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Home arrow In Brief arrow ECHR, Journalist Unions SNJ+EFJ's Aidan White to EuroFora: Web Media with Deontology serve Democracy

ECHR, Journalist Unions SNJ+EFJ's Aidan White to EuroFora: Web Media with Deontology serve Democracy

Written by ACM
Friday, 16 October 2009

 

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(Gutenberg statue in Strasbourg : Just another "New Media" freak ?)..


During meetings attended by many Hundreds of Journalists at the CoE in Strasbourg, and in statements to "EuroFora", Top representatives from the European Court of Human Rights, the European/International Federation of Journalists, the largest Union of Journalists in France (SNJ), and from various other EU countries (as Italy, Germany, etc), strongly supported positions in favor of New On-line Media if they respect Journalists' Deontology in order to find and publish original News on issues of General Interest affecting People's lives and therefore useful for Public Debates in Democratic Societies.

ECHR Grand Chamber's experienced Legal Director, Dr. Vincent Berger, stressed from the outset that all such Press activites are firmly protected by Article 10 of the European Convention for Human Rights, which has issued the largest number of Judgements in Strasbourg, in more than 700 cases !

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From the protection of Journalists' Sources, to that of their personal Freedom, Home, Office and Notes, Rights to free and unhindered Access to Information or Press Contacts without bureaucratic restrictions or discriminations, etc., all main protective ECHR's rules "are not a private privilege, but a necessary attribute of People's Right to receive Infomation in a Democratic Society", underlined Berger.

From the famous "Goodwin" affair, on the protection of sources in Great Britain, up to exotic cases of Journalists persecuted in Turkey merely for publishing critical reports on "MISSING" people contained in .. ECHR's own judgementrs, (accused by Ankara's Government not to "veirfy" their sources !), etc., ECHR has firmly defended until now Journalists' right to sources of information useful to the General Interest of the Society, he observed.

This is a point well known to "EuroFora" in Strasbourg, for having faced in 2007 hard pressure, slandering, threats, etc., precisely by a Turkish lobby's accusations including questions on our source in a Publication where another CoE's experienced Official had warned about the risk for evidence of crimes in cases of Cyprus' MISSING people to be destroyed for ever if a controversial and notoriously insufficient recent project to do only exhumations of graves, identifications and reburrials of victims, while excluding any forensic examination, witnesses, etc. in order to find what really happened to these people and who was responsible for their "enforces disappearance", (as ECHR's case-law asks).

European/International Federation of Journalists' Secretary General, Aidan White, was informed and closely followed the case then, and CoE's Committee of Ministers, just one week after our Publication took a landmark decision to ask, for the 1st time, at least to "preserve all Data" obtained by this project limited only in unearthings/ID/reburrials, while also reiterating its appeal to the Turkish Government to do full and efficient Investigations.

ECHR's top Legal Expert, (who has written many Books making authority on Human Rights' case-law for several years until now), alse explained, in reply to Journalists' questions, that "the strictly Professional Status" of the victims of such violations of Article 10, at one or another moment, "has no importance at all" for the European Court, since the protection of all Journalists' Human Rights exists in order to defend any Democratic Society's need for People to be informed on "hot" issues of General Interest which provoke Public Debates.

EU Parliament highlighted this point last year, by attributing its 2008 "Zacharov Prize" to Chinese Cyber-dissident Hu Jia, harassed and afterwards jailed for publishing critical news at the Internet. (See relevant "EuroFora"s publication from the event, with Zacharov Wife's, Elena Bonner's statements to "EuroFora").

Moreover, the most World-famous ECHR case on Journalist's murder notoriously is that of Gongadze, who was killed in the past in Ukraine, after publishing critical news in his ..Internet News Website : 3 suspects have been arrested by the new Ukranian Government since ECHR's 2006 judgement, and an Internationally-assisted investigation is still going-on there in order to find and punish the instigators.

In all these and other various cases, the "key" concept, of central importance for ECHR's protection of all journalists' work, is whether they provide Information and News on issues which have "something important for People's life in a Democratic Society", deserving a Public Debate of General Interest, or not, Vincent Berger stressed in reply to questions.

In fact, this concerns the very "foundations of Democracy", ECHR's top Legal Expert concluded. It's also true that ECHR's case-law traditionally considers that matter as being, in fact, one of the preconditions for the full enjoyement, by all citizens, of all other Human Rights.

These ECHR points have today a growing importance, particularly after the recent progress in the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland and Poland, which prescribes that even EU itself, and all its bodies, (EU Council, EU Parliament, EU Commission, etc) will also be subjected to EuroJudges' monitoring for respect of Human Rights soon.

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European/International Federation of Journalist's experienced Secretary General, Aidan White, stressed from the outset that the Press is living now at an historic period of transition, when "a Traditional Model doesn't work no more, after Internet started to emerge", exposing Journalists to various dangerous "attacks" :

New challenges provoke attacks not only against Journalists' professional job conditions, but also against their "role as essential components of any Democratic society", he observed.

For Aidan White, what "distinguishes" simple "Bloggers" taping alone some texts at the Internet occasionaly overnight, (whose "Freedom of Expression" may be protected, in some cases), from real "Journalists", is mainly that the latter clearly "assume Obligations" which "involve also other People", have to respect a "Deontology" and "are obliged to say the Truth", in a "fair" manner,

Today, there is a growing need to "defend Pluralism", and to bring back "Morals" in Media business, as well as to find "new financial sources", and to "renovate old institutions" he added.

Journalists and Media must get involved in "a New Debate with the Civil Society", where "our Future will depend on our ability to convince People", Aidan White stressed.

There is an obvious need to "win back the Trust of the People", who have notoriously lost their faith recently to mainstream Media; the Hundreds of Journalists present at the CoE in Strasbourg were reminded.

- "The Time have come to return back to the Roots of Pure Journalism !"
White concluded, presenting EFJ/IFJ's new campaign for "Ethical Journalism", which brings Press Deontology at the front.

Announcing also the recent "creation of a New Inter-Group on Mass Media inside EU Parliament, Aidan White stressed that Journalists "must be at the heart of the European decision-making".

Because, "Strasbourg, has naturally a Symbolic value on Human Rights, including for the Press, but often there are many nice Declarations here, while, in fact, Press Freedom is not always respected",  and "a lot of Governments bear responsibilities for neglecting or not defending Press Freedoms", EFJ/IFJ's experienced Secretary General rightfully criticized.

And he gave a rendez-vous for European Journalism on "May 2010 in Spain", during the Spanish chairmanship of the EU.

Meanwhile, "I shall see what I can do for on-line media freedom", said Aidan White to "EuroFora" (Comp. also other EFJ/IFJ SG's statements to "EuroFora" on a Journalist's murder case, etc, at another publication).
 
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Interesting statements about On-line Media also by the Secretary General of the  biggest Union of Journalists in France (SNJ), Alain Girard, speaking to "EuroFora" :

- "For Journalists who decide to create a real Internet News Website, we (the largest Union of Journalists in France) struggled recently inside the "Etats Generaux" of the Press, organized by the President of the Republic (Nicolas Sarkozy), to obtain for these On-line Press enterprises a Legal Status, with a Law which has just been published during Summer 2009, said SNJ's Head to "EuroFora"."Main Conditions are that it's for Journalists to provide News, that Deontologic Principles are respected, etc. And that's interesting because, from the moment that they have a Legal Status, they can have access to Public Aid for the Press", particuarly from January 2010. "So, here, we are in a line of thought inciting On-line Media to "respect the Law in order to get Financial means to develop" their activities."It's a carrot approach", Girard resumed.

Contrary of what is generally believed, the head of the largest Union of Journalists in France told "EuroFora" that "the main problem we (Journalists' Unions) found is not so much in the creation of new, Internet Media, innovative SMEs, etc. But, when some already existing big Media extend their activities to the Internet too fast, fex. only in order to face a competitor, occupy a position, etc., and fil their websites with anything, even trash, without paying attention to its quality, or by hiring some young people who are used to the Computers but don't know anything about Journalism;  or obliging some Journalists unaware of Internet to work in unacceptable conditions, with their texts cut, etc, without trying to build an Editorial policy, and find an adequate Economic model for that, etc.

Questions remain still open ; Fex. it doesn't seem yet easy to fund such an enterprise only with on-line Publicity, at least as long as it covers only about 10% of costs, as currently in Europe, Girard said.

But he didn't comment on the recent fact that in the USA, on-line Publicity has just grew bigger than that on traditional paper-version newspapers and radio-TV, succeeding to progressively attract much more funds...

However, he accepted that, added also to other funding possibilities, (such as pay-per-view for News Archives, Data Bases, related activities such as Conferences, meetings, Forums, etc), even (totally or partially)  "free" On-line News websites could progressively develop an acceptable profitability, "on the condition that their journalists will also benefit from that, able to fully exert their job", as Girard added.

- "What is essential for us (SNJ) is that information is treated with all the needed rigour, on whatever material support might be used : Paper, Radio, TV, Internet, Mobile Phone, etc.; in order to ensure that it's not a mere rumour, a subjective blog, etc, but real "News" which can help Citizens to forge an enlightened opinion in a Democratic Debate", he stressed, referring to Aidan White (See supra). For that purpose, "certain (deontology) rules have to be respected, in a transparent way", he concluded.

At any case, "on new, Internet Media, we (SNJ) don't mind if this or that "tube" is used instead of another. What is imporant is Information itself. There is no justification for the new, emerging Internet Media to give a pretext to undermine the Principles which serve to ensure the Quality of the Information", he said. "What interests us is that, whatever kind of Media may be used, the Principles which guarantee the Quality of Information remain : F.ex. the Deontology, rigour, the quest for Truth, the Verification of sources, etc".,

"Media have currently lost Public Opinion's trust. They must win anew the trust of the People. And for us, this can be  achieved if Journalists are able to do correctly their job, and ensure that Media deliver an information of good Quality".

- "In conclusion : If the New (Internet etc.) Media respect the Deontology, we have nothing against them. The material support of information is not important. What matters is its content : the Quality of the information provided".

But SNJ''s Head honestly admitted that, "as a Union, we have 2 tasks, 2 things to defend : The strictly Monetary and social interests of our Profession on the spot, avoid that some Media push young or precarious journalists to act in a way which doesn't respect our professional principles, etc".

"For that purpose, Deontology is a part, protection of Sources another one, and for us (SNJ), it's also the Independence of the Editorial team, including precarious and free-lance journalists, because it's them who are most exposed to pressure, given their social fragility". So that the Editorial team becomes able to say "no" to any attempts to denaturate the information", Girard extended to further areas...
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Returng back the essentials, SNJ's representative Olivier Da Lage, who participates in the working group chaired by "Le Monde'"s Journalist Bruno Frappat, which is trying to find an agreement between journalists and editors on Media Deontology, said to "EuroFora" that, in his view, "most owners - publishers of Media don't really want substantial rules on Journalism's Deontology, and drag their feets, probably because they don't want to share responsibilities and wish to be inside their Press enterprise as sovereign as in any other business".

- "But, may be in order to find a kind of balance after giving much money to Media businessmen, and/or for other reasons that I personally don't know, (French) President Sarkozy clearly supports 2 or 3 interesting ideas, including to boost Deontology. Therefore, on this precise point, you are right, we (the Union of Journalists SNJ) are objectively allies to Elysee" presidential palace, the representative of French journalists largest union agreed smiling with "EuroFora".
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In conclusion, at the end of the day, and despite unavoidable differencies of approach, both ECHR, EFJ and SNJ apparently converged towards a common stance stressing that the main specificity of real Journalism, traditional and new, as well as the main hope to win anew People's trust, is to point at Press Deontology.

For the rest, it's obvious that even .. Gutenberg, the historic inventor of mechanically Printed Press, (an idea in fact brought from China by Marco Polo earlier in Europe), appeared at first as a "bizarre" individual, breaking traditional rules and old interests of the previously dominant Media : Hand-written (and carefully checked, word by word, with elegant letters, various ink colors, etc) Manuscripts traditionally copied in pittoresque Medieval Monasteries...

Poor guy : The former Strasbourg's citizen, was obliged to move at nearby Mainz because of Debts, after a first attempt to create a SME as innovative Publisher didn't win enough money from the start..

But shouldn't citizen Gutenberg be at least protected by the same Laws who covered the traditional Publishers' corporation of manuscript copyists ?

SNJ's head, Girard, spontaneously laughed at the idea.

***


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ECHR's President to "EuroFora" on Journalists Gongadze and Adali murders : Principles must apply to all States, without discrimination.


+ ECHR's Statistics on Freedom of Expression (See below).


 European Court of Human Rights' President, Jean-Paul Costa, questioned by "EuroFora" on Journalists' murders, as in Gongadze and Adali's cases etc., strongly stressed all CoE Member States' obligation to make efficient Investigations to find and punish those responsible, and underlined that ECHR's case-law's principles must apply to all without any discrimination.

His call was clearly supported by various Top MEPs who denounced a risk of "Double Standards" if some Journalists' murders are investigated, while others don't.

To avoid such risks, CoE's Parliamentary Assembly adopted a Resolution, on the occasion of Ukranian Journalist Gongadze's murder, "stressing", as a matter of general Principle, "the importance it attaches to the safety of Journalists and political activists, especially those linked to opposition groups, in ALL member states of the CoE". All "crimes against journalists and political activists must be investigated ... as a matter of priority, without political interference".

Costa was replying to "EuroFora"s question on the fact that, after CoE's Committee of Ministers, also CoE's Assembly had just adopted a Resolution on Gongadze murder case, based on an ECHR's judgement of 2005, asking a full Investigation from Ukraine, who has found and condemned  in 10 years of jail 2 executants, but not yet the instigators.

While nothing similar was yet done for dissident Turkish Cypriot Kutlu Adali's murder, with 5 bullets shot at his head out of his Family's home in the territories of Cyprus occupied by Ankara's army, despite another ECHR's judgement of the same year 2005, and despite Turkey's claim that nobody was found among those responsible for the murder, and that there was nothing more to do..

In order to be credible and efficient, CoE's mechanisms shouldn't find a way to at least ask for full investigations of all Journalists' murders anywhere they might be committed, without exceptions ?

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- "On the larger question that you raised, I'd like to say, since we are in a period of stock-taking on ECHR's 50 Years, that the Court's case-law developed certain concepts ....such as the Positive obligations of States, part of which are also the procedural obligations", started to reply ECHR's President.

 - "Whenever Journalists, Lawyers, Defenders of Human Rights, or even simple Citizens are murdered, the States are held responsible, not only if its their own security forces' agents who committed these murders, but also if they didn't make sufficiently substantial and efficient Investigations", he stressed.

- "I want to strongly underline that we (ECHR) have found in many cases numerous violations of Articles 2 and 3 against States, ....(about) murders or torture, ...because they didn't make enough Investigations in order to try to find and punish those responsible".

- "We (ECHR) do that vis-a-vis all 47 (CoE) Member States, without any discrimination".

"Naturally, the circumstances in each particular case may be differend, and we can't ommit to apply the rules of proof, or the rules of criminal procedure".

"But we try, by all means, to apply these principles of our case-law, to all States", he concluded.

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      Costa's call was strongly supported by several Top CoE MEPs, from various Political areas


- "To investigate the murder of one Journalist, and not of another, looks like Double Standards", denounced the President of EuroLeft Group in CoE's Assembly, Dutch MEP Tiny Cox.  

- "What is the reason ? Politics or specificity of a case ? Of course, if Cyprus and Turkey are involved, it's always a Political case"..

- "Murders of Journalists should always be fully investigated, because killing Journalists is not only killing persons, but also killing Free Press".  "We (CoE's Assembly) should do our outmost to help People who are working on Free Press and they are under threat or murdered".

Because for Free Politics, Free Press is a pre-requisitive : Parliamentarians  cannot  function without a Free Press. Not investigating, is not protecting ourselves".

So we should investigate all Journalists' murders : We are talking about Gongadze, about the Cypriot man (Adali), about the Journalist murdered in Moscow one week ago, etc", Cox concluded

- "CoE can' look at these cases differently. CoE can't wear Blinckers  !".
- "If the one is investigated, so has to be also the other. Why there wasn't full investigation ? Why's that ?", wondered British  Socialist MEP, Alan Meale.

- "A good idea" would be to "make a Motion for Resolution", and "join all Journalists' murders. Adali and Gongadze etc", said to "EuroFora" EU Parliament Political affairs Committee's President, Goran Lindbland, ChristianDemocrat MEP from Sweden.


(See also earlier News at "EuroFora" on similar issues).
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ECHR's Statistics on Freedom of Expression :


    Almost Half of condemnations by ECHR for violations of Freedom of Expression in 2008, concern Turkey : 20 out of a total of 48 for all CoE's Member States.

    Russia, Poland, France and Moldova were condemned only 3 times. Romania, Greece, Portugal, 2 times, and the other CoE Member States only 1 time, or none.
--------------------
    During the last Decade : 1998 - 2008, Turkey was condemned for violating Freedom of Expression in ..169 cases, while Austria only in 24.

    France and Moldova in 14 and 13, respectively, closely followed by Russia and Poland with 11 and 10, respectively. The rest of CoE Member States had less than ten condemnations.    
    

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