What is the major concern with a lack of freedom of or trust in the press?

- Freedom of expression and information and media freedom are crucial for the functioning of a truly democratic society and continue to be so in times of crisis. The provision of timely information about public health risks is a critical element in crisis response.

- Special attention should be paid to the communication and dissemination of information relating to the virus and its circulation, risks of contamination, number of illnesses/deaths, as well as to those measures which have more remote connection with the policy of social distancing/isolation. Related restrictions on the freedom of expression introduced in some States are potentially worrying.

- Media play a key role, also coupled with increased responsibility, in providing accurate, reliable information to the public, but also in preventing panic and fostering people’s understanding for and cooperation with necessary restriction. Media organisations and journalists should adhere to the highest professional and ethical standards, give priority to authoritative messages regarding the crisis, and refrain from publishing, and thus amplifying, unverified stories.

- Rumours, misinformation and disinformation are more likely to cause harm to the public order and health safety. As exceptional measures required by exceptional circumstances (i.e. to avoid spreading conspiracy theories, false alerts, etc.), some restrictions may be needed and justified. However, States should avoid measures derogating from the guarantees of Article 15 ECHR that are broadly and vaguely worded, lack foreseeability and/or are likely to lead to overcriminalisation. In turn, professional journalists should be careful in verifying information coming from non-official sources before publishing it, and refrain from publishing implausible/sensationalist materials that could cause panic.

- States should regularly and promptly inform the public about the dimensions and implications of the crisis and the governments’ measures, engaging in an open communication that promotes trust and cooperation of every individual. However, the flow of information about the pandemics should not be reduced to official communications. This would lead to censorship and suppression of legitimate concerns.

- Journalists and media, medical professionals, along with civil society activists and members of the general public, should have the right to criticise the authorities and scrutinise their response to the crisis. This is particularly important now, when other checks and balances on the government action are removed or eased, especially under emergency measures or even the state of emergency in some states. The heroic story of Li Wenliang, the Chinese whistle-blower doctor, shows the danger of suppressing free flow of information of vital importance. Likewise, it is unacceptable to use the epidemy as a pretext to silence the political opponents of the current government.

- Finally, there is hardly any justification for prior censorship of certain topics, closure of media outlets or outright blocking of access to on-line communication platforms. Malicious spreading of disinformation may be tackled with ex post targeted sanctions, and with the governmental information campaigns. States should work together with online platforms and the media to prevent the manipulation of public opinion, as well as to give greater prominence to generally trusted sources of news and information, notably those communicated by public health authorities.

- While it is natural to limit physical public gatherings, on-line forms of civic and communal life must not only be preserved but actively supported by the State.

Many provisions are largely relevant and to be considered applicable in both conflict and non- conflict situations.


Paragraph 14: Member States should take into account the specific nature and democratic value of the role played by journalists and other media actors in particular contexts, such as in times of crisis, during election periods, at public demonstrations and in conflict zones. In these contexts in particular, it is important for law enforcement authorities to respect the role of journalists and other media actors covering demonstrations and other events. Press or union cards, relevant accreditation and journalistic insignia should be accepted by State authorities as journalistic credentials, and where it is not possible for journalists or other media actors to produce professional documentation, every possible effort should be made by State authorities to ascertain their status. Dialogue between State authorities and journalists’ organisations is moreover encouraged in order to avoid friction or clashes between police and members of the media.

Paragraph 16: Member States should encourage media organisations, while not encroaching on their editorial or operational autonomy, to fulfil their institutional responsibilities towards all journalists and other media actors working for them – in salaried, freelance and all other capacities. This may include the adoption of in-house guidelines and procedures for the deployment of journalists and other media actors on difficult or dangerous assignments, for instance in conflict zones. Such deployment should be voluntary and informed. Institutional responsibilities also include providing journalists and other media actors with adequate information, including on the risks involved, and requisite training in all matters of safety, digital security and privacy, as well as arranging for life assurance and health and travel insurance as part of a comprehensive and equitable package of work conditions. These institutional responsibilities additionally include, as relevant, the provision of legal support and representation and trauma counselling on return from assignments.

Safety, security, protection

Paragraph 26: The State should not unduly restrict the free movement of journalists and other media actors, including cross-border movement and access to particular areas, conflict zones, sites and forums, as appropriate, because such mobility and access is important for news and information-gathering purposes.

Paragraph 27: The effectiveness of a system of protection may be influenced by contextual factors, such as in crisis or conflict situations, where there are heightened risks for the safety and independence of journalists and other media actors, and where State authorities may experience difficulties in exerting de facto control over the territory. Nevertheless, the relevant State obligations apply mutatis mutandis in such specific contexts, which are at all times subject to international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

Why is freedom of the press an important issue?

The freedom of the press, protected by the First Amendment, is critical to a democracy in which the government is accountable to the people. A free media functions as a watchdog that can investigate and report on government wrongdoing.

What are the limits on the freedom of the press?

Common limitations to freedom of speech relate to slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, fighting words, classified information, copyright violation, trade secrets, food labeling, non-disclosure agreements, the right to privacy, the right to be forgotten, public security, and perjury.

Why is it important to maintain the independence and freedom of the press?

Freedom of the press is an essential right in the United States and a core principle of democracy. Protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a free press helps maintain the balance of power in government.

What are the three key features of the freedom of the press?

Freedom of the press in India is legally protected by the Amendment to the constitution of India, while the sovereignty, national integrity, and moral principles are generally protected by the law of India to maintain a hybrid legal system for independent journalism.