New Report Reveals Counter-Terrorism Effects on Media in Europe

Privacy International
For Immediate Release
25 November 2008

A new report conducted by Privacy International for the Council of Europe Media and Information Society Division reveals effects of new counter-terrorism laws on media and free expression rights in European countries. The report “Speaking of Terror” examines how the “war on terror” has affected access to information, the growth of incitement, glorification and “extremism” restrictions on speech, blocking of internet sites, increased surveillance of journalists and limits on protection of journalists’ sources. The report finds that the laws have already seriously affected freedom of expression while providing little benefit in fighting terrorism.

The report also examines the roles of the United Nations Security Council, European Union and Council of Europe in promoting new laws while paying little attention to human rights.

Summary of findings:

International bodies including the Council of Europe (CoE) and the European Union (EU) have adopted many international agreements that either ignore or only pay scant attention to fundamental human rights and the importance of a free media. Their agendas are often driven by those countries that are most aggressive in adopting expansive counter-terrorism laws including the UK, US and Russia. The role of European institutions such as the EU and the CoE have resulted in greater adoption and harmonization of these laws than most other regions.

New laws on prohibiting speech that is considered “extremist” or supporting of terrorism have been a particular problem. These laws are used in many jurisdictions to suppress political and controversial speech. Newspapers have been closed and journalists arrested. Web sites are often taken down or blocked.

State secret and national security laws are regularly being used against journalists and their sources even as access to information laws are widely accepted and adopted across the CoE. There are also growing restrictions imposed on photographers not based in law.

Protection of journalists’ sources are often undermined by governments seeking to identify officials who provide information even though they are widely recognized both in national laws and in decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. Newsrooms are often searched.

New anti-terrorism laws are giving authorities wide powers to conduct surveillance. Other new laws impose technical and administrative requirements on the ability to intercept communications and keeping information. Of particular concern are data retention laws which require the routine surveillance of all mobile and Internet users that can be used to easily identify sources and journalists’ investigations.

“Speaking of Terror: A survey of the effects of counter-terrorism legislation on freedom of the media in Europe” is available here.

For more information, contact:

David Banisar, Director, FOI Project, Privacy International, +44 (0)208.123.7933

Privacy International website

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