Declaration by the Committee of Ministers on the protection and promotion of investigative journalism

Declaration by the Committee of Ministers
on the protection and promotion of investigative journalism

(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 26 September 2007
at the 1005th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe,

1. Recalling Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees the freedom to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers;

2. Recalling also its declarations on the freedom of expression and information of 29 April 1982 and on freedom of political debate in the media of 12 February 2004 and reiterating the importance of free and independent media for guaranteeing the right of the people to be fully informed on matters of public concern and to exercise scrutiny over public authorities and political affairs, as repeatedly confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights;

3. Convinced that the essential function of the media as public watchdog and as part of the system of checks and balances in a democracy would be severely crippled without promoting such investigative journalism, which helps to expose legal or ethical wrongs that might have been deliberately concealed, and thus contributes to the formation of enlightened and active citizenry, as well as to the improvement of society at large;

4. Acknowledging, in this context, the important work of investigative journalists who engage in accurate, in-depth and critical reporting on matters of special public concern, work which often requires long and difficult research, assembling and analysing information, uncovering unknown facts, verifying assumptions and obtaining corroborative evidence;

5. Emphasising, however, that investigative journalism needs to be distinguished from journalistic practices which involve probing into and exposing people’s private and family lives in a way that would be incompatible with Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the related case law of the European Court of Human Rights;

6. Bearing in mind also that investigative journalism could benefit from the adherence of media professionals to voluntarily adopted self-regulatory instruments such as professional codes of conduct and of ethics which take full account of the rights of other people and the role and responsibility of the media in a democratic society;

7. Considering that, because of its very nature, investigative journalism is of particular significance in times of crisis, a notion that includes, but is not limited to, wars, terrorist attacks and natural and man-made disasters, when there may be a temptation to limit the free flow of information for security or public safety reasons;

8. Conscious that in emerging democracies the encouragement and development of investigative journalism is especially important for the stimulation of free public opinion and the entrenchment of a democratic political culture while, at the same time, it is at a greater danger of potential abuse;

9. Bearing in mind the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Recommendation 1506 (2001) on freedom of expression and information in the media in Europe, and in particular its concern about the continuing use of violence as a way of intimidating investigative journalists;

10. Recalling its Recommendation No. R (2000) 7 on the right of journalists not to disclose their sources of information;

11. Welcoming developments in certain member states’ domestic case law tending to confirm and uphold the right of journalists to investigate matters of public interest and disclose facts and express opinions in respect of such matters without interference by public authorities,

I. Declares its support for investigative journalism in service of democracy.

II. Calls on member states to protect and promote investigative journalism, having regard to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the relevant case law of the European Court of Human Rights and other Council of Europe standards, and in this context:

i. to take, where necessary, suitable measures designed to ensure the personal safety of media professionals, especially those involved in investigative journalism, and promptly investigate all cases of violence against or intimidation of journalists;

ii. to ensure the freedom of movement of media professionals and their access to information in line with Council of Europe standards and facilitate critical and in-depth reporting in service of democracy;

iii. to ensure the right of journalists to protect their sources of information in accordance with Council of Europe standards;

iv. to ensure that deprivation of liberty, disproportionate pecuniary sanctions, prohibition to exercise the journalistic profession, seizure of professional material or search of premises are not misused to intimidate media professionals and, in particular, investigative journalists;

v. to take into consideration and to incorporate into domestic legislation where appropriate the recent case law of the European Court of Human Rights which has interpreted Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights as extending its protection not only to the freedom to publish, but also to journalistic research, the important preceding stage which is essential for investigative journalism.

III. Draws the attention of member states to recent worrying developments which might have an adverse effect on journalistic activity and on investigative journalism in particular and calls on member states, if appropriate, to take remedial action, in line with Council of Europe standards, when faced with the following situations:

i. an apparent trend towards increasing limitations on freedom of expression and information in the name of protecting public safety and fighting terrorism;

ii. lawsuits brought against media professionals for acquiring or publishing information of public interest which the authorities sought without good reason to keep undisclosed;

iii. cases of unjustified surveillance of journalists, including the monitoring of their communications;

iv. legislative measures being taken or sought to limit the protection granted to “whistle blowers”.

IV. Invites the media, journalists and their associations to encourage and support investigative journalism while respecting human rights and applying high ethical standards.

V. Calls on member states to disseminate widely this declaration, where appropriate accompanied by a translation, and to bring it, in particular, to the attention of relevant governmental bodies, legislators and the judiciary as well as to make it available to journalists, the media and their professional organisations.

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