KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
Protecting the rights and the safety of journalists, as well as protecting media freedom in general, requires commitment and proactive action not just from associations of journalists and media trade unions, but also individual journalists, editors, cameramen, photojournalists and other media professionals. Knowing which rights and freedoms are guaranteed to journalists and media professionals under national legislation in the countries of the Western Balkans, as well as international acts and conventions, is imperative for preserving and protecting the freedom of the media.Rights of journalists and the freedom of the media are rooted in Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”
Economic pressure on the media
Economic sustainability and independence of the media cannot be jeopardized neither by the state, nor public or private companies or organisations. Threatening economic sanctions is unacceptable in democratic societies and the state must protect the media from economic pressures and/or attempts of “blackmailing” through public financing, marketing or paid advertising. Private companies have to respect the independence of the media and refrain from exerting pressure or blurring the line between journalism and advertising.
Judicial protection of journalists
All countries need to ensure that the media and the work they do enjoy full protection of an independent judiciary and authorities. Journalists and other media professionals must be safe from physical assaults and harassment. Judicial authorities have to thoroughly investigate and sanction all such violations and threats of violence.
Censorship has to be strictly prohibited. Independent journalism in all media must be free from persecution, political pressures or regulatory interference by public authorities. Print and online media should be exempt from having to acquire state licenses.
Freedom of satire
Using satire in journalism is a completely legitimate form of expression. Humour and satire, protected by Article 10 of the Convention, allow the media to exaggerate and even provoke, as long as they do not mislead the public.
Moreover, the role of the media is not just to inform the public – a pluralist democracy and freedom of political debate presuppose informing the public on all matters of public interest, and this includes the right of the media to report negative information and criticize politicians and public officials, as well as the right of the public to be informed. Consequently, journalists and media outlets have a legitimate right to publish information about public figures and officials that are “shocking”, “disturbing” or even “offensive” as long as it serves public interest and the right of the public to be informed about all matters, including controversial ones.
Responsible journalists and media outlets need to respect the rights of authors, be it copyright or other related rights, whose works they are using. These are the basic rights protecting any creative or intellectual endeavour. They ensure support for authors in the form of acknowledgement or royalties and provide assurance that their work will be protected from unauthorised duplication. The rights of authors are protected by laws on copyright and related rights, as well as journalist codes of ethics and conduct for media outlets and journalists, which grant owners the right to authorize or forbid any reproduction of their work.
In reality, these works do not enjoy adequate protection since the media often distribute, use and present them to the public in a way that violates copyright. The media may use summaries and quotes of a reasonable length, materials from other publications and other copyright holders without permission, provided they cite their source. Any substantial use or reproduction of copyrighted material requires explicit permission of the copyright holder, unless copyright permission is already given in the material.
Invasion of privacy for public good
Private and family life of politicians and public officials should not be the subject of media reporting, as that would violate Article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. However, information about their private lives may be disclosed if it is directly linked to the performance of their public duties, without undue damage to third parties (children or other family members).
When speaking of invading the privacy of politicians or public officials for the sake of public interest, “public interest” should be understood as “actions and/or information intended to help the public form opinions or make decisions regarding certain issues or events, including uncovering crimes or misdemeanours, and prevent the public from being misled by statements or actions of individuals or organisations.” Journalists and editors need to assess public interest on a case-by-case basis before disclosing private information.
Similarly, when politicians or public figures attract attention to some aspects of their private lives, the media are entitled to report on this and inform the public. In cases when people who are under scrutiny suffer personal tragedies, the media need to show consideration and approach the issue with due compassion and discretion.
Confidentiality of journalistic sources and materials
Confidentiality of journalistic sources and the right of journalists to use unnamed sources must be fully respected. Police searches of offices or other media premises, tapping communication in order to reveal sources or jeopardize the confidentiality of the editorial process are unacceptable in democratic societies.
Even when seeking to protect the safety of journalists, law enforcement agencies or judicial institutions should not order media professionals to surrender information or materials (e.g. notes, photographs, audio or video recordings) acquired for the purpose of reporting in a crisis situation, nor should such material be seized and used in legal proceedings. Any deviation from these principles would constitute violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the relevant case law of the European Court of Human Rights.
Freedom to criticize public officials
Freedom to criticize public officials gives journalists and the media the opportunity to scrutinize the work of public officials and public figures in general. Politicians, public officials and other public figures “voluntarily” decide to earn public trust and expose themselves to public political debate. Therefore, they are subjected to public scrutiny and can potentially be harshly criticized by the media for the way they perform their duties. The media thus act as public watchdogs, contributing to transparency and accountability of public authorities and protecting the right to political debate and the right of citizens to discuss all issues that affect their lives. Politicians should not be protected against criticism more than anyone else, and journalists and the media should not face severe sanctions for critically commenting on or exposing public and political figures to public scrutiny. This principle also applies to public officials; exceptions can be made only in a limited number of cases when it interferes with the work of public officials (e.g. in the judiciary).
Journalists and media professionals as well as other employees are guaranteed basic employment rights. Individual employment rights include: the right to work, protection against discrimination, safety at work, appropriate working conditions, just remuneration, the right to unionize, the right to collective bargaining, the right to be informed and consulted and special protection for certain categories of workers: children and young people, women, members of vulnerable or minority groups, migrant workers etc.
Individual employment rights are protected by various regulations, primarily the labour law which stipulates that employers have to conclude employment contracts with journalists and media professionals and provide retirement and health care coverage, abide by legal provisions regulating maximum working time, grant their employees paid annual leave, pay the agreed wage, i.e. guarantee all rights that other employed citizens enjoy.
The right to freedom of information
The right to freedom of information is one of the cornerstones of a democratic society. Ensuring public access to information is an imperative for all public authorities. The right to information rests upon a basic principle that all information held by public authorities should be subjected to disclosure and that this rule may be violated only in very limited circumstances. Journalists and the media have the right to unobstructed access to all information and sources, including foreign ones.
States and state-controlled institutions have assumed the responsibility (through domestic legislation and/or international conventions) not to restrict freedom of information for journalists and the media and to support them in gathering and seeking information. Although the right to freedom of information concerns all citizens and not just journalists, it is especially important for journalism because it is the very touchstone of a free society and free media. By exercising the right to freedom of information, journalists and the media can help ensure government accountability and transparency and advocate the participation of citizens in decision-making processes of public authorities.
The right to freedom of expression
The right to freedom of expression entails: the right to hold opinions, the right to receive information and ideas, the right to impart/disseminate information and ideas and the right to free journalistic investigation.
Freedom to hold opinions is the basic condition for all other freedoms and enjoys absolute protection. The freedom to impart information and opinions is a vital aspect of the political life of all countries and their citizens. The right to receive information and ideas is the right to gather and seek information through all possible lawful sources and it refers to the freedom of the press/media, including the freedom to print and distribute newspapers and other print publications, the freedom to broadcast radio and television programs, the freedom to publish content on the internet, as well as the duties and responsibilities of all who participate in this process.
In its interpretation of Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the European Court of Human Rights extended the right to freedom of expression to include not just the freedom of publication, but also the freedom of investigation, which is crucial for investigative journalism.
The right of journalists and the media to gather, investigate and circulate information should not be jeopardized or subjected to restrictions or sanctions. EU standards on freedom of expression require governments to propagate, protect and respect freedom of expression, the diversity of media and their political, cultural and social mission.