23 March 1999
Media and democratic culture
Committee on Culture and Education
Rapporteur: Mr Josef Jařab, Czech Republic, Group of the European People's Party
The media are vital for the creation and the development of a democratic culture in any country. They provide people with information, which influences the process of shaping opinions and attitudes and of making political choices. Therefore, the media must be free, pluralistic and independent, and at the same time they should voluntarily assume social accountability.
With the intensifying co-operation between European countries, the emergence of new information technologies and the globalisation of the markets, the media are increasingly facing the same sort of problems, which require the same sort of co-ordinated approaches. The main challenges are: safeguarding media independence, both political and commercial; preserving public service broadcasting; avoiding dependence, uniformity, sensationalism, "infotainment", crime and violence; striking a balance between the right to privacy and the right to information.
The Assembly stresses the need for politicians to ensure that the political and legal conditions are met so as to enable, on the one hand, media to perform freely and, on the other, to guarantee individual freedoms and other fundamental human rights.
I. Draft recommendation
1. The Assembly stresses that the media are vital for the creation and the development of a democratic culture in any country. They provide people with information which influences the process of shaping opinions and attitudes and of making political choices.
2. Therefore, the media must be free, pluralistic and independent, and at the same time socially accountable. These are also the conditions for establishing widespread credibility. The Assembly recalls, in this respect, its Resolution 1003 (1993) on the ethics of journalism.
3. Free media cannot thrive in an undemocratic country. It is therefore the role of politicians to ensure that the political and legal conditions are met so as to enable, on the one hand, media to perform freely and, on the other, to guarantee individual freedoms and other fundamental human rights.
4. Sheer quantity of information, especially in a situation of strong media concentration, does not by itself provide variety and quality. Neither does intensification of communication necessarily make people more able and better qualified to take decisions or to influence decision-making processes.
5. The media situation in Europe varies from one country to another, depending on cultural traditions, economic might, the strength of democratic institutions and the level of professionalism. However, with the opening up of practically all the countries of the continent, with the intensification of co-operation and integration between them and with the emergence of new information technologies, the media are increasingly facing the same sort of problems. These problems require the same sort of co-ordinated approaches.
6. Media independence remains one of the most difficult issues. Even where democratic traditions are deeply entrenched, the right to voice both facts and opinions is sometimes limited. Methods vary from the mild hindering of access to information, through state monopolies on paper or on distribution, refusal to grant radio and TV licences (or imposing excessive restrictions on them) and legal prosecution, to closing down newspapers, television and radio stations, physical intimidation and violence.
7. The delicate relationship between freedom of expression and the citizen's right to objective, undistorted information is another chronically difficult issue. The media can still be used as an instrument for settling scores, both political and personal. The increasing commercialisation and competition in the media sector pushes even serious media towards “standardisation” and sensationalism, preference for "infotainment" and an excessive emphasis on crime and violence.
8. Public service broadcasting (which should not be confused with state owned media) has traditionally been considered as a guarantee that all segments of the public, including minority groups, are provided with programmes that are impartial and varied, free of government or partisan interference, comprising information, education, culture and entertainment. In reality, though, it is often subject to political and economic pressures and to increasing competition from commercial broadcasting, which is becoming cheaper and more readily available due to the new information technologies.
9. Bearing in mind that the democratic culture of a society cannot be imposed but that conscious and sustainable efforts are necessary to develop it so that it can respond appropriately to new challenges, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:
i. monitor closely the state of freedom of press in European member and non-member countries, so as to:
a. exert moral and political pressure upon governments which violate freedom of expression;
b. defend and protect journalists who are victims of such violations.
ii. develop further its assistance and co-operation programmes for the reform of media legislation in particular in what concerns:
a. the drafting of clear guidelines for public access to information and the functioning of government press services and ensure that those guidelines are followed, at all levels;
b. the elaboration of guidelines concerning the right to privacy and the disclosure of information about holders of political or public office, following the proposals in Assembly Resolution 1165 (1998) on the right to privacy;
c. a methodological and practical assistance to member and non-member countries which may need it in ensuring fair coverage by the media during election campaigns;
iii. ensure the application of legislation and rules for the protection of freedom of expression and of other fundamental human rights, including the rights of children, in accordance with the principles of the Council of Europe, in particular Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights;
iv. enhance the media aspects of its programmes on education for democratic citizenship and on the development and consolidation of democratic stability;
v. continue its assistance in developing public service broadcasting in central and eastern Europe along the lines of its Recommendation No (96) 10 and carry on monitoring developments in this sector Europe-wide;
vi. encourage the development of self-regulatory mechanisms in the media, for instance by collecting examples of good practice and raising awareness of them and establish a special framework for information on regulation and self-regulation concerning new communications and information services;
vii. pay greater attention to the question of media independence in the context of market competition and globalisation, namely by:
a. considering ways of ensuring editorial independence in countries where the economic conditions do not allow media enterprises to function independently;
b. carrying on work on media concentrations, providing practical assistance to member countries along the lines of its relevant recommendations and placing emphasis on questions of transparency concerning ownership and funding;
viii. foster education on the media and by the media, for example by encouraging the appropriate authorities in member states to:
a. provide educational and training opportunities for journalists aiming at the highest standards of professionalism and ethical conduct;
b. develop media (traditional and electronic) literacy as part of school curricula along the lines set out in Recommendation 1276 (1995) on the power of the visual image, for instance by acquainting the students with codes of conduct for journalists and by encouraging the making of school newspapers and broadcasts in co-operation with professional journalists;
ix. ensure better co-ordination between the different Council of Europe bodies involved in co-operation and assistance programmes in the media field and step up co-operation with media associations, independent bodies such as press complaints commissions and other relevant non-governmental organisations, including those organised by and speaking for media consumers;
x. promote better co-operation and complementarity between the media programmes of international organisations, in particular the European Union, Unesco and OSCE.
II. Explanatory memorandum by Mr Jarab
1. In the course of preparation of the present report, the concern (or warning) was expressed: "politicians should not discuss the role of the media".
2. Your Rapporteur disagrees completely with this, although he shares the view that politicians should not interfere with media content and should "not tell the media what to do". The media, like politicians, are part of society and they both have power and influence and ensuing responsibilities. Despite the love-hate relationship between them, they are mutually dependent. Politicians are elected by the people who are also the "consumers" of the media. Politicians need media to carry their messages; by providing alternative opinions, the media enable the people to make their political choice. On the other hand, the media need healthy democracy in order to function properly and it is the politicians' duty to ensure the necessary conditions, such as freedom of expression and plurality of sources of information and of expressed opinions.
3. Legislation provides the formal framework for the relationship between media and politics. But besides written rules, this relationship is very much determined by cultural and ethical norms or by what could be described in broader terms as the democratic culture of a society. This means a state of public awareness whereby the media, while fully enjoying freedom of expression, voluntarily assume social accountability; and whereby authorities not only publicly proclaim information freedoms but also let themselves be subjected to public scrutiny and do not succumb to the temptation of interference with media content.
4. Content is for journalists alone and any attempt to dictate it is normally associated with totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. But one has to recognise that even in healthy democracies, content is sometimes not decided upon by the journalists. This is the case with propaganda organs of political parties, or with commercial tabloids or radio and television programmes in the hands of proprietors whose only aim is to make profit, even at the expense of respect for human dignity and decency.
5. Nurturing and enhancing the democratic culture of a society requires an effort on both sides, by the media and the politicians. The Council of Europe being a political body, the aim of the present report is to examine the challenges put to the media as part of the democratic culture Europe-wide and, also, to assess to what extent the political, economic and social conditions in the different countries allow the media to perform their functions in that respect.
6. Since 1989, the Assembly has held regular debates relating to media issues. One of them dealt with the media situation in an East European country - the report on the cultural situation in the former Yugoslavia (1994) and another two studied developing standards in Central and Eastern Europe: a colloquy in 1988 and a subsequent report in 1989 examined East-West audiovisual co-operation and another report in 1991 focused on the parliamentary responsibility for the democratic reform of broadcasting,
7. The topics of the other reports were: Eurimages (1990), the situation of local radio in Europe (1991); the ethics of journalism (1993), the power of the visual image (1995), migrants, ethnic minorities and media (1995), parliaments and media (1997).
8. The need to tackle the whole range of problems concerning the media in a pan-European perspective was the underlying reason for presenting a motion for a recommendation on the role of the media in education for democracy and in the promotion of humanism and tolerance (Doc. 8031 of 26 February 1998), which is at the origin of the present report.
9. With the aim of taking into consideration as many viewpoints as possible, the Sub-Committee on the media organised a hearing on the quality of information in the media on 4 November 1998 in Strasbourg, in which media associations, experts and journalists took part. The discussion is reproduced separately and has been used, amongst other materials, in the preparation of this report.
10. The Committee of Ministers has also made many recommendations to member states in the media field; many assistance programmes have been put in place by the Steering Committee on the Mass Media (CDMM) and the Council of Europe has played a major role in promoting legislation for creating democratic structures.
11. Nevertheless, the practical implementation of these recommendations remains a difficult issue. This is one more reason to maintain a permanent dialogue between the different parties involved. Dialogue is the spirit of the present report.
2. Powers and limitations of the media
12. The media shape public opinion but it would be wrong to claim that they alone do so. The democratic culture of a society is equally determined by its history, its cultural and religious traditions and by its standard of living. It is also acquired in the family, at work and in the community.
13. A good example of the powers and the limits of the media in shaping public values can be given through the experience of the former communist countries. Totalitarian propaganda certainly helped to maintain the régime, but it never succeeded in converting people’s minds to the "Great Idea" which was gradually understood as a "Big Lie". People could sense and see the gap between the idyllic picture presented by the media and the ugly sides of their everyday lives. At the same time, media with a world-wide reputation for quality (BBC, the Voice of America, Deutsche Welle) helped people to see through the mist, but they would not have been able to abolish totalitarian rule by themselves.
14. It soon became clear in the new democracies that there are limits to what media can achieve but it also became obvious that freedom and democracy can hardly be enjoyed without independent and credible information.
15. As for the western reality, the most striking recent illustrations of the influence of the media – the death of the Princess of Wales, and the interrogation and impeachment of the US President Clinton also revealed that the media cannot tell people what to think, even if they can impose a topic. Although the media created the impression that the whole world was weeping over Princess Diana’s death, later it became clear that most people considered the event in a rational and discerning way. However, at the time of the event the opinion of this large and silent part of the population had not been reflected in the reports. In the Clinton/Lewinski case, the majority of the American population seems to have taken an attitude of certain distance, if not indifference, to the battles raging both in the media headlines and on the political stage.
16. Therefore, we can observe that even in countries with strong democratic traditions, democratic culture still has a long way to go in order to accept and treat on an equal footing opinions which are not expressed loudest. At the same time, the democratic culture of a nation may allow the public to distinguish objective reporting from manipulation.
17. As was pointed out at the hearing on the quality of information in the media, the media situation in several countries of south-eastern Europe, particularly Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, offered ample proof that most often efforts deployed by the international community to improve standards of reporting would remain unsuccessful if authoritarian forms of rule did not tolerate media autonomy and/or economic necessity permitted no increase in media consumption.
18. On the other hand, media which dedicate themselves to the language of hate only have a limited effect on educated public brought up in an enlightened, democratic tradition. Life evidence from established western democracies in times of economic prosperity give evidence of this assumption.
19. The danger, however, is that such media can nourish extremes in the most vulnerable parts of the population which are the most prone to manipulation: young people or marginalised persons who can revert to different sorts of extremism or fundamentalism as a way of expressing their social frustration.
20. The fact that the media are not all-mighty has to be highlighted also because they are the traditional scapegoat in every political and social crisis. The blame put on them is often a way of disguising somebody else’s faults. In such situations, calls for more responsibility could spell an intention to tighten the control over the media and to restrict freedom of speech. But precisely because the media are not a power which stands above everything and everybody, they should assume their social responsibility just as it should be the norm for other institutions and indeed, for individual citizens in a democratic society.
21. Rather than referring to responsibilities, certain media representatives prefer to talk about serving their audience’s needs and wishes. They claim that the audience will sanction those media who fail to do so by abandoning them. But should every need be satisfied, including those which run again the principles of a democratic society?
22. On the other hand, the media are not merely the mirrors of society, either. They are also part of the process affecting the common values, language, culture and views of the wider world. With the growth of electronic media and new services, they are becoming increasingly powerful.
23. Most of people's experience of the wider world comes through the media. It is also unthinkable to imagine modern elections without the media. Some experts even claim that the media have contributed to the shift from political ideas and ideologies to personalisation of politics, often deprived of content.
3. Freedom and dependence
24. Freedom of expression is a vital element of a nation's democratic culture. Even though it may seem trivial to reaffirm this principle, it should not be forgotten that its actual implementation can be a very complicated process, and a matter of everyday struggle.
A/ Media censorship and suppression
25. The most severe form of censorship is the killing of journalists which still happens in Europe. According to the reports of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) 128 journalists have been killed in the past ten years in Europe and the Republics of the former Soviet Union.
26. In Ireland, the country’s leading investigative reporter, Veronica Guerin, was shot dead in her car outside Dublin in June 1996. In 1997 two journalists were killed in Ukraine and one in Russia. In 1998, the editor of the opposition Sovietskaya Kalmykia Segodnya newspaper, Larisa Yudina, who was also a local leader of the liberal opposition Yabloko party, was assassinated in the southern autonomous Republic of Kalmykia (Russian Federation). Mrs Yudina had frequently been harassed and threatened for her reports on corruption of local authorities and hard-line rule by the Republic’s millionaire president.
27. Imprisonment is another kind of violation of freedom of expression of journalists. According to CPJ information, 29 journalists were imprisoned in Turkey in 1997 for simply expressing their point of view.
28. In Belarus, a prominent Russian TV correspondent and editor in chief of the newspaper Belarusskaya Delovaya Gazeta, Pavel Sheremet, was arrested, stripped of his credentials and barred from travelling to the West or working as a journalist until 1999. He was accused by President Lukashenko of “biased reporting” and was put on trial for “spying in the pay of a foreign country”. Sheremet has earned the regime’s anger by covering opposition rallies and exposing Lukashenko’s Soviet-style policy.
B/ Legal challenges
29. Legal action is still being used in some European countries to silence uncomfortable media. Not surprisingly, the first case that the new European Court of Human Right examined after its inauguration on 3 November 1998 concerned article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of expression). There is an abundance of similar cases coming from countries with long-established democracies in the case-law of the Court. More and more cases are coming now from the countries of central and eastern Europe.
30. One of the most striking violations of all the democratic principles related to freedom of expression is the new Serbian law on public information. Only a few days after its adoption, the authorities banned three independent dailies, Danas, Dnevi Telegraf and Nasa Borba, four radio stations and a television channel. The Council of Europe experts have argued that only its abrogation could bring the legal situation closer to European standards.
31. In Croatia, the satirical weekly Feral Tribune and other independent newspapers have faced hundreds of civil libel cases, filed primarily by public figures to stop their journalistic investigations. One of these cases, filed by President Tudjman’s daughter for damages worth about US$ 560.000, aimed to destroy an independent publication1.
32. The Council of Europe is closely monitoring cases of violation of freedom of the press freedoms in European countries and different sorts of action are being taken at various levels. But even stronger pressure is needed in order to make it clear to the relevant political leaders that violations of freedom of expression cannot be tolerated. Good examples in that respect have been the unprecedented declaration on the media situation in Belarus adopted at the Thessaloniki Ministerial Conference on Mass Media in December 1997 and the Conference "The media for a democratic Europe" organised in Belgrade in December 1998.
33. In order to achieve a stronger political impact, there should be a greater synergy between the relevant intergovernmental sectors, the Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities in Europe, as well as between the different areas of co-operation such as cultural, legal and monitoring. The same is relevant for the different co-operation and assistance programmes aimed at improving media legislation and enhancing democratic culture in relation to media.
34. Every country has rules aimed at protecting national security or public order. When these rules are not clearly defined, they can be used very easily to counter criticism and stop investigative journalism. This is why it is important to set up clear criteria regulating access to public information.
35. Many countries in their constitutions guarantee public access to information. Most European countries also have specific legislation in order effectively to guarantee access and disclosure of official documents, court proceedings, legislative proceedings, administrative documents etc.; such legislation may be very important for investigative reporting and critical journalism vis-à-vis the authorities.
36. Nevertheless, it is widely acknowledged that access to public information could be improved, even though some countries do not want to go as far as the Scandinavian model of total openness.
37. In certain countries of central and eastern Europe, the civil service still needs to be depoliticised and its structure and mentality to be changed, so that issues related to information are dealt with by experts and not by political appointees who come and go following each governmental change.
38. There is no doubt that the media in Europe need greater freedom, but can this freedom be absolute? Certain limitations imposed on the media are now more or less widely accepted, such as those related to pornography or the prohibition to advertise tobacco and alcohol.
39. As the Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation of Journalists, Bettina Peters, pointed out, "Media professionals should recognise that freedom of expression must go hand in hand with other fundamental human rights, including freedom from exploitation and intimidation."2.
40. The discussion over the right to privacy which was spurred by the death of the Princess of Wales is far from over. While nobody contests the principle that, in the public interest, public figures enjoy less privacy than ordinary people, one should ask oneself whether everything concerning public figures should interest the public. There is a limit beyond which the public interest becomes public voyeurism and unhealthy curiosity. In such cases, the democratic culture of a society suffers instead of developing.
41. As far as legislation is concerned, the Assembly gave clear guidelines for improvement in its Resolution 1165 (1998) on the right to privacy. In addition, the Council of Europe should work out certain criteria concerning the disclosure of information about holders of political and public office. The democratic culture of Europe does not need a Clinton/Lewinsky affair.
C/ A multi-purpose tool?
42. While the protection of freedom of expression remains essential, it is no less important to realise that the media themselves may be used to promote anti-democratic tendencies in society. Typically, this occurs in situations where they become mouthpieces of politicains spreading aggressive messages.
43. It was not a politician, but the International Federation of Journalists which stated in a report on the coverage of the national elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina held on 12-13 September 1998: "Media in the former Yugoslavia played a principal - some would say the principal - role in creating an environment of ethnic hate and xenophobia. That environment helped provide the pre-conditions for the savage ethnic wars the world has watched over this past decade"3.
44. "It is difficult for those in democracies, with functioning media, to comprehend how anyone could report the way many organisations did or how the public could accept it as anything resembling truth. A stellar example: Bosnian-Serb media broadcast that the Muslim authorities in Sarajevo were feeding Serb babies to the animals at the zoo. This was widely reported and, even as we travelled through the region during the election campaign, six years later, it was repeated back to us as a fact".
45. The report, of course, acknowledged that the policy of hatred was conceived in political offices in Belgrade and Zagreb.
46. However, even media in well-established democracies may be used as a tool by forces which exploit the fact that violence or outrageous behaviour have a greater potential to make headlines. Thus, extreme views which are deliberately expressed by some politicians actually increase their chance to be heard. Similarly, even terrorists achieve their aims only partly through their attacks as such. As José Antonio Zarzalejos, counsellor of the Spanish newspaper "El Correo" has pointed out : "In reality, the real terrorist attack does not start with the use of the arms, but at the moment when the radio stations begin informing about it”. He also quoted the Red Brigades terrorist Bommi Baumann, who had declared to a journalist from the German magazine Stern in the early 1980s: "Without journalistic news reports, we would face a certain emptiness”
4. The media and the market
47. It is wrong to assume that the market, and only the market, can give the media the freedom that they need. In fact, although the overall level of political freedom of the media in Europe is growing, the pressure of market forces on media content is getting stronger.
48. As one of the participants in the hearing pointed out “thinking about editorial decisions in connection with profit is a reflection of our present civilisation".
A/ The "nouvelle cuisine" of the news
49. In order to survive independently, a media outlet has to combine its informative and educational mission with the typical constraints of a commercial enterprise.
50. The economic logic is to maximise audience and minimise costs. Nothing could be more welcome in that respect by the media enterprise than the new communication technologies. Producing news becomes easier and quicker every day.
51. Paradoxically, instead of offering an ever increasing variety of information, the information race combined with fierce competition result in standardisation. The same sort of programmes can be seen, in different languages, on the television channels throughout Europe.
52. News editors, instead of looking for newsworthy subjects, often develop what some people call the "telesheep mentality" by endless interpretation of the same old story, starring "non-heroes" such as O.J. Simpson or Louise Woodward.
53. The need to capture the audience at any price make media swing away from in-depth analysis and investigation to "infotainment", sensationalism and disproportionate emphasis on crime and violence. Cultural programmes such as concerts, theatre plays or high quality, serious films are on the air at times when only the most devoted audience would still be in front of the TV.
B/ Media concentration
54. It is axiomatic that a healthy democracy is unthinkable without a variety of sources of information. Even the most democratic media cannot replace the possibility for people to make a free choice of information and to form freely their opinions on that basis. Media concentrations have always been in the focus of the Council of Europe but certain recent developments deserve special attention and urgent action. As a result of the globalisation and the convergence of traditional and new information technologies, certain national markets are beginning to be dominated to a preoccupying extent by the same media groupings.
55. Media concentration was difficult to avoid in central and eastern Europe where the new independent media needed heavy investment in order to raise their technological standards. As a result, in countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria Romania, a couple of major foreign operators now control 40 - 60% of the press. Similarly, a single electronic media company, CME, of US origin, is reported to have more than 100 million viewers in Eastern Europe. CME's Nova television alone was said to pull 60 to 70 % of Czech viewers. On the other hand, in many countries, small private electronic media, that would contribute to plurality, lacked resources to increase their audience.
56. In western Europe, the situation is equally preoccupying, for example the extent to which Rupert Murdoch controls the media in the U.K.
57. There is another specific problem linked to globalisation and concentration. Often, media owners who attract more than half of certain audiences, cannot even read the newspapers or understand the channels that they possess. They live thousands of miles away, in different countries with different cultures and different problems. Some people might say that as long as the owners do not interfere with media content, such a situation may be beneficial to the editorial independence in that country. On the other hand, if everybody agrees that good journalists are good citizens, should not the same apply to media owners?
58. It is often claimed that politicians are helpless in front of media or information technology moguls such as Rupert Murdoch or Bill Gates. If things are difficult at individual level, international co-operation is still capable of countering the worst cases of concentration. This is why the Council of Europe should carry on its work in this field, in providing assistance for the strengthening of national legislation and in updating international guidelines together with the European Union. The emphasis should be on the question of transparency in relation to ownership and funding.
C/ The rich and the poor
59. A specific problem for certain central and eastern European countries is that the independence of the media is threatened by the overall economic crisis. Bad economic conditions have a particularly negative impact on media enterprises. Unlike other industries, they depend on their audience not only to buy their products, but also to attract advertisers.
60. But when the standard of living plummets, the printed media are often amongst the first things that people sacrifice in order to make ends meet. Time for "media consumption" also diminishes at the expense of harder work, often a second job. High inflation makes subscriptions impossible; in many countries of the former Soviet Union until recently newspapers could not have a fixed price: prices were re-negotiated, sometimes more than once a day.
61. When the media cannot survive by performing on the market, they immediately become an easy prey to political and economic groupings which have "a special interest" in them. At an individual level, journalists who cannot live on their salaries, are not untouchable. For all these reasons your Rapporteur thinks that the Council of Europe should also examine more closely the interface between media freedom and economic conditions.
5. Developing democratic culture through the media and in the media
A/ The future of public service broadcasting
62. The independent public service broadcasting remains the best guarantee that the information needs of all the population are met, including those of minority groups (which are not very attractive for advertisers in the commercial media). Public service is also committed to providing education, cultural and other programmes besides entertainment.
63. Unfortunately, even in long-established democracies, public service is often mistaken for state service, for several reasons. One is the history of the broadcasting institution which, indeed, was in government hands in the beginning. Another reason is that the licence fee which funds public service broadcasting is, wrongly, considered as a government tax. The fact that sometimes the government or parliament has a say in the appointment of the governing board also gives rise to suspicions as to the independence of the institution.
64. In certain central and eastern European countries, public radio and TV are still partly or entirely in government hands. International organisations such as the Council of Europe can and do provide assistance for their successful transformation into public service broadcasting. But, above all, it is a matter of political will and of people's awareness of the need for such a service in order to put pressure on the state authorities. This is a matter of democratic culture. Journalists themselves can help a lot; even those in commercial media, despite the competition with the public service, should fight for its existence because this is the best indicator of the government's commitment to democracy.
65. In terms of funding, public service broadcasting should be financed by independent sources (licence fee, advertising revenues) rather than from the government budget. But even this poses difficult dilemmas
66. The ever-increasing competition between commercial broadcasters, especially of those providing paid satellite and cable services have faced public service broadcasting with difficult challenges everywhere in Europe. People are not always willing to pay the licence fee in addition to what they are paying for cable and satellite, the more so since many cable deals now include the Internet. Digital services provided by private operators enable people to choose their programmes à la carte. As a result, public service broadcasting is losing a significant share of its audience which sometimes puts into question its "public" character.
67. On the other hand, in countries with economic difficulties, especially countries in transition, a licence fee is the last thing that people are willing to pay when their salaries are not sufficient even for the basic things of life. In such a situation it is very easy to get the message through to people's minds that it is the government's responsibility to maintain this service. This is another matter of democratic culture.
68. Another option in attempting to avoid government control is to revert to advertising revenue, although not on the same scale as in commercial radio and television. The danger, however, is that political dependence can easily be replaced by dependence on the market, often at the expense of quality.
69. Lastly, one has to admit that in reality public service broadcasting cannot always be considered as a synonym for high quality, and commercial broadcasting cannot always be associated with mass culture. After all, an ill-funded public service cannot provide good salaries and good journalists are often attracted to commercial stations.
70. Some researchers predict that public service broadcasting will go towards specialisation and that its role and form will be changed. This should be a matter of wide public discussion in which both journalists and politicians should be actively involved.
B/ Regulatory bodies, self-regulation
71. There is no doubt that legislation remains acceptable and even necessary in certain areas such as the protection of minors. Most countries in their legislation also provide for the protection of the reputation primarily of the private citizen, rather than of institutions and government authorities. At the same time, legislation and self-regulation should be compatible and should complement each other.
72. Self-regulation is a huge topic in itself and cannot be developed in detail in the present report because of the wide variety of practices and concepts in different European countries. Basically, it is described as a "set of rules and implementation bodies that were voluntarily established by the media professionals themselves".
73. The capability of the media to regulate themselves is an important indicator of the democratic culture of a nation. It is not up to the politicians (and therefore not the objective of the present report) to tell the media how to do this. There is one simple truth: if the media are not able to regulate themselves, they will invite attempts of the authorities to control them.
A/ The media
74. It is often assumed that journalistic education is not necessary and that the profession is learnt in the newsrooms. It is true that many of the best journalists do not have an academic background and the concept of whether journalism should or should not be academically taught varies from one country to another.
75. The media situation in central and eastern Europe in the first years of transition, however, provides good argument for training. After the fall of communism, many journalists who had been too compromised by collaboration with the old régime had to leave the profession. The unprecedented boom in new media outlets which was provoked by the revival of freedom of expression, brought into journalism many young people with no professional and life experience. As a result, the rise in quantity was immediately overshadowed by a sharp decrease in quality. The media became the mirror of all the deficiencies of school and higher education – from gaps in general knowledge of social sciences, history, geography etc., to lack of drafting and grammar skills.
76. Although this situation could partly be relieved by the older and more experienced colleagues, democracy was a new experience for everybody. While some sacred principles of journalism had been defended by certain journalists even in the darkest times of totalitarian oppression, basic rules such as separation of facts and opinions, respect for other people’s viewpoint or not using media for settling scores were violated as a norm. The old professional associations, considered as “aparatchiks”, had no influence in promoting codes of conduct; the newly created ones had no experience in self-regulation.
77. In an attempt to break with the communist-style journalistic education, media training was often torn between universities and newsrooms. Such an intermediate position is probably judicious: staying close to universities gives certain guarantees of independence from the government; staying close to the profession improves the prospects for finding a job. However, practising journalists are seldom willing or have the time to take on lecturing broadcasting duties. Hence most of the professors are far away from the profession such as it is now. In addition, they may often be just inherited, as“reconverted” from the old times.
78. The need for better training is equally relevant even for the most advanced democracies. The days of the general reporter who could move or be moved easily from one beat to another are over. Already today’s journalists have to report from a much more solid knowledge base than earlier and their training should reflect this in the curriculum.
79. Journalists have to cope with the information explosion, with the new technologies which change dramatically the way in which news is produced, with globalisation which requires more knowledge, in more than one language, and to think trans-nationally. Moreover, new forms of journalism are emerging, namely on-line journalism, which requires completely new skills.
80. All these challenges also apply to practising journalists. The concept of life-long learning in the journalistic profession is essential. Also, as was pointed out at the hearing, international courses where journalists get together and learn more about each other may be a way of developing this understanding and tolerance which would prevent them from turning to xenophobic and racist expressions.
81. It was also acknowledged that "it takes money to get a system of further training going and there is a great responsibility for the profession itself. Publishers and journalistic unions must get together in order to secure the necessary means for further training and if it is too expensive to send journalists away for several weeks or even days, distance training models must be developed"4.
B/ The public
82. The need for a deep reform in the educational systems of most European countries is a well-known fact but is not the subject of the present report. Providing good and comprehensive education for future journalists, however, should reinforce the potential of the media as an instrument in education for democracy, as an important agent in the development of democratic culture in individual societies.
83. The importance of developing media literacy as part of the school curricula, which was stressed in Assembly Recommendation 1276 (1995) on the power of the visual image, also continues to be relevant. With the development of the World Wide Web children should get acquainted not only with traditional, but also with on-line journalism.
84. It would be useful, for instance, if journalists' codes of conduct were made available at school and children were asked to discuss their specific implementation in written texts or programmes. Pupils could also get a taste for the way in which news is made if they were encouraged to make their own school newspapers, broadcasts and Web sites under the guidance of professional journalists.
85. Finally, one should not forget that every journalist is a former schoolchild. Hence the importance of general education in teaching democratic values and in preparing future citizens for their role in society. With reference to the media, the Council of Europe could do a lot in the framework of its project on democratic citizenship education.
86. While the participants in the hearing on quality of information in the media were trying to identify and to describe the "perfect" democratic newspaper or programme, it was jested that this would be one which is profoundly boring. It is true that subjects that may be central to the workings of democracy may not seem particularly entertaining. However, the fact that many media blur the clear line between information and entertainment has potentially serious consequences. For instance, it became apparent that outrageous behaviour of some politicians gives their views much greater publicity. If entertainment and attractiveness become decisive criteria for mediatisation the more important potential and role of the media in a democratic society could be threatened.
87. On the other hand, politicians find it difficult to realise that covering politics does not necessarily mean doing favours to democracy. A classical example in this respect is provided by the first live TV broadcasts of the work of the newly elected parliaments in central and eastern Europe. After the initial enthusiasm of the recovered freedom of information, people started being put off by the constant wrangling and the apparent lack of constructive proposals by many of the parliamentarians. It has taken a long time for journalists to learn how to do favours to democracy without doing favours to politicians. Even today, in certain new democracies, the newspapers, radio and television programmes are still highly politicised. The quality of the coverage is often low and the evening TV news magazines inundate the viewers with the same images of politicians giving press conferences and of journalists meticulously taking notes. This leads people to think that real democracy will come when there are no political topics on television.
88. This is why investigative journalism should be encouraged and developed. Today, even in well-established democracies, journalists can still lose their jobs or be taken to court for being "too nosy". Journalists, and politicians, should also try to break the persisting taboo topics in society. Major progress has occurred over recent years, for instance by focussing on environment issues, on problems of racism and xenophobia, by bringing to light paedophilia, by starting to discuss more openly the rights of homosexuals, etc.
89. Indeed, one of the facts that journalists in new democracies have come to realise is that stories of a social, cultural or environmental nature can be just as important to democracy as the “purely” political subjects. A wider and well-informed coverage of economic problems and of educational, scientific and cultural issues - presented in creative and interesting forms - could reverse the process of "dumbing down": A democracy is not just what politicians say but, above all, what the consequences of their action on people’s everyday lives are. And it is hard to imagine that people would not be interested in their own lives.
Reporting committee: Committee on Culture and Education
Budgetary implications for the Assembly: None.
Reference to the Committee: Doc.8031 and Reference No. 2269 of 18 March1998
Draft recommendation: unanimously adopted by the committee on 1 March 1999.
Members of the Committee: MM. Nothomb (Chairman), Zingeris, Roseta, de Puig (Alt.: Varela) (Vice-Chairmen), Arnason, Arzilli, Bartumeu Cassany, Bauer, Baumel, Billing, Chiliman,. Chornovil, Corrao, Cubreacov, Diaz de Mera, Dumitrescu (Alt.: Baciu), Mrs Fehr, Mr Glotov, Mrs Granlund, MM. Gül, Hadjidemetriou, Hegyi, Hornhues, Irmer (Alt.: Kolb), Mrs Isohookana-Asunmaa, MM. Ivanov, Jakic, Jarab, Mrs Katseli, MM. Kiely, Kofod-Svendsen, Kollwelter, Lachat, Mrs Laternser, MM. Legendre, Lemoine, Libicki, Liiv, Mrs Lucyga, MM. Van der Maelen (Alt.: Staes), McNamara (Alt.: Flynn), Mezeckis, Mrs Nemcova, MM.O’Hara, Pereira Marques, Polydoras, Mrs Poptodorova, MM. Pullicino Orlando, Radic, Ragno, Risari, Rockenbauer, Mrs Saele, Mrs Schicker, Mr Shaklein, Mrs Stefani, MM. Sudarenkov, Svec, Symonenko, Tanik, Urbanczyk, Valk, Verbeek, Wilshire (Alt.: Colvin), Xhaferi
NB: The names of those who took part in the vote are in italics
Secretaries to the committee: Mr Ary, Mrs Theophilova-Permaul, Ms Kostenko
1 Country Report: Croatia. Committee to Protect Journalists,1997, http://www.cpj.org/countrystatus/1997/Europe/Croatia.htlm
2 Hearing on quality of information in the media, Strasbourg, 4 November 1998: statement prepared by Bettina Peters, Deputy Secretary General, IFJ
3 Hear no Evil, See no Evil (How Bosnia's Election Coverage was Rigged for Democracy). A report on the coverage of the national elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina held on 12-13 September 1998. International Federation of Journalists.
4 Hearing on quality of information in the media, Strasbourg, 4 November 1998: statement by Mogens Schmidt, Director, European Journalism Centre, Maastricht