Free, independent and diverse media are essential for democracy. Blogs, social networks, content aggregators and search engines enable individuals to access information and communicate with thousands of people in completely new ways. Together with traditional media, these new media actors are today essential sources of information.
Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression and information. This right applies equally offline and online, and should be balanced with other legitimate rights and interests in compliance with Article 10. Existing standards developed for traditional media may well apply to new media, which means they may be entitled to rights, but also subject to responsibilities.
In two recommendations adopted in 2012 the Council of Europe called on its member states to safeguard human rights with regard to search engines and social networks, in particular with regard to freedom of expression, access to information, freedom of association and the right to private life.
For individuals to fully enjoy freedom of expression and information online, the Internet needs to be stable and open. Technical failures and intentional disruptions can impact access to information regardless of frontiers. The Council of Europe has developed a framework of international cooperation to prevent and respond to eventual disruptions of the Internet.
The following are some of the key issues the Council of Europe will work on in the near future to protect and promote freedom of expression and free access to information.
- Developing standards based on human rights to protect and preserve free cross-border flow of legal Internet content.
- Exploring the balance between safeguarding freedom of expression and protecting the honour and reputation of persons.
- Developing – working with other stakeholders - a “framework of understanding and/or commitments” to protect the universality, integrity and openness of the Internet as a means of safeguarding freedom of expression regardless of frontiers and Internet freedom.
- Drafting human rights policy principles on network neutrality to ensure Internet users have the greatest possible access to content, applications and services of their choice.
- Promoting the accessibility of Internet content to all actual or potential users.
- Developing guidelines and best practice to help governments and Internet intermediaries acting as media gateways to promote freedom of expression and access to pluralistic, quality-based and diverse sources of information.
- Increasing the literacy of all social and age groups.
Promoting transparency and accountability in democracy by using the Internet to facilitate access to official documents as part of the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents.
Council of Europe Committee of Ministers recommendations on:
- The protection of human rights with regard to social networking services (2012).
- The protection of human rights with regard to search engines (2012).
- The protection and promotion of Internet’s universality, integrity and openness (2011).
- A new notion of media (2011).
- 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
Council of Europe Committee of Ministers declarations on:
- The need for international standards for “libel tourism” (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 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).
- The allocation and management of the digital dividend and the public interest (2008).
- Freedom of communication on the Internet (2003).
In 2013 a conference of European ministers responsible for Media and the Information Society will be held in Belgrade to decide on the priorities of the Council of Europe to protect freedom of expression and information in the near future.