Wednesday, March 09, 2005

European NGOs debate media freedoms in crisis situations

7th European Ministerial Conference on Mass Media Policy, Kiev March 10-11

The NGO Forum held in association with the Ministerial Conference took place on Tuesday March 8th. There were about 40 NGOs present, a large number form Ukraine, and others from different parts of the former Soviet Union and from Eastern Europe.

The day was taken up with discussion of a range of amendments to the draft texts ( a Political Declaration and three Resolutions and accompanying Action Plans)being proposed for adoption by the meeting of Ministers. The Action Plans are supposed to set out the priorities for the Council of Europe in the media field over the next few years. The Resolutions cover the themes of (1) the role of the media in times of crisis, (2) promoting media pluralism and cultural diversity in the face of globalisation, and (3) defending human rights in the “Information Society”.

These amendments are being discussed today (March 9th) in the closed meeting of the CDMM ( the mass media committee of the Council of Europe) which is composed largely of government representatives and a few NGOs such as the European Broadcasting Union and the International Federation of Journlaists. The final texts will be ready tonight for presentation to the Ministers tomorrow.

The major concerns expressed by the NGOs involved (1) the safety and security of journalists in crisis situations (2) the independence and freedom of the media (especially freedom from political interference in broadcasting) (3) the role of community media (4) the importance of supporting media literacy and helping citizens become active and critical users of the media (5) cultural diversity: including a proposal to set up a European centre for media and diversity and a call for media pluralism to be part of the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity.

NGOs from the newly democratic states were particularly concerned that the Council of Europe should stress the importance of the independence of the media and broadcasting regulators and were highly sensitive to any language in the amendments that might be capable of being used by authoritarian governments to justify restricting press freedom.

It remains to be seen how many, if any, of the NGO amendments are accepted by the CDMM. Gabriel Nissim, who chaired the NGO Conference, will present the views of the NGOs to the CDMM.

During the meeting of the Ministers there will be three 10 minute speaking slots (corresponding to the three Resolutions and associated Action Plans) for three representatives of the NGOs to present the views of civil society.

The importance of the NGO Forum is that is a concrete expression of the new status which NGOS have at the Council of Europe. They are now seen as one of the partners in the Council , having “participatory status” and therefore part of the decision making process. Of course, the main power still lies with governments and it will be interesting to see how many of the NGO contributions to this particular debate actually have an influence on the final texts.

Further information and documanetation at