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AEJ welcomes landmark Europe-wide Guidelines to protect journalism and calls for ‘vigorous implementation’

The Association of European Journalists has hailed the adoption by ministerial representatives of 47 European states of a new set of political commitments to protect journalism and the safety of journalists through proactive measures to end what is called the ‘unacceptable’ scale of violence and harassment of journalists.

After Recommendation (2016)4[1] was adopted by the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers in Strasbourg on 13 April, AEJ Vice-President and Media Freedom Representative William Horsley said: “This is a truly landmark moment for the protection of press freedom in Europe. For too long Council of Europe member states have failed to take the actions needed to stop the widespread assaults on press freedom that make journalists and ‘other media actors’ into targets of violence and abuse and have undermined the continent’s democratic foundations.

This set of Europe-wide Guidelines creates a robust basis for governments to fulfil their positive obligations to protect journalists and all who exercise their right to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights. We call on state authorities, legislators, civil society organisations and media everywhere to play their full part to ensure the vigorous implementation of these world-class standards of protection for free speech and the watchdog role of the press.”

The Recommendation, which has the force of ‘soft law’ that may be taken into account in rulings by the European Court of Human Rights, calls on states to embark on wide-ranging reviews and revisions of ‘laws and practices’ to ensure that the actions of governments and police include safeguards so that journalists can do their work without fear. It also urges aggravated penalties for public officials who stand in the way of investigations into attacks against journalists, including killings. The reviews, it says, should be carried out by one or more independent bodies with authoritative mandates, with enabling support from national authorities and the active participation of a wide range of journalists and other civil society bodies.

William Horsley said: ‘This political commitment by 47 Council of Europe states represents a unique and vitally important opportunity to restore the effective framework of protection for independent journalism and free expression that is meant to be guaranteed by the Convention, but which has been gravely eroded by the misuse of ant-terrorism and security and other laws, as well as the arbitrary exercise of state power by police and the scourge of impunity. Those violations and crimes have all too often allowed those responsible for attacks on journalists to escape justice. It is now up to Europe’s civil society organisations, parliamentarians, lawyers and citizens to respond promptly and actively in order to make sure that the protections offered by Article 10 (freedom of expression) and other fundamental convention rights are effectively protected.’ 

The Russian Federation reserved the right not to comply with the recommendation “in so far as it referred to other media actors”.

William Horsley, representing the AEJ, was one of two non-government members of the Council of Europe expert committee (MSI-JO) that worked during 2014-5 to produce a draft of the Recommendation which has now been adopted. 

Read the Council of Europe press release Council of Europe adopts guidelines to protect media freedom and journalists 

and full text of the Recommendation.