European Charter on Freedom of the Press

'Silvio Berlusconi and Mara Carfagna, via New York Times
Jörges hands over the Charter to Reding (Photo: EUobserver)

On 25 May 25 2009, 48 editors-in-chief and leading journalists from 19 countries adopted and signed the European Charter on Freedom of the Press in Hamburg. In ten articles, the Charter formulates principles for the freedom of the press from government interference. Yesterday, the Charter was presented to the EU Commissioner for the Information Society and Media (hat tip: European Media Blog; see EU press relase).

From the EUobserver:

European press freedom charter launched

In an effort to counter increasing worries about infringement of press freedom by governments in Europe, both within the EU and beyond, the editor-in-chief of Germany’s weekly Stern magazine [Hans-Ulrich Jörges], together with EU media commissioner Viviane Reding on Tuesday (9 June) celebrated the launch of the European Charter on Freedom of the Press … In March, the Open Society Institute‘s media programme – a pressure group focussing on media freedom in emerging democracies – criticised the European Commission in a report that argued that broadcasting across Europe, particularly in the east but also in Italy, is undergoing a “counter-reformation” – a backsliding towards overt political control after the post-Cold War period, when leaders relaxed their grip on TV and radio. … The European Commission came in for criticism for not holding new EU member states to account after promises concerning media freedom were made ahead of accession. …

The European Charter on Freedom of the Press provides:

    Article 1
    Freedom of the press is essential to a democratic society. To uphold and protect it, and to respect its diversity and its political, social and cultural missions, is the mandate of all governments.

    Article 2
    Censorship is impermissible. Independent journalism in all media is free of persecution and repression, without a guarantee of political or regulatory interference by government. Press and online media shall not be subject to state licensing.

    Article 3
    The right of journalists and media to gather and disseminate information and opinions must not be threatened, restricted or made subject to punishment.

    Article 4
    The protection of journalistic sources shall be strictly upheld. Surveillance of, electronic eavesdropping on or searches of newsrooms, private rooms or journalists’ computers with the aim of identifying sources of information or infringing on editorial confidentiality are unacceptable.

    Article 5
    All states must ensure that the media have the full protection of the law and the authorities while carrying out their role. This applies in particular to defending journalists and their employees from harassment and/or physical attack. Threats to or violations of these rights must be carefully investigated and punished by the judiciary.

    Article 6
    The economic livelihood of the media must not be endangered by the state or by state-controlled institutions. The threat of economic sanctions is also unacceptable. Private-sector companies must respect the journalistic freedom of the media. They shall neither exert pressure on journalistic content nor attempt to mix commercial content with journalistic content.

    Article 7
    State or state-controlled institutions shall not hinder the freedom of access of the media and journalists to information. They have a duty to support them in their mandate to provide information.

    Article 8
    Media and journalists have a right to unimpeded access to all news and information sources, including those from abroad. For their reporting, foreign journalists should be provided with visas, accreditation and other required documents without delay.

    Article 9
    The public of any state shall be granted free access to all national and foreign media and sources of information.

    Article 10
    The government shall not restrict entry into the profession of journalism.

This is a very welcome development; I will probably find myself referring regularly to these Articles on this blog and elsewhere. No doubt, as the long awaited decisions relating to journalists’ sources are handed down, I shall have cause to refer in particular in the very near future to Article 4, which joins the long and growing list of international instruments recognising journalist source privilege. In the meantime, the Open Society report referred to by the EUobserver is Television Across Europe: More Channels, Less Independence; its key findings were

* Public-service broadcasters suffer from mounting politicization and pressure, flawed funding models, and disintegrating reputations.
* Broadcast regulators are increasingly politicized. Only a few have taken initiatives to let a more diverse range of operators enter the market.
* Public service content has not been boosted by incentives or obligations.
* Transparency of commercial media ownership remains a major problem.
* Although debate on media policy and reform has intensified, civil society is rarely consulted in a meaningful way.
* There has been no concerted effort to promote media literacy. Where this happens at all, it is carried out mainly by NGOs.