The Committee of Ministers, under the terms of Article 15.b of the Statute of the Council of Europe,


Emphasising that digital transformation has created important opportunities but also challenges for media and communication, and that the shift towards an increasingly digital, mobile and social media environment has profoundly changed the dynamics of production, dissemination and consumption of news and other media content, and noting that, as a result, quality journalism competes for audience attention with other types of content that are not subject to the same legal, regulatory or ethical frameworks;

Noting that online platforms have assumed a major role in distributing and promoting news and other media content, thus acquiring great power in the digital economy while disrupting traditional media business models, and that this calls for close scrutiny of their role and corresponding responsibilities in the media sector;

Determined to promote a favourable environment for quality journalism and open to experimentation and innovation in terms of content, formats and distribution methods, supports collaboration across media sectors and platforms, and is able to sustain creative and innovative ideas through positive measures and adequate financial support;

Resolved to encourage a media- and information-literate public that is empowered to make informed and autonomous decisions about its media use, that is able and willing to critically engage with the media, that appreciates quality journalism and that trusts credible news sources;

Recognising the need to develop guidance to assist States, all media stakeholders, including online platforms, and other relevant actors in their collaborative efforts to support an independent, diverse and economically viable media environment,

Recommends that the governments of member States:

1.         fully implement the guidelines set out in the appendix to this recommendation;

2.         in implementing the guidelines, take account of the relevant case law of the European Court of Human Rights, relevant Committee of Ministers’ recommendations to member States, and declarations, as well as related international standards;

3.         inform other relevant stakeholders, notably all media actors, including internet intermediaries, self- and co-regulation bodies, academics and civil society organisations, of their respective roles, rights and responsibilities to sustain a favourable environment for quality journalism, as outlined in the appendix to this recommendation;

4.         promote the goals of this recommendation at the national level, including in the national and minority languages of the country, engage and co-operate with all interested parties to achieve the widest possible dissemination of its content in a variety of publicity materials, and exchange their expertise and practices across borders with a view to establishing consistent policies to support quality journalism;

5.         review regularly, and in consultation with the relevant stakeholders, and report on the measures taken to implement this recommendation with a view to enhancing their effectiveness.

Guidelines on promoting quality journalism in the digital age

A.         Scope and context

1.         Quality journalism, with its unwavering commitment to the pursuit of truth, fairness and accuracy, to independence, transparency and humanity, and a strong sense of public interest in promoting accountability in all sectors of society, remains as essential as ever to the health of democracies.

2.         All types of media, in their increasing variety, have an important role to play in fulfilling the promise of journalism at a time when the ever-growing amount of information accessible to large audiences, coupled with the difficulty of determining the sources of all this information, stretches the ability of societies to assess its accuracy and reliability. Journalistic practices that uphold this role, and the values and principles set forth above, should be acknowledged as a public good.

3.         The digital transformation has opened up unprecedented opportunities for human communication across borders, including by creating new spaces for people in non-democratic regimes to express themselves and for the information needs of disadvantaged groups. The development of online tools has also been beneficial to journalism, by facilitating, among others, data journalism and large-scale cross-border collaboration among investigative journalists’ organisations and initiatives.

4.         At the same time, rapid technological development has resulted in online platforms playing an influential role in publishing, disseminating and promoting news and other media content. This has profoundly disrupted the news business in general, and the preservation of quality journalism in particular. The unrelenting pace of information sharing online risks compromising depth and accuracy of reporting. Distribution of media content has been radically transformed and decisions relating to news, once made by human editors, are increasingly made by non-transparent algorithms of major global online platforms that are driven by commercial considerations of scale, shareability and monetisation. Surveillance of journalists and their sources has also become easier and more pervasive through the use of algorithms.

5.         The new information ecosystem has also radically transformed news consumption habits, especially among the young and less-privileged social groups, and continues to do so. There is abundant information online, often accessed through algorithm-driven platforms that lack editorial control and/or transparency and increasingly shared through closed messaging apps. This, along with algorithmic manipulation and the impact of information overload on people’s focus and attention spans, has made it markedly more difficult for many to identify and access quality journalism. The business models of online platforms and other intermediaries, which have become a main source of news and information for large global audiences, appear to facilitate, or even incentivise, the spread of sensationalist, misleading and unreliable media content, contributing to a growing divide in society.

6.         Democracies have experienced growing threats posed by the spread of disinformation and online propaganda campaigns, including as part of large-scale co-ordinated efforts to subvert democratic processes. These threats have led to a number of high-level public inquiries and initiatives, including by the Council of Europe, to understand and develop ways of dealing with mass disinformation. Furthermore, some online platforms have made considerable efforts to prevent the use of their networks as conduits for large-scale disinformation and manipulation of public opinion, as well as to give greater prominence to generally trusted sources of news and information. However, the impact of these measures on the free flow of information and ideas in democratic societies must be studied carefully.

7.         At the same time, in the present environment of intensified political partisanship, unscrupulous politicians use a “fake news” agenda to launch self-serving attacks against critical media, undermining the legitimacy of journalism and tightening legal restrictions on legitimate expression. In this increasingly polarised information ecosystem, individuals’ trust in media, as well as trust in politics, institutions and expertise, has in many States declined to a worryingly low level. A number of media outlets that have traditionally been committed to producing reliable information now find themselves unable to counteract these processes due to a declining reader or viewer base. They are struggling to adapt their operations to a digital environment and to stay connected to the communities they serve.

8.         Enhanced professionalism, better journalism and fact-checking efforts, audience engagement, transparency and higher accountability within media organisations and internet intermediaries may contribute to (re-)establishing trust and healthy relationships between media actors and the public. Moreover, operating in a digital environment should be consistently governed by firm legal and ethical standards, in particular regarding the use of user-generated content, users’ personal data, tracking, authors’ rights and the respect of privacy.

9.         Under these conditions, media and information literacy (MIL) is a key factor to enable individuals to deal with the media in a self-determined way. It involves the development of cognitive, technical and social skills and capacities that enable people to:

−              effectively access media content and critically analyse information, thus empowering them to understand how media content is produced, funded and regulated, as well as to have the confidence and competence to make informed decisions about which media they use, and how they use them;

−              understand the ethical implications of media and technology;

−              communicate effectively, including by interpreting, creating and publishing content.

10.       MIL initiatives for all age groups – not only children and young people – which promote the skills and knowledge required to recognise and value quality journalism, or illustrate the benefits of quality journalism to various audiences, should therefore receive maximum support from States.

11.       Financial sustainability remains one of the most formidable challenges for quality journalism. Traditional, advertising-based media business models have been disrupted, while the transformation of major online platforms, in many respects, into publishing organisations has separated news production from news dissemination and made the viability of the media contingent on the platforms’ changing algorithmic policies and varying practices of engaging with the media. Both traditional and digital-first publishers are facing severe financial problems. These problems have led to prolonged cost-cutting operations and employee redundancies in many States, increasing the precariousness of journalism and contributing to the deterioration of working conditions for large numbers of media professionals who, in pursuit of gainful employment, are willing to assume ever-increasing workloads as well as risks to their health and safety.

12.       The trend toward greater concentration and convergence in the news media sector and across national markets threatens the diversity of sources and viewpoints, which are fundamental for democracy. Local journalism has been especially hard hit by the new economic fundamentals and is on the verge of disappearing entirely in many places, stripping communities of crucial watchdogs over local governments and public affairs. Investigative journalism and cross-border journalism are both critical to the oversight function of the media and the credibility of the sector, but they are costly activities and have also been severely affected by financial constraints.

13.       Identifying new business models and making them sustainable is crucial for the future of quality journalism in the digital age. In this connection, it is hard to imagine, given the scale of the disruption to the financial foundations of quality journalism as we know it, that quality journalism will be able to survive and prosper without acknowledging and rewarding its value within the data-driven business model of major platforms. This will require, among other measures, significant transfers of revenue from thoseplatforms which have accumulated unprecedented levels of wealth by monetising third-party content, user data and user attention.

14.       Furthermore, it is important to ensure that everyone has access to a diverse range of journalistic content, irrespective of income levels and socio-economic barriers. Public service media and not-for-profit community media must be able to maintain their crucial role in that regard. They should be supported in their progress towards digital transformation, including through adequate means and funding, in order to retain their social value and relevance. Public service media, largely considered as a trusted and reliable source of information, can have a stabilising effect on the media sector, insofar as its independence from political and commercial pressures is ensured.

15.       Governments, media stakeholders including online platforms, civil society organisations, educational institutions and other relevant actors all have a fundamental role to play in supporting quality journalism and ensuring the integrity of our information ecosystems. Ultimately, there will be little information of value to distribute if the primary creators of such valued content increasingly disappear.

16.       The following guidelines are designed to stimulate and reinforce independent, accurate and reliable quality journalism, committed to the pursuit of truth and to the need to minimise harm, as a pillar for the functioning of democracies. The guidelines are organised into three sections: funding, ethics and education. Within each section, detailed guidance is offered to States and other relevant stakeholders on how to fulfil their various obligations, combining legal, administrative and practical measures through coherent and complementary strategies. The first section is primarily, but not exclusively, addressed to States. The following two sections concern a wider range of stakeholders, which States are encouraged to support.

1. Funding: promoting quality journalism as a public good


1.1. General principles for a sustainable media environment


1.2. Institutional and fiscal measures

1.3. State support schemes

1.4. Balancing relations between online platforms and media organisations

1.5. Working conditions of journalists

s in line with the requirements of Recommendation CM/Rec(2016)4.

1.5.3. Work-related health issues: due to the nature of journalistic activities, notably those involving the coverage of stressful or traumatic events, or the incidence of harassment in their line of work, journalists face an increased risk of developing work-related trauma or other health issues. To counter this risk, trade unions and journalists’ associations should, in collaboration with media organisations and other relevant stakeholders including journalism schools, develop educational materials, training courses and other prevention strategies to raise awareness of the implications of covering traumatic news assignments. Relevant media stakeholders should also develop practical resources for supporting journalists suffering from work-related stress or trauma, such as mental health counselling.

2. Ethics and quality: rebuilding and maintaining trust

2.1. Production of quality journalism

2.2. Dissemination of quality content

2.3. Data protection

2.4. Future-proof media development

2.5. Favourable political and social environment

3. Education and training

3.1. Media and Information Literacy for the digital age

3.2. Training opportunities for media professionals

Tags: Media freedom
Publication Date: 17/03/2022
Publisher: Council of Europe