The Meeting of the Steering Committee on the Mass media (CDMM) of the Council of Europe on March 9th considered the Drafts of the Political Declaration, Resolutions and Action Plan and the ammendments proposed by the NGO Forum on the day before.
In the end the outcome was more favourable to the NGO input than many of us believed wass possible before hand.
The main gains by the NGOs were:
Draft Political Declaration
(3) addition of ‘within society’: Resolved to enhance the essential role of the media in the creation of a pluralist public sphere involving active communication within society;
(5) Insertion of ‘minimum’ before ‘standards’: Convinced, in view of the process of European Union enlargement, that the Council of Europe, as the only Organisation at the pan-European level dealing with the human and democratic dimension of communication, will continue to play a central role in strengthening these values and principles, in particular by setting common pan-European minimum standards in this area;
(7) New article: Recalling the need to safeguard the independence of the media and to guarantee freedom from interference by political authorities;
Draft Resolution No 1. Freedom of expression and information in times of crisis
(6) rewording to ensure that governments could not imply that it was the responsibility of the media to prevent crisis situations ( and therefore have grounds to curtail media freedom on the pretext of making sure the media were preventing the crisisi!)
(10) New article on the safety of journalists: Agree that the safety and security of media professionals is a matter of continuing concern, particularly in times of crisis, which requires that all cases of violence against journalists or media be fully and independently investigated, and that media professionals and their professional organisations be assisted in appropriate ways to take measures to reduce the risks facing media personnel;
Draft Resolution No. 2 Cultural diversity and media pluralism in times of gloabalisation
(3) Addition of words ‘editorial independence’: Reaffirming the importance of media pluralism and editorial independence for the full exercise of freedom of expression and information in a democratic society;
(8) Addition of ‘need for transparency’. The mention of ownership was a Greek government amendment: Underlining the need for transparency in the media sector, including transparency of ownership, and the importance of monitoring media concentrations, both at the national and European level;
(19) New article: Stress the importance of the political, financial and operational independence of broadcasting regulators;
Draft Resolution No. 3. Human Rights and regulation of ther media and new communication services in the Information Society.
No amendments proposed.
Draft Action Plan
(13) New article: Examine in particular how different types of media can play a part in integrating society and including all communities and generations.
(20) New article: Support steps to promote, at all stages of education and as part of ongoing learning, media literacy which involves active and critical use of all the media, including electronic media;
The biggest disappointment for some of us was not to get any specific reference to community media into Draft Resolution 2 or the Action Plan. The amendments were never presented because time for discussion in the CDMM was short and it was thought that they would have little chance of being accepted without a long debate.
In the event, however, the role of community media was stressed in all three interventions made by NGOs to the plenary meeting of the conference. In addition, in her opening remarks to the Conference, the, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Maud De Boer-Buquicchio, reminded delegates of the Council of Europe contribution to the WSIS.
She said: “The Council of Europe work in this field is closely linked with the World Summit on the Information Society. In a political message to the first phase of the Summit, held in Geneva in 2003, our Committee of Ministers stressed that the traditional media, including local and community radio, have a vital role in producing and distributing diverse and high-quality content in the information society, as well as providing moderated platforms for public debate. From the Council of Europe point of view, independent public service broadcasting has a special mission to ensure access to information and culture for all citizens, and the public service principle should be maintained and developed in the digital environment through a range of digitised public information services. At the same time, we stress the importance of providing access for all to new technologies, which is the only way to allow the media to exploit the full potential of the information society.” (my stress)
References to public broadcasting throughout the text are helpful and positive. Particularly articles 18-21 of Resolution 2, viz, the Committe of Ministers:
18. Reaffirm their commitment to respect and implement the Council of Europe standards concerning the maintenance and development of a strong and independent public broadcasting service;
19. Stressthe importance of the political, financial and operational independence of broadcasting regulators;
20. Recognise the importance of ensuring free and universal access to the services of public service broadcasters across various platforms and the need to develop further the public service broadcasting remit in the light of digitisation and convergence;
21. Undertake to ensure the legal, financial and technical conditions to enable public service broadcasters to accomplish their mission in an effective manner, so that they contribute in particular to cultural diversity and media pluralism;
The Council of Europe press release emphasizes the setting up of a new regular forum allowing government experts and media professionals to exchange views on the rights and responsibilities of journalists in times of crisis. It also highlights the agreement to create a new award for media organizations which have played a major role either in preventing or resolving conflicts, or in promoting understanding and dialogue.
On the whole the experience of most NGOs seems to have been positive and there was a sense that the presence of NGOs was well accepted by governments. The Forum and the conference also gave many NGOs an opportunity to make contacts and build links. It is hoped that there will be more and continuing contact between a good number of the NGOs present. The extent to which this meeting jhas any lasting effect on NGOs and their work on their relationship with the Council of Europe will have to gauged in the following months…