Council of Europe : Explanatory Memorandum to Recommendation No. R (97)21 on the media and the promotion of a culture of tolerance







to Recommendation No. R (97) 21
of the Committee of Ministers to member states
on the media and the promotion of a culture of tolerance 

(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 30 October 1997,
at the 607th meeting of the Ministers' Deputies)






1.         This recommendation, along with Recommendation No. R (97) 20 on "hate speech", is one of the concrete results of the Council of Europe's intergovernmental work in the media sector in the years 1995-1996.


2.            Tolerance and respect for the equal dignity of all human beings are the very basis of a democratic and pluralist society. This explains why the Council of Europe has always attached the greatest importance to safeguarding and realising these ideals and principles.


3.         At the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe member States, held in Vienna from 8-9 October 1993, alarm was expressed about the resurgence of racism, xenophobia and antisemitism, the development of a climate of intolerance, the increase in acts of violence, notably against migrants and persons of immigrant origin, and the development of new expressions of xenophobia in the form of aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism. The Heads of State and Government expressed their conviction that these manifestations of intolerance threatened democratic societies and their fundamental values.


4.         At the Vienna Summit, a Plan of Action on combating racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance was adopted. The Plan of Action set out a broad range of measures to mobilise the public and improve and effectively implement guarantees and policies aimed at combating these phenomena. The media sector is one of the sectors covered by the Plan of Action. In paragraph 5 of the Plan, the media professions were requested "to report and comment on acts of racism and intolerance factually and responsibly, and to continue to develop professional codes of ethics which reflect these requirements". 


5.         The relevance of the media to the fight against racism and intolerance was also stressed in Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1277 (1995) on migrants, ethnic minorities and media. Paragraph 2 of this recommendation stated: "Media presentation of subjects connected with immigrants and ethnic minorities has a significant impact on public opinion. Although the media constitute an important means of combating racist and xenophobic views, prejudices and preconceived ideas, they can also have a role in the emergence or strengthening of such views".


6.         In a message to Steering Committees and ad hoc Committees on the fight against racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance (January 1994), the Committee of Ministers invited these Committees to take account, when discharging their terms of reference, of paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Plan of Action and, accordingly, to step up or adjust their current activities in the areas mentioned or to propose new ones.


7.         At the 4th European Ministerial Conference on Mass Media Policy (Prague, 7-8 December 1994), the Ministers of the participating States condemned, in their Declaration on media in a democratic society, all forms of expression which incite to racial hatred, xenophobia, antisemitism and all forms of intolerance, since these undermine democratic security, cultural cohesion and pluralism. Furthermore, the Action Plan setting out strategies for the promotion of media in a democratic society which the Ministers addressed to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, requested the Council of Europe to "study, in close consultation with media professionals and regulatory authorities, possible guidelines which could assist media professionals in addressing intolerance in all its forms" (item 6 of the Action Plan).


8.            Subsequently, the Steering Committee on the Mass Media (CDMM) instructed a Group of Specialists on media and intolerance (MM-S-IN) to examine, inter alia, the role which the media may play in propagating racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance, as well as the contribution they may make to combating these evils.


9.         In analysing these issues, the MM-S-IN took account of provisions contained in international legal instruments (in particular the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the European Convention on Human Rights and the case-law of the supervisory institutions of the latter Convention) as well as in the legislation of the member States of the Council of Europe.  As to the latter, the MM-S-IN's work benefited greatly from a study, prepared under the auspices of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), by the Swiss Institute of Comparative Law (Legal measures to combat racism and intolerance in the member States of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg, 2 March 1995, document CRI (95) 2).


10.       In addition, the MM-S-IN commissioned a comparative study on codes of ethics dealing with media and intolerance from the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication of the University of Tampere in Finland (document MM-S-IN (95) 21; also published as: Kolehmainen/Pietiläinen, Comparative Study on Codes of Ethics Dealing with Media and Intolerance, in: Kaarle Nordenstreng (ed.), Reports on Media Ethics in Europe, University of Tampere Series B 41, 1995).


11.       In the course of its work, the MM-S-IN reached the conclusion that it would not be advisable to prepare legally binding instruments addressing the issue of media and intolerance over and above the current international legal framework (the most relevant of which are referred to in the preamble to the recommendation). Given the special situation of the media as well as the crucial importance of media freedom and the principles of editorial independence and autonomy, it was considered both preferable and more effective to concentrate on non-binding legal instruments, namely sets of principles which the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe could recommend to governments of member States as a basis for their legislative and other measures or policies in this field.


12.            Furthermore, the MM-S-IN felt that, in elaborating such principles, it was crucial to distinguish between: (1) the role which the media may play in propagating racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance, and (2) the contribution which the media may make to combating these evils. This distinction was considered necessary, since the scope and justification for imposing legally binding measures differ greatly in respect of each area. As concerns the propagation of racism and intolerance, there is, in principle, scope for imposing legally binding standards without violating freedom of expression and the principle of editorial independence. However, as concerns the promotion of a positive contribution by the media, great care needs to be taken so as not to interfere with these principles. This area calls for measures of encouragement rather than legal measures.


13.       For this reason, the MM-S-IN and the CDMM decided to prepare two separate recommendations: the present one on the media and the promotion of a culture of tolerance and a second recommendation on "hate speech" (see Recommendation No. R (97) 20).


14.       At different stages of the drafting of these recommendations, the MM-S-IN consulted various representative organisations in the media sector as well as interested non governmental organisations so as to obtain their comments on the texts under preparation. These comments had a substantial bearing on the content of the two instruments.


15.       This recommendation also supplements the legal undertaking laid down in Article 9, paragraph 4, of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. This provision requires the States Parties to adopt, within the framework of their legal systems, adequate measures in order to facilitate access to the media for persons belonging to national minorities and in order to promote tolerance and permit cultural pluralism.


16.       The text of the recommendation was transmitted to the Committee of Ministers which, at the 607th meeting of the Ministers' Deputies on 30 October 1997, adopted the recommendation and authorised publication of the Explanatory Memorandum.


Operative part of the recommendation


17.       The operative section recommends that the governments of member States make the enterprises, including agencies, organisations, bodies and institutions mentioned aware of certain means of action. The aim of the recommendation is to offer examples of practices which have proven their worth and which are conducive to the promotion of a culture of tolerance and thus merit more general application in the various media sectors.


18.       This section clearly reflects the general approach underlying this recommendation in regard to the division of roles and responsibilities between governments and public authorities on the one hand, and the various media sectors on the other. Whereas in the area of "hate speech", binding measures by public authorities may be appropriate for combating excesses, the action which can be taken by governments in regard to the media's possible contribution to the promotion of a culture of tolerance is essentially of a non-legal nature, having regard to the autonomy and independence of the media. Hence, apart from such action as the media and the various media sectors may take on their own, the measures which governments can take will consist mainly of aid and incentives to the media. This recommendation should be understood in this light.


19.       Such incentives and measures of encouragement may take different forms depending, inter alia, on the media sector concerned. The dissemination of relevant information, in particular about this recommendation, is one example, but there are others: the organisation of public campaigns, the commissioning, publication, dissemination and exchange of studies and research which might help initiate debate within the media sectors; provision of support for organisations or initiatives which seek to raise awareness in media circles of the need to promote tolerance.  This is the sense of the second paragraph of the operative part of the recommendation.


20.       In this respect, it must be noted that a number of initiatives have already been taken by some individual media, training institutions and representative bodies of media professionals. Many of these, together with suggestions for new initiatives, were mentioned at a consultation which the Council of Europe held with media professionals on 20 and 21 October 1994. At this consultation, organised in the context of the implementation of the Plan of Action against racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance, media professionals from all key media sectors - both public and private - recognised the responsibility of these sectors for contributing to the fight against racism and intolerance. The meeting resulted in a rich collection of initiatives and proposals (Council of Europe document H/ONG (95) 2, Appendix V) which may serve as a source of inspiration for further media initiatives in this field. It also inspired much of the content of this recommendation.


Appendix to the recommendation


Professional practices conducive to the promotion of a culture of tolerance


1.             Training


            Initial training


21.       The first exposure to the principles and practice of the profession in training institutions is an essential staging post in the career of the professional. Skills are taught and knowledge acquired, to be developed further in professional life. It is the role of the journalism school or other media training institute to lay the firm foundations on which professionalism is built. For this reason, the text underscores the importance of the educational/training phase of a professional's career in instilling awareness of the significance of the media's involvement in multi-ethnic and multicultural societies, and especially the contribution which the media and media professionals can make to the promotion of a culture of tolerance.


22.            Research shows that little emphasis has hitherto been placed in journalism schools and media training institutes on creating awareness and appreciation of the role which the media may play in this context. This is seen to be a marked defect in the training process. For this reason, the text encourages the development of specialist courses which enable aspiring professionals in the media sector to learn about and discuss the reality of difference, and especially media's great potential to foster a more tolerant society based on the equal dignity of all its members. Such a contribution to enhancing the quality of the work of media professionals makes it necessary to provide students with a sound historical and socio-cultural understanding of immigration, difficulties besetting integration of ethnic, cultural and religious minorities in society, the spread of extremism, the links between social stability and tolerance, and the enriching function of difference.


23.            Research has shown that there is a lack of appropriate teaching materials in this area. The Council of Europe has sought to remedy this by commissioning a training handbook containing case studies. It is felt that further such initiatives should be encouraged so as to increase the availability of training tools. The professional organisations can assist in this respect, especially by making available to trainers copies of codes of conduct addressing the issue of intolerance or written and audiovisual material illustrating the various ways of dealing with topics such as tension between communities, crime in the immigrant community, etc.


Further training


24.       Training in the contribution which the media can make to the promotion of a culture of tolerance must be seen as a continuing strategy. For this reason, the text encourages media enterprises to make provision for in-house training or for participation in training seminars, workshops, etc., organised outside the framework of the enterprise.  It is felt particularly important to provide these facilities for those members of staff who are likely at some stage to exercise influence over the operational strategies of the media enterprise, since such persons can be proponents and facilitators of change.


2.         Media enterprises


25.       The promotion of a culture of tolerance requires a sustained and continuing effort on the part of media professionals. The lessons learned within the context of training must be applied to workaday life within the media enterprise. 


26.       For this reason, the text highlights the value of reflection within the enterprise. Internal discussion has a number of advantages. Firstly, it keeps alive the issue of the media's involvement in this area. Secondly, it helps to create a tolerance-sensitive working environment. Thirdly, it can help set standards and identify shortcomings. 


27.       The text lists a number of topics drawn from best professional practices as reflected in codes of ethics, standards, etc. Research has shown that many such codes stress the media's responsibility to promote a culture of tolerance.  It is important to ensure that they are acted upon. Internal discussion on how to achieve targets and standards is one important means of ensuring that these standards permeate professional life. 


28.       The initiative to organise discussion and reflection on the contribution which a particular media enterprise can make to the promotion of a culture of tolerance may come from the professionals themselves or from the senior management. It is important to associate both management and working professionals with this exercise and with the conclusions.  An underlying concern should be the need to link respect for professional standards with the notion of quality communication to readers, viewers and listeners.


29.       The listed topics may be seen as benchmarks. Discussions may reveal that the communications policy of the media enterprise is not in line with certain or all of the standards. Initiatives can be taken to rectify the shortcomings. 


3.             Representative bodies of media professionals


30.       The text refers to action programmes and practical initiatives which representative bodies of media professionals, such as associations or unions of journalists, publishers, editors, broadcasters, advertisers, etc, might pursue. Here again, reference can be made to some recent examples which show that certain organisations, especially unions of journalists, have taken concrete steps to launch and sustain a discussion among their membership about their possible contribution to the promotion of a culture of tolerance. For example, in 1995, the following organisations organised conferences and seminars dealing with this question in general or with specific aspects of it: the National Union of Journalists (United Kingdom), the Dutch Union of Journalists (NVJ), the Nordic Unions of Journalists, Public Broadcasting for a Multicultural Europe (PBME), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), CIRCOM Regional, etc. For many of these organisations, such meetings are not one-off events but part of a wider action programme carried out, for example, by working groups set up for this purpose.


31.            Mention can also be made of the international media working group against racism and xenophobia, convened by the IFJ, in co-operation with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and the World Association of Newspapers (FIEJ), which has been developing and implementing an international programme of activities in this field since 1994.


32.       The activities mentioned could serve as a useful source of inspiration for other representative bodies of media professionals.


4.         Codes of conduct


33.       As was stated in paragraph 27 above, many organisations of media professionals in European countries have adopted codes of conduct, also referred to as codes of practice or ethics. The great majority, but not all, of these codes contain provisions on the prohibition of racial discrimination. In many, but not all, European countries, self-regulatory bodies such as press councils have been established to monitor observance of the professional code of conduct. Although the effectiveness of these codes and self-regulatory bodies is sometimes called into question, and perhaps with some justification, it appears to be very difficult to obtain a representative picture of their effectiveness. Not only do studies tend to cover extreme cases and overlook ordinary conduct which is in line with the codes, it is also legitimate to ask to what extent conduct which is in line with the code is the actual result of the code (cf. section 6.1 of the comparative study quoted in paragraph 10 above).


34.       On the other hand, steps can be taken to enhance the effectiveness of codes of conduct. It would be highly desirable if not only media professionals but also those responsible at senior management level were to be associated with the preparation of such codes. Furthermore, some media enterprises have drawn up their own individual codes of conduct. This approach has the advantage of bringing the code closer to the workplace and to everyday decision-making.


35.            Irrespective of the question of their effectiveness, it is uncontested that the elaboration of codes of conduct has the advantage of setting standards or "benchmarks" which can provide a reference for responsible and professional conduct. In this way, they may play a useful role, for instance in the field of training and in internal discussions within media enterprises (see the comments in paragraphs 23 and 27 above), but also as a platform for discussions organised by representative bodies of media professionals (see paragraphs 30-31).


5.             Broadcasting


36.       This text deals specifically with broadcasting because of the wide reach and the immediate and powerful effects which the audiovisual media in particular can have on the public.


37.            Although the text concerns both public and private broadcasting organisations, it is clear, as was acknowledged at the 4th European Ministerial Conference on Mass Media Policy (Prague, 7-8 December 1994), that public service broadcasters have undertaken special commitments as a result of their missions. In Resolution No. 1 on the future of public service broadcasting, the participating States agreed that the principal missions of public service broadcasters include:


"-            to provide, through their programming, a reference point for all members of the public and a factor for social cohesion and integration of all individuals, groups and communities. In particular, they must reject any cultural, sexual, religious or racial discrimination and any form of social segregation;


-            to develop and structure programme schedules and services of interest to a wide public while being attentive to the needs of minority groups;


-            to reflect the different philosophical ideas and religious beliefs in society, with the aim of strengthening mutual understanding and tolerance and promoting community relations in multi-ethnic and multicultural societies."


38.            Specialists in the broadcasting community recognise that, while specific programming for minority groups remains important (for example, for maintaining minority culture, obtaining information about countries of origin, language skills, and providing information on their rights, etc.), and might even require further development where the needs of certain communities are not sufficiently catered for (for example, the under-representation of certain religions within religious broadcasting in many countries), "inclusive" and multicultural programming is necessary to promote better understanding of the different cultures and communities in society as a whole and to avoid marginalisation of groups and communities. In the same vein, Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1277 (1995) on migrants, ethnic minorities and media points to the importance of encouraging both public and private media towards an objective coverage of migrant and ethnic minority issues and the provision of opportunities for the balanced involvement of representatives of migrant and ethnic minority communities in mainstream radio and television programmes (paragraph 5.iv.f of the recommendation).  This point was also stressed at the Conference on the role of the media in promoting integration and equality of opportunity for immigrants, organised by the Council of Europe in Solingen (Germany) from 30 November to 2 December 1994.


39.       As regards the notion of "multi-cultural programming", it must be noted that the Programme Committee of the EBU adopted a declaration of intent on 26 October 1994 which is a response to the Declaration adopted at the Vienna Summit of the Council of Europe. In the declaration of intent, the public service broadcasters declare their awareness of the important role they have to play in a multiracial, multicultural and multi-faith Europe, and recognise that it essential that they make every effort to reflect accurately the cultural, racial and linguistically diverse character of society in their programmes.


40.            Following the EBU's declaration of intent, PBME adopted a set of recommendations for broadcasters on fair portrayal of ethnic minorities in European societies in 1995. These recommendations emphasise the importance of multicultural programming and offer recommendations both for broadcasting generally and for specific programme genres.


41.            Although there are many programme genres where broadcasting can make a visible contribution to promoting a climate of tolerance in which "difference" is accepted as an ordinary element of multicultural society, sports programmes in particular offer excellent opportunities for presenting to a broad public sport and sports events as occasions for individuals and peoples to meet without discrimination and in a spirit of fair play. This point was also stressed in the Resolution on tolerance and sport which was adopted at the 8th Conference of European Ministers responsible for Sport (Lisbon, 17-18 May 1995).


42.       In relation to the final paragraph of this section, mention may be made of the example given by the EBU which has established a working group through which programmes dealing with tolerance or the promotion of community relations may be exchanged between broadcasters in European countries.


6.             Advertising


43.       This text is partly inspired by, and constitutes a specific elaboration of, Recommendation No. R (84) 3 on principles on television advertising, adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 23 February 1984. 

44.            Advertisements by their very nature are generally short, snappy and incisive. They often make use of clichés and stereotypes. For these reasons, their potential for perpetuating negative stereotypes is great and care should be taken to avoid this. 

45.       The last paragraph of the text refers, inter alia, to campaigns organised by public or private organisations aimed at promoting tolerance and making the public better aware of the dangers of intolerance.



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