The world today faces critical new and historic challenges to freedom of expression, with journalists and media facing increasing threats and Europe not being immune to this global trend. In addition to the tragic murder of five investigative journalists in the EU region over the past five years, journalists have reported being increasingly targeted by illegal surveillance as well as smear campaigns, Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), online hate speech and harassment, especially of female journalists, as well as violent physical attacks. Those attacks occur in a broader context of challenges to media independence, including the capture of public service media, market concentration and undue restrictions to the free flow of information online, which intersect with unprecedented threats to the economic viability of media outlets. Yet, information is a public good, as endorsed by United Nations (UN) Member States and referred to by European Commission President Ursula von Der Leyen in her 2021 State of the Union address.
This requires concerted action by all stakeholders to enhance and strengthen the impact of existing and upcoming measures and mechanisms, including by reinforcing protection networks at global, regional and national levels. As the European Union is shaping ambitious initiatives in this area, the UN Human Rights Regional Office for Europe (OHCHR), in cooperation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), will host a multi-stakeholder policy dialogue on 24 February 2022.
Held as the UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity turns 10 in 2022, the dialogue will be an opportunity to explore how to strengthen synergy and cooperation on these matters among EU, UN and other regional stakeholders, bodies and initiatives. It will aim to strengthen EU’s recent efforts and help ensure alignment with existing UN standards, considering as well that EU policies may serve as future references at global level. Building on a first exchange of views with civil society and media representatives hosted by the OHCHR and UNESCO on Human Rights Day 2021, the dialogue will also consider perspectives shared by stakeholders in response to the call by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression for comments on opportunities, challenges and threats to media in the digital age. The interactive discussions will be articulated along three main themes: i) how to better protect journalists from threats and attacks, ii) how to strengthen media freedom and pluralism, and iii) how to address challenges facing traditional media in the digital information ecosystem, against the background of EU regulatory efforts.
The event, hosted in collaboration with the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is organised in the framework of a dedicated project on the protection of journalists, media freedom and pluralism in the EU, recently undertaken by the Office as part of the Global Drive for Media Freedom and Safety of Journalists programme – a joint programme of OHCHR and UNESCO launched in May 2021 with the support of The Netherlands.
Provisional summary programme
Moderation by Dave Keating
9:30 Welcome address by Sophie Wilmès, Minister of European and Foreign Affairs of Belgium 9:45 Introductory remarks by Nada Al-Nashif, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
10:00 Protecting the safety of journalists, media freedom and pluralism in the European Union: challenges and opportunities
Panel discussion with:
- Clément Beaune, State Secretary for European Affairs, Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France (video message)
- Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament, tbc
- Věra Jourová, Vice-President and Commissioner for Values and Transparency of the European Commission
- Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression
- Teresa Ribeiro, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, tbc
11:00 Coffee break
11:30 Roundtable One - Better protecting journalists against attacks and legal harassment: enhancing synergies to ensure progress on the ground
13:00 Lunch break
14:00 Roundtable Two - The upcoming EU Media Freedom Act: strengthening media independence, freedom and pluralism to protect information as a public good
15:30 Coffee break
16:00 Roundtable Three - Towards an enabling digital ecosystem for professional journalism and public interest information
17:30 Conclusions by Tawfik Jelassi, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO
17:45 Closing remarks by Birgit Van Hout, Regional Representative for Europe, UN Human Rights Regional Office for Europe (OHCHR)
Safety of journalists