This briefing provides an overview of the international legal documents protecting press freedom and freedom of expression. It also remarks the specific roles exercised by different institutions within the EU, including the very proactive role of the European Parliament and the independent expert group established by the Commission (High level group on media freedom and Pluralism), as well as by external bodies such as the European Court on Human Rights.

By contributing to the formation of public opinion, freedom of expression and information, together with freedom of the press and media pluralism, enable people to make informed choices in their political decisions. Consequently, they are recognized as a fundamental right in the EU Charter for Fundamental Rights (Art. 11) and as fundamental values of the Union (Article 2 TEU).

The briefing recalls the most important distinctions relating to press freedom, including its twofold character (“defensive liberty” against state intrusion and “positive obligations” on public authorities) and the distinction between freedom of expression and freedom of information (the first applying to value judgements, the second to allegations of facts).

The other aspect of press freedom and freedom of expression is the right of the audience to be informed, with states having to guarantee media pluralism, so that citizens have access to 'impartial and accurate information and a range of opinion and comment'. Remarkably, these rights do not apply solely to printed media, but embrace the broad spectrum of audiovisual communication media.

Press freedom and freedom of expression, is noted in the briefing, are not absolute rights: they may be restricted in light of legitimate objectives (such as for example data protection, the protection of privacy and consideration pertaining criminal justice processes), but always fulfilling the proportionality principle.

Tags: Legal protection Freedom of expression Access to information Media pluralism Media Law
Publication Date: 31/03/2015
Research and Editorial Team: Eva-Maria Poptcheva (European Parliamentary Research Service)