Ensuring Access: Governmental Support for Primary Source Journalism in Europe

///Ensuring Access: Governmental Support for Primary Source Journalism in Europe

Ensuring Access: Governmental Support for Primary Source Journalism in Europe

Strengthening Journalistic Freedoms ‘for on the ground’ reporting

High-level institutional support for the essential role of journalism is gaining traction worldwide, particularly across Europe and the UK. This support underscores the importance of facilitating everyday newsgathering. However, translating this recognition into practical measures that empower and protect ‘on-the-ground’ journalism remains a significant challenge amidst the growing pressures on the news media sector.

Institutions like the Council of Europe (CoE), the European Commission, and national governments have been proactive in advocating for journalism’s protection and the safety of journalists. Their efforts have been instrumental in highlighting the need for robust frameworks to ensure media freedom and the right to freedom of expression. This is evident in the establishment of National Committees dedicated to media freedom, which address issues ranging from access to information to combating various forms of censorship affecting professional journalism.

Key Governmental Recommendations and Commitments

In recent years, several key recommendations and initiatives have laid the groundwork for supporting journalism:

  1. Council of Europe Recommendation (2016)

The CoE’s Recommendation CM/Rec(2016)4, adopted by the Committee of Ministers, provides a comprehensive framework to support the essential functions of journalism within democratic societies. This recommendation is rooted in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5), which emphasizes the critical role of freedom of expression.

The recommendation underscores that “the ability to access information, the public watchdog role of journalists and other media actors, and open and vigorous public debate are all essential in a democratic society.” Journalists act as crucial facilitators of public discourse, informing the public on matters of significant interest and holding those in power accountable. This role is indispensable for the functioning of a democracy characterized by pluralism, tolerance, and broad-mindedness.

Safeguarding the Right to Information

One of the foundational elements highlighted is that “the gathering of information is an essential preparatory step in journalism and an inherent, protected part of press freedom.” Any measures that make access to information more cumbersome, or impose arbitrary restrictions, indirectly censor journalistic activities and hinder public debate. The CoE calls for member states to ensure that journalists can operate without unnecessary barriers, allowing them to participate fully in public discourse.

Protection Against Threats and Abuse

Journalists often face significant risks when reporting on sensitive issues such as “political, religious, economic, or societal topics, including misuse of power, corruption, and criminal activities.” These challenges can expose them to threats, attacks, and harassment by both state and non-state actors. Protecting journalists from such dangers is crucial to maintaining their role in society as public or social watchdogs.

Broad Scope of Protection

The CoE emphasizes that “to enable journalists and other media actors to fulfil the tasks ascribed to them in a democratic society, their right to freedom of expression should enjoy a broad scope of protection.” This includes protection of confidential sources, safeguarding against searches and seizures of journalistic materials, and ensuring editorial and presentational autonomy. The protection extends to both offline and online activities, reflecting the evolving landscape of journalism.

Operational Freedoms for Effective Journalism

For journalists to effectively perform their duties, the recommendation asserts that their operational freedoms must be safeguarded. “These freedoms cover news and information-gathering, processing, and dissemination activities,” which are essential for making their right to freedom of expression practical and effective. This also includes the freedom to choose their reporting style or technique, allowing for “a degree of exaggeration or even provocation,” as seen in genres like satire.

Pillars of Protection

The guidelines provided by the CoE are organised into four pillars: prevention, protection, prosecution, and promotion. Each pillar encompasses specific measures:

  • Prevention: Implementing proactive measures to reduce risks faced by journalists.
  • Protection: Ensuring safety and providing security measures for journalists at risk.
  • Prosecution: Addressing impunity by effectively prosecuting crimes against journalists.
  • Promotion: Raising awareness and educating society on the importance of protecting journalism.

Independent Review Mechanisms

The recommendation also advocates for the establishment of independent review mechanisms to monitor and assess the implementation of these protections. “These reviews may be carried out by one or more appropriate new or existing independent bodies that have authoritative mandates.” The findings from these reviews should be integrated into ongoing reporting and monitoring exercises at the CoE and other international organizations.

Combating Attacks on Journalistic Integrity

State officials and public figures are urged to refrain from “undermining or attacking the integrity of journalists and other media actors,” whether on the basis of gender, ethnic identity, or accusations of propaganda. Such attacks not only jeopardize journalists’ safety but also diminish public trust in media.

Partnership with Civil Society

Member states are encouraged to “develop partnerships with civil society and the media for the promotion of best practices for the protection of journalists and other media actors and for combating impunity.” This collaborative approach is essential for fostering a safe and enabling environment for journalism.

 “States must fulfil a range of positive obligations… including on the ability to access information, on the public watchdog role of journalists and other media actors and on open and vigorous public debate.”

“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”


  1. European Commission recommendations (2021)

In the face of growing challenges to the news media sector, the European Commission has underscored the importance of safeguarding journalists’ access to sources and events that are crucial for their reporting. The Commission’s 2021 Recommendation on ensuring the protection, safety, and empowerment of journalists outlines a series of measures designed to create a supportive environment for primary source journalism (PSJ). These measures are particularly vital for ensuring that journalists can access venues, events, and sources of information without undue restrictions, thus enabling them to perform their essential role in public discourse.

Key Provisions from the European Commission Recommendation

Robust Safeguards for Journalists

The European Commission emphasizes that a “robust system of safeguards at the national level is required to enable journalists to fulfil their crucial role ‘on the ground’, especially with regard to access to venues, sources of information, and reporting from events of public interest.” These safeguards are essential for maintaining an enabling environment for freedom of expression and ensuring that journalists can participate effectively in public debates on matters of legitimate interest.

To achieve this, member state authorities are encouraged to “minimize risks of arbitrary denial of accreditation or registration or cumbersome registration and accreditation systems or procedures.” Such barriers can deter journalists from performing their work effectively and may constitute unjustified, discriminatory, or disproportionate restrictions on their freedom to provide journalistic services.

Access to Information and Documents

A critical component of journalistic work is the ability to access necessary documents and information. The Commission notes that “ensuring access to documents and information, including official websites, and obtaining timely answers, is a necessary condition for journalists to do their work.” This access allows journalists to gather accurate information and report comprehensively on issues of public interest.

Moreover, member states should ensure that public authorities create “transparent, fair and non-discriminatory conditions and procedures for journalists and other media professionals to attend and ask questions at press conferences and similar events.” This includes facilitating access to documents and other information held by public authorities, both through traditional and digital means. Public institutions are also advised to establish “clearly identifiable contact points for accessing documents that are easily accessible through electronic means.”

Fair and Transparent Accreditation Procedures

The Commission advises that “Member States should only make use of accreditation procedures in situations where there is a real and justified need to limit the number of journalists and other media professionals attending a specific official event.” In such cases, public authorities must provide “clear, transparent, and non-discriminatory accreditation procedures” for all concerned, ensuring that no journalist is denied access based on their professional affiliation.

Additionally, it is recommended that member states “do not impose strict formal conditions in relation to press cards and other documents utilized to confirm the professional status of a journalist.” Enforcement authorities and representatives of the public administration should be familiar with all types of available accreditation procedures to avoid unnecessary refusals of recognition for journalists.

Enabling Professional Environment

To further support journalists, the Commission calls on member states to “contribute to the creation of an enabling professional environment for journalists and other media professionals.” This involves fostering conditions that facilitate their work and uphold their right to freedom of expression.

The Recommendation highlights the need for member states to:

  • Ensure the condition for an enabling environment where the “right to receive information embraces a right of access to information” and where “the participation of journalists and other media actors in public debate on matters of legitimate public concern [is not] discouraged, for example by measures that make access to information more cumbersome or by arbitrary restrictions, which may become a form of indirect censorship.”
  • “Encourage the establishment of, and support the operation of, early-warning and rapid-response mechanisms […] to ensure that journalists and other media actors have immediate access to protective measures when they are threatened.”
  • Support legislation criminalising violence against journalists with “law enforcement machinery and redress mechanisms for victims (and their families) that are effective in practice”

“Ensuring access to documents and information, including official websites, and obtaining timely answers, is a necessary condition for journalists to do their work.”– European Commission 2021 reccomandations on ensuring the protection, safety and empowerment of journalists and other media professionals in the European Union


  1. National Committees

National Committees have been established in several countries – particularly those among the 47 member states of the Council Europe (CoE) – to support media freedom and to address the challenges faced by journalists. These committees bring together key stakeholders to assess existing needs, coordinate actions, and advocate for media issues at the public policy level. Their work often focuses on creating a secure environment for journalists, including abuse online, and combating Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), which are used to silence critical journalism through costly and lengthy legal battles. Their work is coordinated by the CoE’s secretariat which promotes the committee National Action Plans and liaises with individuals at the national level who have taken on the role of ‘focal points’

Not all member states have active national committees ‘on the safety of journalists’, a fewer still have national action plans – but the CoE is working hard to bring more cohesion to this network.


NMC’s Role and Contributions

The News Media Coalition (NMC) plays an active role in monitoring and contributing to public policy processes in Strasbourg, Brussels, and various member state capitals. With expert observer status at the Council of Europe, the NMC is committed to advocating for policies that support newsgathering and uphold the fundamental principles of journalism.

While there is growing institutional support for the role of journalism, translating this support into practical empowerment for everyday newsgathering remains a critical challenge. It is imperative for societies to continue fostering an environment where journalism can thrive, ensuring that journalists have the resources and protections they need to perform their vital role in democratic societies.


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