Anika ENGBLOM.

Debate: The role of the media in times of crisis

Ms Annicka ENGBLOM

Sweden, EPP/CD, Rapporteur

17:44:12

Thank you, Mister President and let me first of all thank you and congratulate you back on your election.

Mr President, Dear Colleagues,

I am glad for the opportunity to present the main ideas of the report on the role of the media in times of crisis. I worked on it with great interest and enthusiasm. It is quite understandable as for two years now during the health crisis related to Covid-19, we have seen the vital role the media plays in our day to day life.

In these exceptional circumstances so many media outlets have played their role in a highly professional and responsible manner by providing citizens with accurate, comprehensive and high-quality information.

In times of crisis, information provided by the media is vital as inaccurate or false information may have a devastating impact on people's health and life and the functioning of society as a whole.

Sometimes, dear colleagues, we tend to forget about the essential role that the media plays in our normal daily life and even more so in times of crisis.

Let me mention just a few crucial functions of the media that are so indispensable, in a tense situation, and therefore must be protected.

The media are the driving force of critical analysis of the causes of the crisis. Their professionalism is one of the preconditions for public constructive debate and how to deal with it: a debate that must involve both politicians and various groups in society. The media help to stimulate discussion on the right measures to counter the causes and the adverse effects of a crisis and how to overcome it. Moreover, they facilitate citizen participation in discussions on the long-term changes that are needed to increase society's resilience to crises of the same type or prevent them more effectively.

The media help to reinforce the legitimacy of the decisions taken by the political leaders and to improve the understanding both of the content and reasons for them. They also play a key part as links between decision makers and the public. Moreover, the media can also take on an educational role. They must be capable of analysing and explaining the new obligations being imposed to tackle the crisis and the behaviour which the authorities expect of the public.

The media should play a crucial role in facilitating dialogue and multicultural understanding and in preventing and/or minimising oppression and conflict.

However, when a crisis threatens dominant understandings and individual freedoms such as the present pandemic, debates tend to polarise and fragment the community itself, which is reflected in online and broadcast content.

It is clear that the risk of misinformation, polarisation, and populism online increases in times of crisis.

The requirement for professionalism and thoroughness in checking information disseminated is all the greater in tense situations.

Therefore, Mister President, the media should be aware of the heightened responsibility that they must assume to the full, including in terms of effectively countering conspiracy theories, and inflammatory discourses.

Regarding social media in particular, given the risk of false news or unchecked information being disseminated on the platforms, the operators should redouble their efforts to counter this trend by developing fact-checking tools and promoting reliable and accurate news sources.

We're speaking on responsibility. I would like to point out the specific role of public service media. This role must be recognised, enhanced and safeguarded. Public service must remain independent and serve the public because they have a specific remit to fulfil as a factor for social cohesion and integration of all individuals, and as a broad platform for pluralistic public debate.

In the particular context of crisis, public service media should encourage citizens to develop critical thinking and the capacity to compare various sources of information.

Dear Colleagues,

Collaboration between public authorities and the media is one of the key ways of dealing with and overcoming a crisis. This willingness to co‑operate should be given effect despite the critical stance of some sections of the press towards the action of governments. The media should be able to actively play their role not as a channel to communicate to the public or allow public opinion formation but also channel expert knowledge to be transferred to institutions.

To conclude, I believe our Assembly must call on member States to recognise and secure the role of media as a crucial actor in the management of crisis. Our member States must ensure the conditions for strong, pluralistic and an independent media ecosystem that can support coherent deliberative processes. Measures to enhance the role of the media during a crisis should involve institutions, services, experts, and civil society in order to make community institutional research processes visible and trustworthy, not the least. Maintaining a resilient and adaptable ecosystem is the best way to confront crisis in democracy.

Dear colleagues,

I'm confident that you will support the report. I trust you to advocate in your respective parliaments the implementations of the messages that are proposed in this draft resolution.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:51:12

Thank you, Ms Annicka ENGBLOM, for the presentation of this report on behalf of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media.

We will now start the debate, starting with the five speakers on behalf of the political groups.

The first on my list on behalf of the group of Unified European Left is Mr George KATROUGALOS from Greece.

George, you have the floor.

Mr George KATROUGALOS

Greece, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

17:51:40

Thomas Jefferson been here in France has said famously in 1878 that if he had to choose he would prefer to have newspapers without government than the other way around. This is true: press is precious for our democracies. But that under two conditions. First of all, independence from the government. Second, to reflect reality. We cannot have true freedom of expression and of opinion if factual information is not guaranteed. this was true at the time of Jefferson, but in nowadays we have additional dangers.

First of all, we have the rise of private control over media. Not just the traditional oligopolies or monopolies over newspapers and TV channels, but especially electronic platforms like Twitter or Facebook represent a new danger for freedom of expression and of opinion.

As the rapporteurs have said, they have become theatres of fake news and conspiracy theories. That does not justify the absolute control that the owners of this media have over the users of their platforms. Maybe all of us have rejoiced when Twitter has banished Trump's account, but we cannot let private companies control freedom of expression without respecting the European Convention of Human Rights or national constitutions.

I think that our Assembly should see how we could impose real public regulation on these firms, but this does not mean that traditional dangers stemming from the governments are not present in our days. For instance, in my country, all parties of the opposition have demanded a parliamentary inquiry on the use of public money which under the pretext of informing the public have tried to reinforce the control of the government over media.

Greece has lost five places in the freedom of press index that the Reporters Without Borders are establishing. Unfortunately, this does not stop at the use of public money. We had the persecution of two investigative journalists as the latest episode of this effort of control the media: journalists who were investigating a global scandal, the Novartis scandal, whereas in other countries are the perpetrators of the scandal which are persecuted. In Greece is the inverse.

Thank you, thank you, Mister Chairman, for your time.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:54:55

Thank you, Mr George KATROUGALOS.

The next speaker on our list is Mr Stefan SCHENNACH from Austria. He is a member of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group.

Stefan, you have the floor.

Mr Stefan SCHENNACH

Austria, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

17:55:06

Thank you very much, Mister President,

First of all, I would like to congratulate you from the bottom of my heart on your election. It is really a great pleasure to see you in this position.

I would also like to warmly congratulate Ms Annicka ENGBLOM as rapporteur on behalf of my group on this report. It is an excellent report, a very valuable report. I would like to highlight some points that occur in your report that are particularly important to underline.

First of all, our rapporteur once again makes clear the special importance of media in times of crisis, namely for dialogue, for understanding, in a divided society for building bridges. That is all, all important. Unfortunately, especially in the pandemic crisis, the media themselves, the journalists themselves, have been the target of attacks, and that is extremely regrettable.

Here, every state must take precautions to ensure that this does not happen, that, for example, in Germany, a reporter from the public broadcaster is attacked in the street, and so on and so forth.

The important thing is that the media is free, independent and professional. In this sense, Madam Rapporteur, thank you for speaking a very clear word here in the direction of the media, which are public. I think that is very, very, very important.

However, in times of crisis, misinformation and information chaos circulate. This is where the role of public service media could and should have a stabilising effect. Especially in times when parliaments and governments restrict basic civil and human rights in order to fight a pandemic, it is very, very important that there be media on the other side that investigate, clarify, question, and present.

The rapporteur also underlines the problem of social media platforms, and I mention Telegram here, for example. That's not possible. You can't conspire on media platforms to incite people, to incite politicians, even to the point of killing them without anyone bearing responsibility for that.

What we need is a strong, pluralistic, independent - and now I'll take a word from you, Madam Rapporteur - media ecosystem, a new word, and the importance of investigative and scientific journalism. That's what our member States should promote in their countries, and that's particularly important here.

I congratulate for this report.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:59:00

Thank you very much, dear Mr Stefan SCHENNACH.

The next speaker is Ms Marie-Christine DALLOZ, from France, speaking on behalf of the EPP Group.

Marie-Christine, you have the floor.

Ms Marie-Christine DALLOZ

France, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

17:59:15

Thank you, Mr President, and my sincere congratulations on your election.

Mr President,

Ms ENGBLOM,

My dear colleagues,

The traditional role of the media is to disseminate information and knowledge to the general public. They are an essential part of the democratic process because, by relaying the different points of view with which facts are examined and by explaining them, they enable citizens to better understand the issues and encourage support for the decisions taken by the authorities.

In recent years, digital technologies have profoundly changed the media industry. Citizens are no longer just consumers: they are also actors and produce content themselves on social networks. This content is not subject to verification and is often very subjective. Their diffusion can lead to increasing misinformation.

The algorithms that manage digital platforms amplify the choices of users. They are only offered content that reflects their own opinions, that reinforces their own opinions. This practice removes any perspective, prevents exchanges and leads to a polarization of society. It is a threat to democracy.

In this difficult and tense context, the role of the media is particularly important, especially in times of crisis. As you said earlier, Madam Rapporteur, their role is vital.

Of course, they must continue to fulfil their role of transmitting information, especially when crises that combine urgency and gravity arise, such as wars, terrorism or pandemics. In such circumstances, it is imperative that the information disseminated be verified by professional journalists capable of demonstrating rigor and ethics. Journalistic professionalism must be encouraged if we are to combat the disinformation campaigns that are multiplying.

The media must also promote the understanding and contextualization of crisis situations. This requires a capacity for popularization, especially in scientific matters.

Crises often generate a feeling of fear that tends to weaken the foundation on which democracies are built. In order to bring the population together and reduce fractures, it is necessary to get the citizens to support the measures taken by the authorities to remedy the crisis. The goal is to get citizens to make choices that support society while respecting the principle of individual freedom. The role of the media is, in this respect, very important because, by allowing the circulation of coherent discourse, they involve citizens in the analysis of the crisis by promoting deliberative processes.

The EPP Group will of course vote for the resolution submitted for our approval.

I thank you for your work.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

18:02:37

Thank you now the floor is for Ms Nigar ARPADARAI for European Conservatives Group. Thank you.

Nigar is online?

Ms Nigar ARPADARAI

Azerbaijan, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

18:03:05

Dear colleagues,

Let me express a few reservations in respect of both the language and the spirit of the resolution. To start with, there is a number of calls that deserve full support, such as more education for journalists and more oversight over social media owners' and large businesses' behaviour.

However, a number of statements or lack thereof cause serious concerns. The first and the most fundamental of them is that this resolution basically forgets about the core principle that lays in the foundation of what we are supposed to do here in the Council of Europe. Freedom of speech is simply neither directly stated nor implied in the resolution. Instead, a number of worrying concepts are introduced, such as information disorder, which to me sounds like a euphemism for a need for censorship. If information disorder is a bad thing, as per the resolution, then I assume information order is good. What would it mean and who is to decide what this order consists of? The concept of fact-checking may sound attractive on the surface but like an iceberg, it contains a huge underwater potential for abuse and manipulations both by governments and corporations. The resolution is designed in a way that justifies increasing the role of governments in handling media and using it as propaganda tools, not as an accountability and self-restraint mechanism. And the argument that crises justifies this is not working with me.

In the summary of the report, it is stated that the media's function is to explain the behaviour which the authorities expect from citizens. There is a reflecting statement in the resolution text which says about collaboration between public authorities and the media. It does not state anywhere that in free societies media's function is to scrutinise the actions and decisions of government in the interest of citizens, even more so in times of crisis when governments have extraordinary powers. Usage of media by governments to promote its goals and methods is an acceptable practice. Why? It should take place within the frames of a much more important principle of accountability of governments to people including via media. Freedom of speech has unavoidable side effects in form, which you may call information disorder and for the sake of fairness I personally often refer to social media space as "a swamp full of lies" but I think we named the enemy wrong here.

Our goal here is the accountability of the rich and powerful and more education and knowledge sharing which by default means more access to information for citizens. The fight with the so-called information disorder is a very foggy territory in which we can easily step over into the territory of censorship. And limitations to freedom of speech, one more statement which I found confusing is the statement on discouraging nationalistic frames in the media. Even independent media decides to promote national agenda without breaking national or European laws. Why do we need to discourage it?

Also, the term "nationalistic frame" seems confusing and unclear. I fully understand the dangers and challenges of the media's role in the modern context of global uncertainty, both economically and politically. The risks revealed in the European common space is not an easy place to handle but we here in the Council of Europe have a clear mission defending and promoting human rights.

Let's not forget it. Thank you.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

18:06:47

Thank you.

Now the floor is for Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK from Ukraine on behalf of all the ALDE group.

Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK

Ukraine, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

18:06:54

Thank you, Mr President.

Dear Colleagues,

I'd like to greet the rapporteur on the great work and very acute topic in these days, and I was waiting for the debates to that.

“Polarisation” and “COVID infodemic” are the most commonly used words to describe all this media situation during the last two years.

And as the rapporteur correctly mentioned, one of the top priorities is fighting the disinformation. As the EU showed by issuing in mid 2020 the joint communication by the Commission and the High Representative “Tackling COVID-19 disinformation - Getting the facts right”.

I fully agree with the rapporteur regarding the big role of public broadcaster in fighting misinformation, polarisation, populism online. The states should give an effective support to their public broadcasting system to ensure the independence of its editorial policy. In times of crisis, when the access to accurate information can be even a security issue, the manipulations with mass media for business or political reasons from private owners or even from the country in hybrid manners should not be tolerated.

Social media is an effective tool for monitoring and engaging public discourse during the crisis process, and also a tool for raising public informational responsibility as a contributor. In this regards, we need to find the balance between the social media freedom and access to adequate information in the traditional media, as it is required be the standards of the Council of Europe.

Now it is most crucial both to foster developing fact-checking tools for the online media and social platforms and to give due attention to the issue of media literacy at the state level. Each person as a part of society today is facing the need to develop the skills to analyse information and search for reliable sources. The state should take the most active role in helping society to succeed in it.

The restricting in public's access to information in the times of crisis is unacceptable. The member states should not introduce any restrictions on media freedom beyond the limitations allowed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. For example for national security.

In the positive way of thinking, the media could play a crucial role in facilitating dialogue and multicultural understanding, and in preventing or minimising oppression and conflict.

Thank you very much.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

18:09:33

Thank you.

Now we move to individual speakers.

Although you have three minutes, I wish you can save time for the next speakers.

Now the first speaker is Mr Yunus EMRE.

Mr Yunus EMRE

Turkey, SOC

18:10:00

Thank you Mr Chairman.

First of all I would like to thank Madam Rapporteur for this timely and very important report.

We discussed many times in the Parliamentary Assembly how important media is for democratic functioning.

However, the COVID-19 conditions we are going through, the climate crisis, and the conflicts in international politics, shows us that the media is much more important under such crisis conditions.

This importance stems from the fact that the nature of the crisis depends on the proper understanding of the root causes of the crisis.

Besides what's stated in the draft resolution, we live in a multi-crisis environment such as the health crisis, environmental crisis, terrorism, social violence, and armed conflicts.

Considering the current developments, we can say that both the number of these multiple crises will increase, and these crisis will deepen in the upcoming years. The information that people attain during the formal education processes is thus relevant for the requirements of this crisis environment.

For this reason, it is necessary to see that the media has primarily an educational function in terms of informing the public accurately for the times of crisis.

In addition, in the new media environment, online content is now much more prominent. For this reason, social media posts or internet news makes it more problematic for the public to access the right information in the face of crisis. This information, carried out for political purposes, is among the most important problems of our democracies.

Naturally, we politicians have a great responsibility in this field. Those in power can use any means to distort the truth in order to maintain their power. They think they have one in the short term but they are doing great harm to the to the democratic process in the long term.

The report rightly states that the media functions as a channel for the transfer of expert information to institutions.

Good journalism does not require being an expert on the subject. Finding experts and helping them to inform the public accurately is good journalism. Being able to ask the right questions to the right people is good journalism. For this reason, it is necessary to remember that journalists do not need to be experts on the issues mentioned, especially in times of crisis and crisis issues. But experts are intermediaries to inform the public correctly.

The Council of Europe plays a critical role in the development and consolidation of democracy in our continent. The preceding decisions and recommendations highlighted in paragraph 13.1 of the Report are crucial.

In this context, I strongly agree with the call to harmonise the legislation and practices of the member states with these decisions and recommendations.

Thank you.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

18:13:24

Thank you.

Now I give the floor to Mr Frédéric REISS from France.

Mr Frédéric REISS from France is online I think.

Mr Frédéric REISS

France, EPP/CD

18:13:35

Thank you, Mr President.

Madam Rapporteur,

Dear colleagues,

As my colleague Ms Marie-Christine DALLOZ has just mentioned, the media fulfil functions of dissemination of information and transmission of knowledge. By collecting, sharing and explaining different points of view with which facts are examined, they enable the general public to understand the issues at stake in our societies, especially in times of crisis. Their contribution to democratic processes is therefore essential.

The emergence of digital technology has profoundly changed the media ecosystem. Citizens are no longer content to consult the media: they now take an active part in the animation of new networks such as Twitter or YouTube. The circulation of unverified – and therefore often subjective – content unfortunately generates increasing misinformation.

The algorithmic dynamics that characterize these digital platforms tend to lock citizens into a bubble of content that reflects their own opinions and removes any perspective. This can be considered a threat to democracy.

In this new context, the role of the media in times of crisis is crucial and complex.

First of all, they must continue to ensure their mission of transmitting information, especially when urgency is combined with seriousness, as is the case in times of international tension, terrorist attacks or even a health crisis such as the one we are currently experiencing. The ethics of journalists must be encouraged in order to guarantee that the information disseminated has been previously and correctly verified. This traditional mission of journalism is becoming increasingly important in the face of the development of disinformation campaigns.

They must therefore provide elements of understanding and context. Popularization plays an important role at this stage because, in the eyes of the general public, crises always arise unexpectedly and pose threats that are difficult to identify and even more difficult to understand. Like you, I believe it is necessary to improve the transmission of information with more scientific rigor.

By generating a feeling of fear, crises destabilize the "social contract", the foundation of our democracies. To encourage citizens to support the measures taken by institutions in times of crisis, it is necessary to allow the circulation of coherent discourse, to involve citizens in the analysis of the crisis by promoting deliberative processes. Public service media should guarantee these imperatives because, contrary to private media sometimes instrumentalized by their shareholders, they provide information that is in the general interest. They enable citizens to make choices that support society while respecting the principle of individual freedom.

I will obviously vote in favor of this resolution.

Thank you.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

18:16:56

Thank you, sir.

Now the floor is for Ms Mónika BARTOS from Hungry. Online I think.

Ms Mónika BARTOS

Hungary, EC/DA

18:17:04

Mister President, thank you for the floor.

In my opinion, the report raises and analyses a very important issue. Congratulations to the rapporteur. 

The media have a key role to play in managing the crisis well and effectively, as it can reach members of society with great success. In times of crisis, people's hunger for information also increases. With the acquired knowledge, they want to remedy their fears and insecurities. Since the mediators of information are in most cases the media, it does not matter how they play this role.

That is why I consider the report to be very important and up-to-date. The rapporteur mentions many important aspects and tasks. I will only highlight a few of them.

The report underlines the role of the media in developing society's resilience to crises. I also consider this to be very important.

In this context, it can also be mentioned that the media has a significant educational role. This is also why the training and preparedness of journalists is important. The report mentions, and we also support, the training of science journalism. This helps to distinguish between opinions and authentic information. This is particularly important in a crisis situation where trust plays a more important role in providing information than usual.

The media acts as a bridge between different actors in society, between people and authorities, decision makers, between individual needs and social needs, between man and man, and it helps to overcome isolation.

The media have to reinforce the legitimacy of the decisions taken by political leaders and improve the understanding both of their content and of the reasons for them. This is a very useful activity in times of crisis. 

As you can see, I very much agree - and the Hungarian delegation agrees - with the content of the report.

However, in our view, the wording contains a great deal of inaccuracy and a number of contradictions.

Some other points reflect an ideological approach that, in our view, should not be part of an independent report. I am thinking, for example, of point 20. We consider this to be a highly biased position that goes beyond objectivity, which we cannot accept. Overall, the report addresses important issues and contains findings that need to be supported.

Further clarification of the report is proposed in order to clarify the wording and to promote a greater degree of objectivity.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

18:20:29

Thank you.

Now the floor is for Ms Elena-Simona SPĂTARU from Romania, online.

Miss SPĂTARU, please request the floor.

No?

OK, then we move to next speaker, Mr Koloman BRENNER from Hungary, online.

Mr Koloman BRENNER

Hungary, NR

18:21:06

Thank you, Mr President,

I think that this report – which I also endorse, and can only congratulate the previous speakers, the rapporteur – is a very important step, because in times of crisis like today, the role of the media is a very special one.

I believe that, as a result, the employees of the media also have a special responsibility. That is why it would be very important for the media to present an objective and scientifically based opinion.

As the previous speakers have already mentioned, social media are both an advantage and a disadvantage in these times of crisis, as they have made fake news and similar problems particularly prevalent.

I think that the public media have a special responsibility in these times of crisis. That's why I would like to mention a negative example from my home country, Hungary, in today's discussion: namely, when a government uses a propaganda broadcast to present only positive news, for example, about the fight against the Corona crisis, a false sense of security, that is of course not good and balanced information for the citizens. I think that especially in times of crisis, the media, the public media, really have to pay special attention to the fact that they present the problem from different angles.

In our case, in the case of Hungary, an additional problem must of course also be mentioned, namely that parliamentary elections will soon be held in Hungary in April, as you may know: and it is precisely how one deals with a crisis situation, and it is not only about the pandemic, but it is also about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, for example, which also very directly affects Hungary, that balanced information is created. Therefore, it would be important that the Council of Europe and the OSCE also observe the elections in Hungary very critically.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

18:24:18

Thank you, sir.

Now Mr Reinhold LOPATKA from Austria. I think he is in the hall.

Mr Reinhold LOPATKA

Austria, EPP/CD

18:24:28

Yes, here I am.

Thank you very much that I have the chance to take the floor. I can fully support your report and also what my colleagues mentioned before. I think the role of the media in times of crisis is a very important one. And we have also to see that this information on social media platforms is rising.

On the other hand, we have to do everything to support constructive journalism in times of crisis. And here we have a new situation in Austria. We face, now, more and more attacks on journalists when they are doing their job – mainly when they are reporting about demonstrations in these Covid-19 pandemic times. And here we see that they are not only attacking journalists verbally, they also use violence, which is new for my country.

According to police reports, media representatives were attacked several times – especially women journalists were victims of physical assaults. And these attacks, of course, are unacceptable and we must not only condemn them in the strongest terms, but we also have to think about concrete measures so that journalists can continue with their work as it was, normally, before.

And you have also a new phenomenon that more and more demonstrations are in front of editorial offices. And also here, we see an increase in the risk to attack journalists.

And for me, and for us, it is clear: independent, high-quality and critical journalism, as well as pluralism, of course, in the media, are cornerstones of every democracy and hopefully, in all of our countries. And here, this report is important because we have to show the public that all countries who are represented in our Assembly have the wish to do everything. The free media are an important part in all of our countries but also journalists should have the feeling that we, as politicians, do everything so that they can do their work.

So we support all this work you are doing here and we also support fact-checking tools for social media. This is also a very important part when we talk about the role of media. 

Thank you. 

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

18:27:49

Thanks a lot.

Now Mr Oleg VOLOSHYN from Ukraine. Online.

Mr Oleg VOLOSHYN

Ukraine, SOC

18:27:56

Yes, hello, my dear colleagues.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this very important topic, especially from Ukraine nowadays.

I believe no one needs to be persuaded that when we speak about crisis it's unfortunately more about Ukraine than about any country Europe nowadays and we were grateful for increasing attention of our European colleagues and friends to the ways to find the solution to this crisis. And definitely the role of media is extremely important in this context.

I would like to stress that in times of crisis and especially during war, conflict, the main job of the media, the main mission of the media is to heal, to do bridges, to bridge the gaps, to find the ways to reconcile for those who are in conflict who have varying views, especially if it's about nations.

In this particular case, look at the situation in Ukraine for the last year 2021: veif independent TV stations were silenced with presidential decrees imposing sanctions on them for allegedly promoting views positive for Russia, or views positive to reconciliation with Russia.

Moreover, three more popular internet media where silenced with the same presidential decree, same procedure, with imposing sanctions on them and Ukraine has thus established a precedent imposing sanctions on its own legal entities, not some foreign, but on Ukrainian legal entities, on Ukrainian media. Not even trying to go to court to close them, to check whether they are really guilty or something or not, but to close them with the political will of one, president Zelensky.

And now may Europe wonder: why Ukraine and Russia are in such better relations? Why is there a crisis? What's the problem in Ukraine? Why the voices who always were sure in support of reconciliation with Moscow, in support of Europe living without the division lines, without conflicts with Europe were accepting all the rights of  views present here, is now on the verge of major conflicts that may cause dramatically catastrophic troubles to everyone.

And it's largely because Ukrainian media are not free anymore. It's largely because the government of Ukraine decided that its role is not to reconcile with Russia, its mission is not to find ways to go along with Russia, but to fight Russia. Everywhere it can, especially in media sphere. And that's unfortunately the worst possible choice, and that's one of the reasons, definitely not the main one, but one of the reasons why we are where we are and why we are all facing a dramatic trouble.

I believe this honourable Assembly needs to adress issues of freedom of press urgently and it will dramatically contribute to the solution of general situation around Ukraine and reconciliation efforts between Ukraine and Russia.

Thank you very much.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

18:30:58

Thank you.

Now the floor is for Mr Zoran TOMIĆ from Serbia online.

Mr Zoran TOMIĆ

Serbia, EPP/CD

18:31:13

Thank you Mr Chairperson, distinguished colleagues.

The media today play an important role in our societies, especially in the area of digitalisation and globalisation. We know that information is something that is most valuable today and with modern technologies and media, we can get the necessary information but it often happens that we get unnecessary information, or as it was formally said, "noise".

Especially in times of crisis such as the time of the coronavirus pandemic, the media plays an important role. In times of crisis, it is necessary to prevent panic and its spread and to find a mechanism to organise society in the right way in order to face the problem that lies ahead. During the coronavirus, a virus about which we knew almost nothing at the beginning, it was important to inform the citizens about the events in that field, that is, what measures should we be taking to suppress the spread of the virus, and later, in the process of immunisation, talk about the importance of the vaccination as a mechanism to fight the virus completely.

Unfortunately, it seems that for some media, especially those related to the internet and social networks, the number of clicks and likes was more important than people's lives. So they try to provide popular information, full of conspiracy theories and policy scientists, who presented exactly the opposite information to what was true. That is why the resolution, which is before us is important – to appeal to states and societies, with the Council of Europe, that freedom of expression and access to information should be nurtured but that the emphasis in times of crisis must be on discipline and more attention [needs to be given] to verification of such information. This can be achieved through help from the State, as well as providers making the media that share the fake content, and by preventing fake news from spreading on their networks. We are witnessing that they are becoming more popular than the truth today, unfortunately.

This is why the role of us parliamentarians, but also the entire society, is to prevent someone's profit and popularity from being more important than the health and the well-being of society in times of crisis. That is why I think that this resolution is excellent and should be supported on the voting day but also that it should not remain a dead letter on the paper, as we say, but actively work within our parliaments and communities to implement it and prevent certain media from abusing the name of the free and independent press to get money and provide more great rewards for their owners at the expense of all mankind. 

Thank you.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

18:33:54

Thanks for the time management.

Now the floor is for Mr Mehmet Mehdi EKER from Turkey.

One minute, online.

Mr Mehmet Mehdi EKER

Turkey, NR

18:34:02

Thank you very much.

Dear Chairman,

Dear Colleagues,

The COVID-19 pandemic proved that the media plays a key role in the perception and management of crises. During the pandemic, there were so many inaccurate informations floating around in the media.

Especially, there was chaos in the social media. Thus, I sincerely believe that this report shows us what is the media’s role and how should states cooperate with the media during such crises.

During a crisis people want to know what is happening and how to stay safe. In such times, the media serves as an emergency broadcast system to provide vital information for the people who need it most. Furthermore, the emergence of a crisis requires the authorities to deploy new actions and opens broad fields to media information.

In the past, organisations had 24 hours to get information to media outlets. Now, media outlets can provide immediate and continuous updates on a crisis through contributions from people experiencing the crisis. This situation has become more evident with the development of social media. Social media is a tool, that can cause a negative impact. However, it can also bring about positive outcomes as well by facilitating and accelerating the speed and breadth of communication if properly utilised.

Both the traditional and the social media represent an active pivotal role in shaping today's world. It can play a role of educationally focused awareness of crises through news, commentary and interpretation. However, there are many hoaxes and misinformation in media outlets which could lead to polarisation and populism. This situation, of course, should not be tolerated in democratic societies.

On the other hand, basic human rights cannot be sacrificed to fight this kind of misinformation. Public authorities, the media and people should collaborate and find a solution to fight misinformation while protecting human rights.

Thank you very much Mr Chairman.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

18:37:19

Thank you.

Now Sir Tony LLOYD from the United Kingdom.

Please ask for the floor.

Sir Tony LLOYD

United Kingdom, SOC

18:37:34

Thank you Mr Chairman.

Can I begin by saying – like others – that it's inevitable that a free media plays a fundamental role in a democratic society.

It should be regarded as not necessarily the politician's friend, not necessarily the government's friend, but the friend of the public.

Whilst others have already commented on the difficulties that the proliferation of social media, inaccurate fake news has played during the COVID-19 crisis, nevertheless we have depended on our media to make sure that the proper messages about the extent and the real impact of COVID-19 has been all about. The media is fundamental in times of crisis.

But one of the things that we have to grapple with is the fact that our media is under attack. Sometimes - as others said - this is a physical attack; we still recall the murder of Mr Ján Kuciak, the Slovak journalist, or Ms Daphne Caruana Galicia from Malta. Those were shocking, but in actual fact even in my own country there has been an increase in physical attack upon journalists and sometimes particularly women journalists are affected. This is something that we simply have got to report but more than that, we've got to make sure that we say 'we must defend our journalists'.

The attack on the media comes way beyond that. We have seen, for example in Russia and Hungary, the specific uses of laws about fake information where the state seeks to protect itself, or the restriction of the access of journalists and people like medical professionals throughout the Covid-19 crisis, preventing journalists from reporting accurately on exactly what the impacts of COVID-19 are.

We've seen as well in Hungary, where the media regulator refuses a license of the biggest independent radio system, or in Poland where a state-owned oil company took over the organisation which owned most of the regional newspapers.

This state attack upon the free media is a very dangerous trend, but of course we've seen even in countries like France and Slovenia the use of these so-called SLAPPS, the strategic laws against public participation. This is incredibly dangerous.

So, if this Assembly is not prepared to stand up for the rights of a free and independent media, of the rights of journalists to go to work in safety, of the capacity of independent media organisations to report the news faithfully and accurately, we fail not simply the media: we fail our democracy.

If we fail our democracy, we fail our people.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

18:40:39

Thank you, sir.

Now love Mr Erkin GADIRLI from Azerbaijan.

Mr Erkin GADIRLI

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

18:40:48

Thank you Mr Chairman.

Our distinguished colleague from Greece mentioned the name of Thomas Jefferson. He was indeed one of the greatest historical figures, but we live in a time when the New York City public design commission unanimously decided to remove a statue of Thomas Jefferson because they considered him to be one of the most shameful pages in American history. This is one of the many examples of the negative effects of manipulation of history in and by the media.

This draft report is aimed at defining the role of the media, but it seems to disregard the brutal fact that the media itself is in deep crisis.

To start with, we should put a question to ourselves, a fundamental one: is such a report really needed, and who are we as politicians to mentor journalists? My answers to these questions are negative, but since I'm a lawyer I will try to stick to some legal arguments.

The terminology used in this report is unfortunately either too metaphoric to have a clear meaning, or too confusing to have legal connotations.

Such phrases as a 'healthy media ecosystem' or 'this being both right and duty' are not helpful at all.

The draft document I'm going to quote says that – this is a quote – 'media should be able to stimulate discussions on the right measures to counter the causes and the adverse effects of the crisis and to overcome it'. End of quote.

Now the article definitely immediately catches attention. It assumes that the right measures are already known. Here comes the question: why should the media stimulate discussion on what is already known, and known to whom?

At this point I want to recall the resolution adopted last year by this Assembly on the so-called 'the right of public to know'. I opposed that resolution because it was poorly drafted and full of ill-defined concepts. Unfortunately I have to oppose this report on the same grounds.

Paragraph 4 is especially troubling: it says that 'media' "help to reinforce the legitimacy of the decisions taken by political leaders". Since when has media had such a role? The media has always had the role of questioning the legitimacy of decisions made by leaders and put them under public scrutiny.

Then media somehow all of a sudden is supposed to have an educational role - I simply don't understand it. But this paragraph has its own internal logic because it goes on to say that "this must be capable of analysing and explaining the new obligations being imposed, etc".

Now this paragraph does have an internal logic, but it is fundamentally wrong.

My time is out. I end my speech by saying that I am going to vote against this. Thank you.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

18:44:07

Thank you.

Now the floor is for Ms Nicole DURANTON from France.

Ms Nicole DURANTON

France, ALDE

18:44:15

Thank you very much, Mr President.

Madam Rapporteur,

Ladies and gentlemen,

The coronavirus pandemic has given rise to an increased need for information among most of our fellow citizens. Because they reflect but also form opinion, the media bear a heavy responsibility for our democratic societies. The errors and outbursts they transmit can have serious consequences, especially when lives are at stake.

I fully agree with the conclusions of the report presented by our colleague Ms Annicka ENGBLOM, concerning the need for quality information and the need to strengthen the bond of trust between citizens and our institutions.

We must fight against disinformation and the phenomenon of "fake news", which are now well established on social networks. Fake news is indeed a major threat to our democracies, as pointed out on several occasions by our Assembly. They have taken root in a very specific landscape, that of an acceleration of information with a strong trend: information is produced above all to capture attention. Therefore, the problem is not so much the existence of divergent views as the lack of a collective agreement on basic data, on tangible facts, which makes it impossible to have a calm and rational debate.

We must therefore pay particular attention to the regulation of social media platforms, whose role has proved decisive during the crisis. I insist on this point: we must encourage these platforms to develop tools for verifying the facts that circulate via the channels. We must also be vigilant with regard to the algorithms they use, which sometimes undermine respect for the ethical principles to which any online publication should be subject. Users of these social media are too often exposed to information that determines the nature of their engagement. Under these conditions, the emergence of a deliberative public space is impossible, and it is democracy that is undermined.

In light of these very real dangers, I am convinced that institutions must put in place public policies to better supervise platforms. I therefore share the analysis of our colleague who advocates the adoption of legislative measures to prevent powerful digital companies from becoming "poles of political power".

This leads me to stress the importance of the more "traditional" media, which play an indispensable critical role. Journalists have an essential role to play but, to assume it, they must be well trained, recognized and have a real independence. It is therefore the entire ecosystem that we need to review and this report makes a full contribution to that.

I will vote for this resolution.

Thank you very much.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

18:47:20

Thank you.

Now the floor is for Ms Zita GURMAI from Hungary.

Ms Zita GURMAI

Hungary, SOC

18:47:28

Dear colleagues,

If a government abolishes freedom of the press, it is afraid to bring its actions under judgment of the people, and the actions of those who fear such judgement are unjust.” – said Lajos Kossuth, the first president of Hungary in the 19th century.

The freedom and independence of the press is under threat throughout Europe. Populism tries to present complex and sensitive social, economic and political issues as something that easily can be solved and,  oftentimes, as something that they can easily blame someone else, stigmatizing this whoever they consider “someone else”.

Others try to polarize the media, creating their own bubbles of information, enhanced by social-media algorithms, without any opportunity for diverging opinion to be presented; while false information and fake news are either strengthening this effect or destroy trust in media.

A recent international study, made by Ipsos, has shown that less than a third of the population trusts the media in European countries, with the least amount of trust being found in Hungary, where only nine percent of the population trusts media companies.

Hungary has reached such a level of polarisation, that every single outlet in the country is put into a camp. Governmental camp, opposition camp, which then gets divided even further based on which political party is perceived as the controller of the newspaper, even if such control is non-existent.

The Hungarian Government is making the situation worse. Hungarian state-funding is flowing to government-friendly media outlets, while barely any support goes to voices that are more critical of the government’s actions. A balance against such a polarised media market could be the state media, which once again serve as nothing more, but the most fearless supporter of the government’s actions and the loudest opposition presented against anyone who dares to be critical of said government.

We already can see the negative effects of this lack of trust. Hungary’s attempts to counter the coronavirus pandemic has lost a drastic amount of efficiency. Similar occurrences can be perceived when a scandal happens. The government’s unwillingness to report on certain matters, such as the Pegasus scandal, creates doubt and denial in those who are supportive towards the government, in those who usually consume materials that are created for the people in that opinion bubble.

These threats which the report also notes, make the people numb and uncaring to scandals, doubtful of crises and unemphatic towards tragedies. Therefore reports such as the one which is the subject of this debate, are welcome.

There is another issue which still needs further emphasis – that being the representation and support of minority voices. By this, of course, I mean minorities, such as national minorities, sexual minorities and so on. I also mean political minorities who might find it hard to make their voices heard. It is crucial for the media not just to provide wide array of objective, trustworthy information. It is also important that some sort representation regarding one’s identity to be present in the media. Trust in the press can not be achieved, if some groups feel excluded. In short: we need to ensure that every voice can be heard. I congratulate the Rapporteur – it´s an excellent job.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

18:51:28

Before moving to the next speakers, I should remind you that we have to finish it around 19:00 at the latest.

I now announce the results for the election of a Vice-President of the Assembly.

The numbers say that 185 members voted and Mr Petr TOLSTOI got 79 for the "YES" vote, and the number of negative votes is 106. So it says that Mr Petr TOLSTOI did not obtain a relative majority of votes cast and is not elected Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly. 

Now the next speaker is Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS from Greece.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD

18:52:38

Thank you Mr President.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues,

Of course, I support the excellent report of our colleague Ms Annicka ENGBLOM. It is a very important and timely report. During the antiquity, the Greeks used to say that there is nothing new.

I refer to the period in history when journalists were persecuted and condemned. Through The Times newspaper, a journalist called Howell, covering the Crimean war, we were told that the British soldiers did not have anything to eat at that time. The British minister then attacked The Times newspaper saying "How can you fail to support British interests and government interests and how dare you criticise the war and British soldiers and British foreign policy". So this is a long-standing ancient phenomenon. 

Of course, we have the theories of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. Orwell said that we would end up with just one source of information and Huxley said that the sources of information would be so numerous that chaos would prevail. And today, we are faced with social media and ample sources of information.

I have been a journalist for many years, and I teach journalism in college, and we have many journalists today who are not professionals. These are journalists or people who are providing information, who have access to the public, to the citizenry, and 30% of our citizens today have trust in journalism but 82% of our citizens get their information from very different sources. So I think we are living in a cacophonous world.

Our Greek colleague criticised the position of our country. The situation is improving, and of course, journalists can perform their jobs. Can I have ten seconds President? I think our Assembly really must become an observatory, a monitor of journalist activities in our country and it is time for the Council of Europe to create such an observatory – a monitoring centre –for journalism because without journalism, society cannot survive. 

 

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

18:56:20

Thank you.

Now I invite Mr George LOUCAIDES as the last speaker.

Then we will move to the amendments.

Mr George LOUCAIDES

Cyprus, UEL

18:56:33

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

Dear Colleagues,

We are navigating an era where information is readily and easily accessible by almost everyone at all times. Media should play a key role in providing timely, accurate, and reliable information, especially in times of crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social media have become an important tool for public dialogue and discussion on COVID-19 and the governments’ handling of the public health crisis. At the same time, the sanitary crisis has created additional challenges for the media industry: the outbreak of misleading information causes confusion and undermines the public’s trust in health authorities, a phenomenon that the World Health Organisation has declared as an “infodemic”.

While both conventional and social media have become an essential tool in the dissemination and thus democratisation of knowledge and information, this comes with an increased responsibility in preventing misinformation, fake news and the dissemination of conspiracy theories. Furthermore, misleading information has caused public anxiety and uncertainty on a large scale. Even in times of exceptional situations and public emergencies, it is important that the flow of information remains unobstructed.

Dear colleagues, in times of crisis we need more, not less democracy. Consequently, freedom of expression should be protected at all costs. At the same time the present pandemic has underscored the need for all media to practice responsible journalism and disseminate accurate and verified information, thus facilitating healthy public debates and allowing for citizens to take informed decisions.

For example, the extreme polarisation of public opinion that ensued following the decision for mass vaccination, led to increased mistrust as regards the credibility of governmental and scientific institutions. At the same time this resulted in a rise in hate speech against certain groups, and the stereotyping and stigmatisation of already marginalised populations, a particularly worrisome development for the health of our democracies.

In this regard, close collaboration between institutions and internet/media stakeholders is important in preventing the manipulation of media and online platforms and the spread of fake news and hate speech. Public authorities should support the expression of diverse content and opinions on critical issues like the pandemic, whilst assuring at the same time that these are expressed respectfully in a secure environment, ensuring informed debates and inclusive democratic participation.

Furthermore, governments need to impose appropriate and proportionate measures with particular caution, so as to avoid any violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

18:59:47

Thank you, sir.

I must now interrupt the list of speakers. The speeches of members on the speakers list who have been present physically or remotely during the debate but have not been able to speak may be given to the Table Office for publication in the Official Report, provided that speakers connected remotely can report their actual presence when the debate is closed. I remind colleagues that type written texts must be submitted electronically, no later than four hours after the list of speakers is interrupted.

I call Ms ENGBLOM, the rapporteur, to reply to the debate. You have three minutes.

Ms Annicka ENGBLOM

Sweden, EPP/CD, Rapporteur

19:00:31

Thank you Mr President.

First of all, thank you dear colleagues for the interventions, reflections, and also examples from several of the respective countries with reflections on this report.

Some comments – Ms Marie-Christine DALLOZ who is not present – lifted that also readers today are producers of information. This is crucial why the media, and especially that of public media, public service, is independent first of all, and second of all, fact-based. That is the profound round that it has to stand on because there is a very important line.

Second of all, Sir Tony LLOYD for instance: the media must be the friend of the public or serve the public.

My Azeri friends, I don't know how they interpreted the report, but I suggest that they move on from, not stop at, Paragraph 4, but move to Paragraph 9 as well. There it stated the balance that has to exist before being both co-operative and also questioning or critical to measures taken, especially by governments, during a crisis.

This report has, of course, built on several other reports that we have pulled through here in the Assembly. For instance, media freedom, the protection of journalism, and also the people's right to know, as was mentioned by one of my colleagues here.

We're in the middle of a crisis still – we have a pandemic. It is very vital where we can see how the media works, and what the scope of this report is about.

Thanks, of course, has its place, first of all to doing the fact-finding – our experts – Dr Giuliana Tiripelli from De Montfort University of Leicester, Ms Daniela Ovadia from the Centre for Ethics in Science and Journalism in Milan, and Paul Riley at the University of Sheffield. Their contribution has been invaluable.

Once again, thanks colleagues, but of course a special thanks to our wonderful Secretariat, Mr Roberto Fasino, and Mr Eugen Cibotaru, without whom, nothing would have happened. And of course, the help of my dear colleagues in the Committee as well.

As I said in the beginning I hope that you will support this Report. I thank those of you who have already expressed this, and moreover, who don´t "stay on the shelf". We can continue to work with the scope of this Report in our respective parliaments and in our respective societies and then develop the arguments further on in the future.

Thank you very much for this debate.

Ms Laurence TRASTOUR-ISNART

France, EPP/CD

20:02:59

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

Ms Lucie MONCION

Canada

20:03:01

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

Mr Alain MILON

France, EPP/CD

20:03:05

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

Mr Dimitri HOUBRON

France, ALDE

20:03:05

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

Mr Stéphane BERGERON

Canada

20:03:08

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

Mr Ahmet Ünal ÇEVİKÖZ

Turkey, SOC

20:03:11

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Thank you Mr. President,

What we are discussing today, namely media, in general, is known to be the fourth pillar of democracy and it has a very important role in generating democratic culture. Media supplies the political information that the electorate base their decisions on. Media workers identify problems in their societies and serve as a medium for providing an in-depth knowledge about those problems so that people may have a better understanding, and this is necessary in open, democratic societies.

It is important therefore, that the media workers should be able to perform securely and that they should not be intimidated, harassed or murdered. Last week, on the 19th of January, we commemorated the 15th anniversary of the assasination of Hrant Dink, a wellknown journalist, who was a citizen of Turkey of Armenian origin and who had dedicated his life to the normalisation of relations between Turkey and Armenia.

This week, on the 24th of January, we commemorated the 29th anniversary of the assasination of another prominent Journalist in Turkey, Uğur Mumcu, who had dedicated his life to the defence of a free, democratic, secular society in Turkey. There are many others whom I respectfully remember but do not have the time to commemorate them in person, not least to mention that many others are in prison.

Let us not forget that Free and independent media is a corollary to freedom of expression.

The report identifies very accurately the fact that risks of misinformation, polarisation and populism increase in times of crisis. It is equally true that misinformation, polarisation and populism themselves are the malaise of a democratic society and they become the main instigators of crisis, too.

We must not be misled by the illusion that governments use the media to disseminate accurate and reliable information to the society. Governments should not control the media but should leave them to function in a free and independent environment so that the accurate and reliable information is disseminated. Only under such a free and democratic milieu can media perform responsibly and ethically. Restrictions and manipulations of media outlets hinder the democratic functioning of a society.

I commend the rapporteur for having identified the fundamental elements of free and independent media and how it would be functioning in times of crisis. If media is honest, democracy functions efficiently. On the contrary, if media is biased, corrupt and favours only a particular party or few individuals, it becomes very dangerous for the functioning of democracy. Let us allow the media to perform its role in times of crisis, and let us prevent it to become the cause of crisis.

Thank you.

Ms Lesia VASYLENKO

Ukraine, ALDE

20:03:52

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Dear Colleagues,

Undoubtedly, media have a huge power over our lives. In times of crises, media provide communication instruments between governments and the public, while also serving as a “public watchdog” over democratic principles and human rights.

It must be clear, however, that with the great power, great responsibility comes.

The messages conveyed by journalists and opinion leaders can lead the public into chaos, panic or, to the contrary, provide comfort and a structured call to action. This has been especially true in times of crises.

It has been too often the case when authoritarian regimes have used media to manipulate public opinion and spread disinformation. And even worse, the use of information as warfare has been on the rise at times when people and nations are at their most vulnerable - at times of war, pandemic, and other difficulties.

The danger of disinformation lies in the fact that it spreads rapidly over a variety of channels. And once the message is out, it is almost impossible to reverse its effect, as the seeds of doubt, mistrust, and fear are sown.

Thus, when it comes to the media regulation at times of crisis, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute. Indeed, as many European court rulings proved, in situations threatening democracy and national security the role of the media can be restricted.

Ukraine found itself in a situation where Russian disinformation was a direct threat to national security and public safety. Thus, in line with Article 10 of the ECHR, the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine had to impose a ban on social media fully controlled and moderated by Russian security structures, as well as several other media outlets that promoted Russian narrative on territorial desintegration of Ukraine.

Other CE member states acted similarly in the face of Russian information aggression. In line with the Convention, Latvia, Germany, France, and the UK imposed limitations on media spreading lies and threatening democracy.

I conclude by thanking the rapporteur for raising this topic, and especially for the recommendation to promote and support free and independent media. It is crucial that all the member states foster conditions for developing professional investigative journalism and fact-checking technology. All media outlets should act with full understanding and responsibility of the consequences of their actions.

We must continue working together towards a balance between respect of freedom of expression and fight against disinformation.

Mr Aleksandr BASHKIN

Russian Federation, NR

20:04:37

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

I’d like to thank Mrs. Engblom for her responsible study of the issue and will pay attention to paragraph 5 of the draft resolution.

Unfortunately, in the modern world we increasingly come across the role of certain media as an instrument of confrontation policy. Reputable publications, channels incite militaristic hysteria. Every day we face their attempts to put pressure on society and governments with the imposition of the enemy image and a model of behavior with it. The press demands conflict. Conflict is already turning into the conditions of its existence.

Here are some specific examples. Here is a quote “the media should reduce the heat around the security situation in Ukraine”. This is a statement by the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Aleksey Danilov on Monday, January 24. It was panic reports that prompted some countries to start evacuating diplomats from Ukraine. In fact, politicians and the military, informed by the professional intelligence community, realize that Russia has no plans to fight with Ukraine. But the mainstream press is not interested. This is boring for it.

Every day the stock-jobbing about the story invented by several journalists is growing. It grows to such an extent that it begins to annoy and interfere with the normal functioning of European institutions.

Here's another example. Leaders of major nations, responsible politicians in different countries are aware of the escalating conflicts danger. They demonstrate willingness to discuss the accumulated issues, to look for ways out of the crisis in relations.

But some media outlets demonstrate an irresponsible approach, replicating what our resolution warns against - conspiracy theories and inflammatory discourses. Although everything should and can be completely different.

History knows examples when it was the media that stopped the disaster, which almost took place. Many people remember the missile crisis in Europe in the early 80s (the confrontation between the American Pershing and the Soviet СС-20). It was the press that drew attention to this problem. Both the Western and Soviet media disclosed the danger to the whole world and the possible consequences, so politicians conceded.

The desire to shock the reader and the viewer is understandable. These are the audience, ratings and sales of advertising. But, dear journalists and publishers, do not play with fire, do not provoke politicians and the military. Listen to the voice of reason and to the resolution of our Assembly. It may still end well.

Mr Armen GEVORGYAN

Armenia, NR

20:04:53

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Dear colleagues

First of all, I would like to note the importance of the report under consideration and the prepared draft resolution. As a main desire to the authors, it would be important to underline the problem of the new quality of the responsibility for public authorities and politicians to work with information and the media in crisis situations.

The functional and technological transformation of the media has become the most obvious in comparison with other institutions of public affairs. Not only the formats and scope of their activities have changed significantly, but also the requirements for the quality of information. Information becomes more individually oriented. With the development of modern technologies, the range of diversity of information has expanded to the maximum, the number of its producers and translators has increased tremendously.

At the same time, use of new information and communication technologies creates very fertile ground for the maximum spread of post-truth and populism. Representatives of populist political forces when take the power most freely and shamelessly manipulate public opinion.

Meantime, an objective situation, where public actors often can no longer not only shape, but also influence public opinion through the media is very usual in many countries. And therefore, very often, under the pretext of fighting crises and overcoming negative consequences, the public authorities are using restrictive measures, limiting freedom of speech and information. This behavior of politicians may primarily indicate a lack of trust in their words and actions. Restricting access to information and its dissemination creates great risks in crisis situations. It can be a potential to create a virtual reality that is different from real life in order to solve or achieve narrowly political goals or desires. It could cause doubts, that begin to destroy the mobilization ability of the entire society and the state in overcoming the crises. In turn, we must always insist on the most open, transparent work of the public authorities themselves, excluding on their part manipulations and selectivity in the process of providing society with the necessary information in crises situations.

Vote: The role of the media in times of crisis

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:03:52

Thank you.

Now if the chairperson of the committee wishes to speak I will give him three minutes.

Lord Alexander DUNDEE?

Lord Alexander DUNDEE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, Chairperson of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media

19:04:09

Thank you Mr President, dear colleagues,

Before we come to voting on proposed amendments, I would like to thank our rapporteur for the excellent work which she has done on this report.

In view of Covid-19, an assessment of the role of the media in times of crisis is extremely relevant just now.

No doubt it's still too early to calculate the full measure of Covid-19´s negative effects, as it also is to devise a complete range of counter plans and remedies.

In so doing there is, of course, another challenge as well – this is to win trust and confidence on the best way forward. For there are so many different opinions on what to do, amongst, in any case, quite a lot of misinformation.

The media has a key role to play, for it can give accurate and thorough information.

It can host debates and exchanges between scientists, politicians and others. As a result it helps to produce an enhanced level of understanding and co-operation for those who have to make decisions.

That's why the report also suggests that the media should involve institutions, services, experts and civil society. This transparent approach is then far more likely than otherwise to inspire trust and confidence in the recommendations and conclusions which it produces.

I think we can all believe wholeheartedly in that.

Apart from its essential contributions in a crisis, at all other times there's also our reliance upon the media to sustain liberty and political democracy.

Equally, the corollary to that may be quite clear. As our rapporteur has just mentioned, or emphasised perhaps in Section 9 of her report, this is that all us beneficiaries of democracy should, at all times, consider ourselves to be within an implied partnership with the media which on behalf carries out this protective function.

Thank you.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:06:26

Thank you, Mister Chairperson of the Committee.

Now the debate is closed.

Now we move to the amendments.

The Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media has presented a draft resolution, to which nine amendments have been tabled (Doc. 15437).The amendments will be taken in the order in which they appear in the Compendium. I remind you that speeches on amendments are limited to one minute. I ask parliamentarians participating remotely to ask for the floor only when they have to support their own amendment or wish to speak against an amendment.

I understand that the Chairperson of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media wishes to propose to the Assembly that amendments 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7 to the draft resolution, which were rejected by the Committee with a 2/3 majority, be declared as rejected.Is that so Lord DUNDEE?

Does anybody object? Is there any online objection?

Please could those who object raise their hand in the Hemicycle (for those present) or request to speak via the remote system. I remind the Assembly that the objection must be supported by at least 10 members.

Anybody wishes to speak?

Who is online? Yes. Mr Andrey EPISHIN. We listen to you.

Mr Andrey EPISHIN

Russian Federation, NR

19:08:55

Thank you, good evening.

Distinguished colleagues, first of all I'd like to request your support for amendment 1 and amendment 2.

They talk about the comprehensive use of the same name for media, talking about free and independent media.

This report is really only about the media in general.

In the second and third sentences of paragraph 1, you have this definition of free and independent media which is rather strange in reports such as this.

For some reason, the rapporteur presumes that the media are divided into different categories, some which are purportedly free and independent, and they shouldn't adhere to the same principles and characteristics which are proposed in the report.

We propose that there be support for this amendment 1, which is purely technical and logical in terms of the sense of the terminology used.

Thank you.

 

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:10:09

Indeed, we need 10 members to object. If there are 10 members here and remotely... it doesn't seem so right?

People who object, please request the floor. Anybody in the room objecting? Now there are more objections.

So there is an objection. Each amendment will be taken individually, in the order in which they appear in the compendium.

We move to the amendments as seen in the compendium.

I call Mr Andrey EPISHIN to support amendment 1, in one minute. Mr Andrey EPISHIN, please ask for the floor.

You have one minute to support the amendment, Mr Andrey EPISHIN. 

Mr Andrey EPISHIN?

He couldn't get the floor.

Does anyone else wish to support this amendment?

Mr Andrey EPISHIN, please stay online and you have one minute.

Mr Andrey EPISHIN

Russian Federation, NR

19:13:02

Thank you once again. 

On the first amendment and the second which is related to amendment 1. Once again, I would like to say that in the report it is tantamount to saying that you have to categorise media into purportedly free and independent media on the one hand and unfree and dependent media. 

And in the various sections of the report, you have this complicated additional terminology. But if we are going to divide the media into free and independent on the one hand and unfree and dependent, then it would suggest that the second category would not adhere to the principles and characteristics, so forth, in this report on the media, which means there is a complete lack of logic.

So we would call for amendments 1 and 2 to be supported from that logical standpoint.

Thank you.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:14:15

Does anyone wish to speak against amendment 1?

Yes, rapporteur, one minute.

Ms Annicka ENGBLOM

Sweden, EPP/CD, Rapporteur

19:14:26

Thank you very much.

And to comment on Mr Andrey EPISHIN, let me very clear that the proposal in amendment 1 as for number 2 deletes the words "free and independent" from the phrase and not all media are free and independent.

Unfortunately, besides numerous media outlets that practice real and honest journalism in accordance with the ethics of journalism which remains free and independent journalism, there is a number of media organizations that are neither free or independent, as they are paid by governments and practice propaganda.

This is the case, for instance, in state broadcasters which serve the government and spread propaganda that plays into the hands of the government. So "free and independent" is crucial. Moreover, as the term "reliable" is also proposed to be deleted it should stay in this paragraph since it's used as a code of ethics of various media outlets.

In short, I'm against this amendment.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:15:36

Thank you.

What is the opinion of the committee on this amendment 1?

Lord Alexander DUNDEE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, Chairperson of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media

19:15:41

The Committee is against.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:15:43

Thank you.

And I shall put the amendment to the vote.

Voting is open in both the hemicycle and on the remote system.

Please vote.

Okay, the vote is closed. Please display the results.

22 in favour, 49 against, 6 abstentions. The amendment is rejected.

Now we move to amendment 2.

Mr EPISHIN declared support to the amendment.

Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? Rapporteur?

Ms Annicka ENGBLOM

Sweden, EPP/CD, Rapporteur

19:17:09

Thank you Mr President.

In accordance to amendment 1 Mr Andrey EPISHIN wishes to delete the words "free and independent".

I've already argued for that because free and independent media must be the driving force of critical analyses on the causes of a crisis.

Thank you. Well in short, I'm against.

Thank you.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:17:37

The committee has rejected the amendment.

We suppose that the committee is against the amendment?

Lord Alexander DUNDEE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, Chairperson of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media

19:17:44

 Mr President, the committee is against with a two thirds majority.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:17:48

I'm putting the amendment to the vote in the hemicyle and the remote system. Please vote.

The vote is closed.

Please, the results.

The amendment is rejected, as seen on the screen.

May I invite Mr Andrey EPISHIN to support amendment 3.

 

Mr Andrey EPISHIN

Russian Federation, NR

19:19:03

Thank you.

I am not sure people have understood the point of our proposal here.

We need specific guarantees here regarding political censorship of social media.

With regards to transparency in Russia and other countries, we have intermediaries who have an obligation to delete illegal information on such networks. That is the point of this amendment, and I call for support of it. 

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:19:43

Does anyone wish to speak against the rapporteur? Please.

Ms Annicka ENGBLOM

Sweden, EPP/CD, Rapporteur

19:19:49

Thank you, mister president.

I can assure Mr EPISHIN that I fully understand the intention. Indeed illegal content must be deleted and this is a responsibility of the intermediary. However, the issue of deleting a certain content is quite complex and needs further explanation and elaboration and therefore an injunction to delete a certain contact without the necessary explanations and nuances is therefore not appropriate.

Therefore, I'm against this amendment.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:20:22

From the voting in the Committee, we know the Committee is against.

Now I put the amendment to the vote both in the hemicycle and the remote system. Please vote.

The vote is closed. Results please.

Okay with these results, the amendment is rejected.

Now I call Mr Andrey EPISHIN to support amendment 4 in one minute.

Mr Andrey EPISHIN, please.

Mr Andrey EPISHIN

Russian Federation, NR

19:21:37

This resolution is intended to give guidelines to governments in times of crises, and in this context we are calling for an instrument to that end, hence this amendment. Thank you.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:21:54

Anyone wants to speak against?

Ms Annicka ENGBLOM

Sweden, EPP/CD, Rapporteur

19:22:01

Thank you Mr President,

We know that during this pandemic some governments have tried to control the work of the media under the pretext of tense situations.

However the governments should not tend to control the media, but quite the opposite: to help the media to do their job freely and efficiently.

So this resolution provides governments with concrete guidelines that may help media outlets to better play out their role during a crisis, which is better expressed in the sentences placed in the report.

I recommend them to stay as they are.

Hence I am against this amendment.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:22:46

Thank you. The committee has rejected the amendment by a two thirds majority.

Now I will put the amendment to the vote in the hemicycle and via the remote system.

Please, vote.

We can close the vote.

Waiting for the results.

The amendment is rejected.

Now, OK, she's in here... yes, Ms Marietta KARAMANLI.

Ms Marietta KARAMANLI

France, SOC

19:24:07

Thank you very much.

I'm terribly sorry, I was planning to vote but I somehow, I couldn't take part. We have listened to all the debates since this afternoon; it is very frustrating not to be able to be there, not to be able to speak and not to be able to vote.

So, I´d like you to take account of my vote – that vote was against – and that I share the position of the rapporteur.

Thank you.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:24:43

Ms Marietta KARAMANLI, when the Secretary checked, I think you didn't give the right email. That's why it happened.

Sorry about that.

I move to amendment 5.

I invite Mr Andrey EPISHIN to support the amendment in one minute.

Mr Andrey EPISHIN

Russian Federation, NR

19:25:20

The sound is appalling. 

We need to use the standard term in European terminology, which is "investigative journalism" and not "investigation journalism".

Thank you. 

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:25:43

Anyone speaking against? What is the opinion of the committee in that case?

Now I put the amendment to the vote in the hemicycle and remote voting system. Please vote.

The vote is now closed.

The results, please.

The amendment is adopted. 

In favour, 6.

I invite Mr Andrey EPISHIN to support amendment 6. We have a time problem with translation, please, save the time for the conclusion of the meetings.

Please request the floor.

Mr Andrey EPISHIN

Russian Federation, NR

19:27:43

Yes, thank you.

Well, the need for such a legal instrument stems from the complexity of this issue and very often these problems are solved purely on a national level. Again, we have this problem of intermediaries and it is not just the question of political authorities but of also powerful digital businesses who are becoming centres of political power.

So we call for support for this amendment.

Thank you. 

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:28:16

Anyone wants to speak?

Please Ms Annicka ENGBLOM, rapporteur.

Ms Annicka ENGBLOM

Sweden, EPP/CD, Rapporteur

19:28:23

The discussion of tackling illegal content online is a big business.

But what is proposed here is to adopt one binding legal instrument, which is not only premature, but unrealistic. Sorry. I'm against this amendment.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:28:38

OK. The Committee has rejected by two-thirds majority. Now voting on the amendment.

And, Mr Andrey EPISHIN, please, stay online for the next items.

Please, vote.

OK. The vote is closed. Waiting for the results.

The amendment is rejected.

Mr Andrey EPISHIN, I invite you to support amendment 7.

Mr Andrey EPISHIN

Russian Federation, NR

19:29:36

Thank you.

There are different instruments now being used to deal with unfavoured or undesirable media and there is a need for checks and balances to deal with such abuse, and hence this amendment. 

Thank you. 

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:30:01

Does anyone wish to speak against? Rapporteur, please.

Ms Annicka ENGBLOM

Sweden, EPP/CD, Rapporteur

19:30:07

A fact-finding mechanism is to fight disinformation, not to guarantee human rights as it's proposed in the Amendment.

Therefore, I'm against.

Thank you.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:30:14

Thank you.

Since the committee rejected by a two-thirds majority, I now put the amendment to the vote.

Mr Andrey EPISHIN, please stay online.

The vote is closed.

Display the results.

The amendment is rejected.

Mr Andrey EPISHIN to support amendment 8.

Mr Andrey EPISHIN

Russian Federation, NR

19:31:00

Thank you.

This amendment is important in order to prevent transmission by social media of personal data of individuals to third parties.

So we call for support of this amendment. Thank you.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:31:19

Anyone speaking against?

What is the opinion of the Committee?

Lord Alexander DUNDEE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, Chairperson of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media

19:31:27

The committee is in favour.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:31:31

The Committee is in favour.

Now I put the amendment to the vote both in the hemicycle and in the remote system.

Please, vote.

Voting is closed.

Results, please.

The amendment is adopted.

Now I invite Mr Andrey EPISHIN to support amendment 9.

Mr Andrey EPISHIN

Russian Federation, NR

19:32:30

Yes, thank you for supporting the previous amendment.

This amendment is important to ensure that social media doesn't censor information from users.

So we would call for support to this amendment.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

19:32:48

Anyone speak against?

No? What is the opinion of the committee?

The committee is in favour.

I put the amendment to the vote in the hemicycle and the remote system please, and this is the last amendment, I think.

The vote is closed.

Display the results, please.

Thank you.

The amendment is adopted.

Now I understand three amendments are adopted. What a good compromise.

We will proceed now to the vote on draft resolution contained in Document 15437 as amended. A simple majority is required. The voting in the same cycle and via remote voting is now open.

Please vote on Document 15437.

The vote is closed.

Please display the results.

The draft resolution in Document 15437 is adopted as amended.

I really owe thanks to the interpreters, to the rapporteur, to the committee, and to all of you here and in the remote system.

Sorry for the hurry, for the rush. I was really under severe pressure from the Secretariat. They did a good job also.

See you tomorrow. Thank you.

Mr Zeki Hakan SIDALI

Turkey, ALDE

19:36:41

Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2

I congratulate Madame Annicka Engblom for her comprehensive report.

An independent, free and pluralistic media environment is of utmost importance to our democracy in all times. However during the times of crisis more importantly, media should provide accurate, clear and reliable information.

People are more sensitive to all kinds of information during such periods. We all tend to be more uncomfortable about uncertainties. The public demands to be informed, involved and even led and at the same time is open to be misled.

Because of that vulnerable psychology, governments’ duty is to create the necessary environment for the media to do its job. The question is do they ?

Or do they use this as an opportunity to increase their control on media?

The country names might be different but all countries shifting to illiberal democracies, becoming authoritarian regimes are trying to dominate their media according to their own perspectives and interests all the time, but mainly at sensitive times.

These governments constantly want to have a public media that has lost its neutrality and has become a government tool in order to shape the reality according their convenience. During the times of Covid these governments claimed to be relatively most successful ones regarding campaign against pandemics and the economic burdens created due to pandemics. Believe it or not!

While these politicians glorify the media organs close to them, they try to suppress those who want to broadcast independently. Their final aim is to empty the concepts of independent and impartial media.

With the desire to manage information, they aim to control the media through one‐channel communication.

We cannot give up free media and freedom of speech. We can not be on the side of the ban. We know the cost of this very well.

This will be correcting a mistake with another one. This will be choosing between the media giving false or misleading information or the media giving biased information.

For preparation to potential future crises, media literacy is the only way to solve that puzzle.

We will overcome the information pollution and cacophony by non‐experts with more information, more transparency and more inclusiveness, not with less transparent and controlled information.

We will protect our freedoms with the power of the crowd. We can’t be bystanders, expecting someone else to solve our problems. Either we will grab the bull by horns or the bull will decide.

Ms Marietta KARAMANLI

France, SOC

19:36:44

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

Mr Markus WIECHEL

Sweden, EC/DA

19:37:19

Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2

Mr (Madam) President,

Mrs Engblom’s excellent report on “The Role of Media in Times of Crisis,” could not have been presented to this Assembly at a more fitting moment than the present - however tragic and dramatic that moment is - as we find ourselves in the midst of not one, but two extremely serious crises at the same time!

On the one hand there is the current pandemic. And on the other, the sudden danger posed to our entire European security order and peace by the aggressive posture of one of our member states, Russia, in regard to its westerly neighbour Ukraine.

Turning to the report itself, it accounts for the vital role and duties that a strong, pluralistic and independent ‘media ecosystem’, as the Rapporteur calls it, has toward society when that society faces a crisis.

The duties include objective and clear reporting on new scientific progress. They also include the gathering of often widely differing expert opinions, thus permitting the public to reach a fair, well-rounded understanding of the major issues at hand, and how best to approach them. And they include also airing the voices of members of the the general public itself – in order to capture its mood and sentiments about the relevant issues.

In other words, to have the media – both private and public, serve as bridge-builders between numerous actors in society. A well-functioning media landscape - scrutinizing those in power and relaying their findings to the general public - is the best way for a society to overcome difficulties and move forward.

The Rapporteur, to her merit, fully recognizes the new, overwhelmingly electronic media setup prevailing in today’s society, and the parallel occurrence in that context of less trustworthy information, so-called ‘fake news’.

But I read the Rapporteur‘s basic message on this as being one of endurance and faith in the ultimate strength of true, factually underpinned reporting. And she never wavers in her defense of the value of freedom of opinion and expression, as enshrined in our European Human Rights Convention, even in times of crisis.

Mr (Madam) President, the report is full of fresh ideas and proposals, but it also include a call for caution. I am sure that, in adopting it, our member states will be better equipped to face future adversities, whatever they may be. It’s an opportunity not to be missed.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Kamil AYDIN

Turkey, NR

19:44:03

Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2

Dear President, Dear Colleagues,

I would like to thank the rapporteur for her report. Since Covid-19 pandemic started, we are going through a strange period. This period showed us the media serves as an important emergency information system during a crisis. However, we also witnessed that media could also mislead people.

It is crucial to provide accurate and reliable information for public in times of crisis. Since the media has a constant presence in our lives, it plays a critical role in informing the public during any crisis or disaster.

Exceptional circumstances could force public authorities to implement exceptional measures. However, States should avoid taking measures, which harm people’s

basic human rights. In addition, states should inform their people about the scope of measures taken by the state to tackle the crisis. In this sense, the media has an important role in delivering information to the people regarding these measures.

We are facing so many misinformation throughout traditional and social media. Misinformation can create a false reality and this situation could be dangerous and harmful. People who believe this false reality could cause panic and polarisation in community.

In this sense, media also has a responsibility to prevent panic and to foster people’s understanding. Thus, media and journalists should rely on the information provided by relevant experts and institutions when providing information about the crisis and should be careful not to disseminate misinformation.

As we are all aware, social media started to replace the traditional media. This phenomenon has both positive and negative aspects. While it enables people to access information quickly, it can also mislead people in the same manner.

The Covid-19 pandemic also clearly showed us the social media’s influence on people. Thus, Assembly and member states should take measures to bring social media working in line with human rights and responsibility.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE

19:44:03

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

Mr Tural GANJALIYEV

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

19:39:13

Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2

I would like to thank the rapporteur for the report. The report highlights very important issues regarding the media in times of crisis. I want to underline few issues, as well.

The rapporteur has identified 5 crisis types and in 2020 alone, 3 of those crisis types, namely COVID-19 related health crisis, environmental crisis and armed conflict have happened in Azerbaijan. During those times of crisis, Azerbaijani people have experienced and valued the critical role of the media in handling of the difficulties. Especially during the 44 Days war which was accompanied with the bombing of the residential areas in major cities of Azerbaijan, media played a very important role.

Following the armed conflict, the role of the media to improve confidence-building between the parties becomes even more important. Even, as rightly mentioned in the report, media can play a role of facilitating dialogue and minimizing the effects of conflicts.

Another important role lays on our shoulders as politicians. We – the politicians must provide reliable information for the public. Our responsibility and irresponsibility make a big difference in wider society. Media links the decision makers to the public and vice versa.

We, as decisionmakers must always keep in mind that, the risks of misinformation, polarization and populism increase in times of crises. Especially on the social media platforms. Therefore, social media platforms should redouble their efforts to counter disinformation or disorder by developing a better fact-checking tools.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As the world changes, we must adapt to the new realities. In the face of the emergence of new media priorities, Azerbaijan adopted a new law on media in December 2021. The new law on media ensures full rights for all media outlets operating in Azerbaijan to carry out their functions without any obstacles, while putting a special emphasis on the personal privacy of the citizens.

Thank you for your attention!

Requests for an explanation of vote

Ms Nigar ARPADARAI

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

19:40:49

For the record, I would like to mention that during the voting for the report on the Role of Media in Times of Crisis, due to technical issue, my vote has not been registered. My intention was to vote against.

Ms Klotilda BUSHKA

Albania, SOC

19:40:49

For the record, I would like to mention that during the vote on the draft resolution on the Role of Media in Times of Crisis, due to technical issue, my vote has not been registered. My intention was to vote in favour.

The sitting is closed at 7.35 p.m.

Next sitting at 10.00 a.m.