Ministers' Deputies / Rapporteur Groups
Rapporteur Group on Democracy
GR-DEM(2006)8 15 February 20061
Written Question No. 475 to the Committee of Ministers by Mr Lindblad: “Freedom of the media in Russia”
Draft reply revised following the meeting of GR-DEM of 12 January 2006
Item to be considered by GR-DEM at its meeting of 2 March 2006
For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union and the communist dictatorship, a Swedish journalist, Mr Bert Sundström from the Swedish Television, has been expelled from Russia after three years reporting, without any explanation.
This event, as well as other signals about a hardening climate for journalists, foreign as well as Russian, makes one worry about freedom of the press and other media in Russia.
Asks the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe what measures the Committee is going to take in order to make the Russian Federation live up to its obligations as a member state of the Council of Europe as concerns free media.
LINDBLAD, Göran, Sweden.
1. The Committee of Ministers has repeatedly stressed the importance of freedom of expression and information for a well-functioning democracy. This fundamental right, enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), must be respected by all member states. The position of the Committee of Ministers on the issue of the media is clearly expressed in its Declarations on freedom of expression and information of 29 April 1982, on freedom of political debate in the media of 12 February 2004 and on freedom of expression in the media in the fight against terrorism adopted on 2 March 2005. These texts are publicly available.
2. The Honourable Parliamentarian poses a general question on what action the Committee of Ministers intends to take with respect to the situation of the freedom of the media in the Russian Federation. Before answering this question, the Committee notes that the Swedish journalist, referred to in the question, has subsequently had his visa renewed and has been able to continue to work in Russia.
3. With respect to the general problem raised by the Honourable Parliamentarian, the Committee of Ministers observes that the situation of the media in the Russian Federation is a matter of concern. As indicated by the Human Rights Commissioner in the report which he published after his visits to the Russian Federation in 2004, although the Law on mass media passed on 27 December 1991 guarantees freedom of expression for all media and affords journalists rights and protection in the exercise of their function, and although a wide variety of media exist in Russia, some worrying trends have emerged in recent years. These concern, in particular, the alleged increase of state control over the media, in particular television, the absence of an independent public service broadcaster, possible effects on the media of a number of laws and provisions adopted in the general context of combatting terrorism and cases of attacks and acts of violence against journalists.
4. The Committee of Ministers notes that similar concerns have been expressed by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, inter alia in his "Report on Russian media coverage of the Beslan tragedy", which noted several cases of harassment of journalists. The Committee of Ministers believes that these issues deserve particular attention, bearing in mind that the lack of economic sustainability of many media, especially in the regions, also affects their independence. The Committee of Ministers invites the authorities of the Russian Federation to take all appropriate measures to address these problems, so as to secure freedom of expression and the media on a daily basis, throughout the Russian Federation.
5. In this respect, the Committee of Ministers recalls the recommendations made to the Russian authorities, as a result of the thematic monitoring procedure conducted in 2002, on possible steps in the area of legislation, broadcasting, decriminalisation of defamation, subsidies and the regulatory framework for the media. The attention of the Russian authorities was also drawn to the importance of ratifying the European Convention of Transfrontier Television and implementing Recommendation R (96) 10 of the Committee of Ministers on the guarantee of the independence of public service broadcasting and Rec (2000) 23 on the independence and functions of regulatory authorities for the broadcasting sector. The Committee of Ministers reiterates its appeal to the Russian authorities to implement these texts, so that the audiovisual media and their regulator are independent and impartial. It also supports the recommendations of the Human Rights Commissioner on the mass media in Russia and expects the Russian side to take steps towards their implementation.
6. As regards the harassment and intimidation of members of civil society critical of the authorities and in particular in the journalistic, scientific and environmentalist communities, which are subject to abusive application of defamation and state secret laws", the Committee of Ministers underlines that such a practice is incompatible with Article 10 of the ECHR. It calls on the Russian authorities to take all appropriate measures to bring it to an end.
7. Beyond the numerous assistance activities on freedom of the media which have already been conducted in the Russian Federation over a number of years – notably awareness-raising and training of media professionals, lawyers, judges and public officials, and also as regards broadcasting (legislation, licensing, public service) – the Committee of Ministers is willing to explore, together with the Russian authorities, how the assistance thus provided could be intensified and better targeted, so as to secure freedom of expression and information and freedom of the media in the Russian Federation. The accent might, inter alia, be placed on aligning, where necessary, media legislation with Council of Europe standards, including as regards the independence of public service broadcasting and broadcasting regulatory authorities, capacity-building, and identifying and contributing to the implementation of measures capable of rendering the legal framework effective in practice. This examination could take place in the first half of 2006, with a view to elaborating a programme for the action to be undertaken in the next few years.
Note 1 This document has been classified restricted at the date of issue. Unless the Committee of Ministers decides otherwise, it will be declassified according to the rules set up in Resolution Res(2001)6 on access to Council of Europe documents.