Protecting freedom of expression and information

Free, independent and diverse media are essential for democracy. Blogs, social networks or tools such as Twitter have allowed individuals to communicate with thousands of people in completely new ways. In addition to the role of traditional media, these new media – which also include search engines, ISP portals and content aggregators – are today an essential source of information.

Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression and information. And this right applies both offline and online. It is, however, not absolute. Existing standards developed for traditional media may well apply to these new media, which means they may be entitled to rights, but also subject to responsibilities.

Drawing on Article 10, the Council of Europe underlines the public value of the Internet with regard to freedom of expression and the free circulation of information on the Internet, balancing them, where necessary, with other legitimate rights and interests.

For individuals to fully enjoy freedom of expression and information online, the Internet needs to be stable and open. Free flow of Internet cross-border traffic is essential for ensuring these rights. Technical failures and intentional disruptions are possible and have already occurred. The Council of Europe is working on international legal frameworks that would allow states to co-operate to prevent, manage and respond to eventual disruptions of the Internet.

Objectives

The Action Plan spelling out the work of the Council of Europe on media and the Internet includes the following objectives:

  • Examine whether the concept of media is still valid in the new information environment, and whether there is a need for self regulation, co-regulation or regulation to ensure that new media and media-like services respect human rights standards.
  • Further develop the notion of the public service value of the Internet and explore whether universal access should be a public service.
  • Explore how new forms of mass dissemination of and access to content affect freedom of expression and information, and examine how to protect them.
  • Examine how the status and rights of creators or providers of content can change in the new information environment, for example with regard to the legal control over their content.
  • Promote media literacy.
  • Address the challenges to freedom of expression and information, privacy, dignity and security of all individuals, in particular those of children and young people, for example, by exploring the possible removal of content that children publish online


The Council of Europe is also exploring, together with state and non-state actors and building upon current arrangements, how to ensure critical Internet resources are managed in the public interest and as a public asset, in respect of international law and human rights standards. The organisation is also examining ways to further protect cross-border Internet traffic.


Achievements


Council of Europe Committee of Ministers recommendations on:

  • The protection of human rights with regard to social platforms (2012)
  • The protection of human rights with regard to search engines (2012)
  • The protection of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association with regard to privately operated Internet platforms and online service providers (2011)
  • The protection and promotion of Internet’s universality, integrity and openness (2011)
  • A new notion of media (2011)
  • Measures to protect children against harmful content and behaviour and to promote their active participation in the new information and communications environement (2009).
  • Measures to promote respect for freedom of expression and information with regard to Internet filters (2008)
  • Measures to promote the public service value of the Internet (2007)
  • Promoting freedom of expression and information in the new information and communications environment (2007)


Council of Europe Committee of Ministers declarations on:

  • Internet governance principles (2011)
  • The protection of freedom of expression and information and freedom of assembly and association with regard to Internet domain names and name strings (2011)
  • Network neutrality (2010)
  • The management of the Internet protocol address resources in the public interest (2010)
  • Measures to promote the respect of Article 10 of the ECHR (2010)
  • Protecting the dignity, security and privacy of children on the Internet (2008)
  • The allocation and management of the digital dividend and the public interest (2008)
  • Freedom of communication on the Internet (2003)


Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly recommendations on:

  • The protection of freedom of expression and information on the Internet and online media (2012)
  • Protection of “whistle-blowers” (2010)
  • Protection of media freedom (2010)
  • Promotion of Internet and online media services appropriate for minors (2009)
     

Next steps

In 2012 the Council of Europe will start work for the drafting of a compendium of rights of Internet users.


www.coe.int/media