Monday, June 01, 2009

Council of Europe states resolve to review impact of anti-terror laws on freedom of expression

The First Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Media and New Communication Services took place in Reykjavik on the 28 and 29 of May. The general theme was A New Notion of Media? Delegates eventually adopted a Political Declaration, Resolutions and an Action Plan designed to direct to the Council’s future work on media and the Internet.

After some contentious debate and pressure from the media and civil society organizations, the delegates (with Russia the only dissenter) "resolved to review national anti-terrorist laws and practice on a regular basis to ensure that any impact on freedom of expression and information is consistent with the Council of Europe standards, in particular the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

They stated that although in some cases it is inappropriate to disseminate particular information in order to prevent terrorist acts in the interest of an ongoing investigation, the protection of the victims or judicial proceedings, “reporting on terrorism cannot be equated to supporting terrorism”.

They also underlined that concerns have been raised that, in some cases, anti-terrorist laws restricting freedom of expression and information in member states are “too broad, fail to define clear limits to authorities´ interference or lack sufficient procedural guarantees to prevent abuse”.

The Conference also asked the Council to assess whether the existing freedom of expression and information standards for traditional media should apply to new media and service providers, or if new ones should be elaborated.

The continuing importance of public service media was stressed and the Council asked to explore the possibility of elaborating a “policy document containing guidance for member states on governance approaches for public service media”.

The Action Plan also pledged to continue to develop the “public service value of the internet. It called on all states and “non-state actors” to explore ways to ensure that critical Internet resources are managed in the public interest and as a public asset, even by elaborating an international legal instrument.

The Council of Europe was asked to explore the feasibility of elaborating a treaty to further protect cross-border Internet traffic. Finally, delegates called on the Council of Europe to make more lasting arrangements for organising Pan-European Internet governance events.

The importance of continuing to work on media literacy in the formal and non-formal sectors and as part of education for “democratic citizenship” was underlined once again.

Political Declaration and resolutions are available at

The sessions of the ministerial conference are available in video webcast on

The background to the conference decisions is well analysed by William Horsley in the article, Council of Europe ministers, under media pressure, accept their duty to restrain anti-terrorism laws from breaking media freedom