This statement is delivered on behalf of the Group of Friends on the Safety of Journalists and Media Freedom in Strasbourg, which consists of the following member States of the Council of Europe: France, Greece, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Austria. A joint statement of all five Groups of Friends in Geneva, New York, Paris, Strasbourg (CoE) and Vienna (OSCE) issued on the same occasion can be found in the annex.
On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day we want to express our unwavering support for a free, independent and safe press and acknowledge the work and efforts of journalists and media workers in these challenging times.
In the context of the Council of Europe, this support comes particularly from the European Convention on Human Rights. The right to receive and impart information, ideas and opinions without interference is guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and is a cornerstone of any democratic society. At the same time, the role of journalists and other media actors as public watchdogs is crucial to safeguard all the other rights enshrined in the Convention.
2020 marked another year in which media freedom was under threat. We witnessed concerning developments in many member States of the Council of Europe, including the intimidation of journalists, media actors and media outlets, raids of their offices, arbitrary and unlawful detentions, and additional legislative restrictions. We saw smear campaigns and strategic lawsuits, so called "SLAPPs", online harassment in particular towards female journalists, and general attempts to limit media pluralism. At the same time independent journalism is facing severe and growing financial challenges.
As a requirement stemming from the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, member States of this organisation need to create a favourable environment for participation in public debate by all persons, enabling them to express their opinions and ideas without fear. Member States have to refrain from any judicial intimidation or disproportionate application of the law, in particular provisions relating to defamation, national security or terrorism.
In addition to all these alarming developments, 2020 has confronted our societies with two further serious and mutually reinforcing challenges: namely the rise in disinformation, misinformation and the manipulation of information; and the effects of a global pandemic caused by COVID-19. This experience clearly demonstrates that access to reliable and independent information is not only a basic human right, but a fundamental necessity. It is all the more regrettable that the pandemic has led to additional hardships for journalists and media workers facing restrictive measures, obstructions or even assaults when covering protests.
We remain deeply concerned about the safety of journalists and other media actors, and once again express our continued support for the work of the Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists. Its Annual Report published on 28 April counts no fewer than 201 serious incidents, among them 52 physical attacks.
The Platform and its alerts complement the work of the European Court of Human Rights by providing us with a unique early warning mechanism. While the Court through its judgments ensures effective investigations and general measures to prevent future violations, it is up to the Committee of Ministers to react in a timely manner to address worrying developments in member States. The Platform is an indispensable tool in this task and we should use its potential. This would allow us to monitor the situation on the ground more closely and reinforce our cooperation with civil society.
We highly welcome that ensuring freedom of expression, both online and offline, is listed as a key priority in the Secretary General’s Strategic Framework. The Group of Friends will support her in translating this focus into concrete results.
On World Press Freedom Day, and in light of the findings of the Platform, we once again urge all member States to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists and media workers to perform their work independently and without undue interference.
Joint Statement on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day on 3 May
Celebrating 30 Years of the Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent and Pluralistic Press
Issued by the Chairs of the Groups of Friends on the Safety of Journalists and members of the Groups of Friends in Paris (UNESCO), New York (United Nations), Geneva (United Nations), Vienna (OSCE) and Strasbourg (Council of Europe) listed in the annex
On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent and Pluralistic Press, we pay tribute to the African newspaper journalists who met in Windhoek, Namibia in 1991 and produced a statement of press freedom principles. The Windhoek Declaration has been influential for 30 years as a catalyst in the process of encouraging press freedom, independent journalism and media pluralism worldwide. Endorsed by the 25th UNESCO General Conference, this landmark document marked the beginning of the international commitment to address the need to foster an enabling environment for journalists and media workers to exercise their freedom of expression and for them to make their crucial contributions to consolidating democracy and enhancing sustainable development. It gave rise to the World Press Freedom Day, celebrated on 3rd May each year, proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 and the Guillermo Cano Prize in 1997 as well inspired further regional declarations, such as the Declaration of Alma Ata in Kazakhstan in 1992, the Declaration of Santiago de Chile in 1994 and the Declaration of Sana’a in Yemen in 1996 and finally, in 1997, the Declaration of Sofia, all of them supporting unreservedly the principles enshrined in the Windhoek Declaration. These principles are still valid today, 30 years after their adoption and their implementation constitutes a foundation for the safety of journalists, online and offline.
Underpinning the Windhoek Declaration is the premise that access to reliable and verifiable information is a public good and that those contributing to this end should be protected not only for the guarantee of their own rights but for the good of society as a whole. In this context, we would like to underline the importance of addressing sexual and gender-based violence and abuse, both online and offline, as it can result in deepening existing gender-related inequalities in the public space and impact negatively on pluralism. The Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals, endorsed by all UN member states, acknowledges that the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as of access to universal and reliable information are an integral part of sustainable development and the principle of "leaving no one behind". Among other aspects, the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the crucial need for access to reliable, trustworthy and fact-based information, as well as the key role of free, independent and pluralistic media to enhance transparency, accountability and trust, and to address the challenges of misinformation and disinformation.
This year’s world press freedom day focuses on "information as a public good". By defending and promoting media freedom and the safety of journalists, we defend and promote the right to freedom of expression, including the right of the individual to seek, receive and impart information of all kinds. Free, independent and pluralistic media depend on the safety of journalists and an enabling environment for access to information. It is of utmost importance to address impunity for crimes against journalists and media workers, both online and offline, through an effective judicial
process and accountability. Independent journalism and media pluralism are only possible where conditions exist for their economic viability and sustainability. Ensuring the transparency and the accountability of internet platforms constitute growing challenges in the age of digitalisation and rapid technological change.
A healthy media system does not exclusively depend on governments whose responsibility is to protect freedom of expression. It is also built on multi-stakeholder cooperation, including the private sector, civil society and individuals of all ages who consume information from different sources in order to make informed decisions in their daily lives.
Enhancing media and information literacy globally is thus crucial for empowering individuals to navigate the modern information environment taking full advantage of the many opportunities offered by the digital ecosystem. It also enables them to mitigate the risks, such as disinformation and misinformation, incitement to hatred and violence, racism and sexual and gender-based violence, in accordance with the right to freedom of opinion and expression, media independence and pluralism.
It is in the spirit of Windhoek, that we are determined to reinforce the safeguards of a free, independent and pluralistic media highlighted by the Windhoek Declaration while developing new policies and initiatives that will equip us to better protect journalism, promote the safety of journalists and media workers and access to information as a public good.
Annex: (List of co-signatories, members in any of the five Groups of Friends on the Safety of Journalists at UNESCO in Paris, the United Nations in New York and Geneva, the OSCE in Vienna and the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, in alphabetical order) Albania
Republic of Korea