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How are journalists and their work protected by law in Europe?

European Audiovisual Observatory publishes new free IRIS Special report!
Strasbourg 01/03/2018
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How are journalists and their work protected by law in Europe?

Get it here.

These are dangerous times for journalists, even in Europe. Investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, who had been reporting on tax fraud in the Slovak Republik, was shot dead at his home along with his fiancée last week end. Kuciak worked for Slovak news website Aktuality.sk. It is estimated that 125 journalists are currently in prison in Council of Europe member states. It’s high time to be reminded that national laws within Europe contain provisions to protect journalists and their work: the so-called “media privilege”. The European Audiovisual Observatory, part of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, has just analysed the protection of media privilege for journalists offered by  the various national law systems in Europe. This new report – Journalism and media privilege - can be downloaded free of charge here. It was produced in collaboration with the Institute of European Media Law (EMR) based in Saarbrücken, Germany.

The authors open the first of three parts by outlining the general European framework for journalism and media privilege. The report traces the historical development of journalism since the seventeenth century when printing gave birth to what would become mass communication, accompanied by journalistic norms. This section then goes on to analyse the European legal basis for media privilege, as well taking into account the political and economic angles of these rights. Clearly, journalistic privileges will inevitably come up against other rights which are also protected by law. Recent data protection regulation or indeed exceptions to copyright, for example, are analysed in light of possible conflict with media privilege.

The second part of this new report zooms in on nine different European countries, including the UK, France, Germany, Russia and Turkey for example. Each national report covers the scope of media privilege in each respective country under current legislation. Significant media case law and recent developments in each country are examined in the individual country chapters.

The third and final part of this report draws together the various threads of national analysis in order to provide a valuable overview of current trends in media privilege and journalistic freedom. The greatest development within recent decades has been the growth of open journalism with forms such as blogging and the use of social media presenting particular challenges. Against this background, the authors conclude that “media privilege in European states, as an instrument for the protection of journalistic freedom, is in a period of transition”. A quick gaze into the crystal ball reveals that the most significant challenge may indeed be the use of artificial intelligence in the media. The so-called “robot journalism”, whereby stories are produced by machines according to algorithms rather than by human beings, raises serious questions for the principle of unlimited media privilege since, as this report concludes, “this form of journalism lacks the human balance between journalistic research and its impact on personality rights.”

Journalism and media privilege – find out how Europe protects journalists and their work!


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