How to retain press freedom while cracking down on terrorism

How can we preserve freedom of expression when societies are under attack from terrorism? Following the Isis attacks, heightened security in European capitals has made it more difficult to preserve our hard-won rights and freedoms.

While we want to be safe, we also want to retain our rights to personal privacy and to free expression. If we sacrifice those rights within our liberal democracies then the terrorists will have secured a victory of sorts.

Indeed, the likelihood is that a more authoritarian society will engender increased recruitment to terrorist groups. So what can be done?

Дуња Мијатовиќ, претставник за слобода на медиумите за Организацијата за безбедност и соработка во Европа (ОБСЕ) изготви практичен прирачник чија цел е да обезбеди опстанок на нашите права и вредности

Dunja Mijatović, the energetic representative on freedom of the media for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), has come up with a practical guide aimed at ensuring the survival of our rights and values.

In an article published by Index on Censorship, she argues that counter-terrorism measures must comply with international standards, most notably article 19 of the UN covenant on civil and political rights.

Her major concern is to ensure that journalists can carry out their role with the greatest possible freedom so that they can continue to inform the public.

To that end, she has drawn a set of practical guidelines – a wish-list, if you like – that she believes the OSCE’s participating states should take on board when introducing anti-terrorism legislation:

  • Ensure journalists’ freedom and safety at all times, including while reporting on terrorism.
  • Recognise that free expression and the use of new technologies are also tools to fight terrorism by creating social cohesion and expressing alternative narratives.
  • Define, in line with international human rights law, the notions of violent extremism, terrorism, radicalisation and other terms used in legislation, programmes and initiatives aimed to prevent and counter terrorism.
  • Acknowledge that the media has a right to report on terrorism. Requests for media blackouts of terrorist activities must be avoided and media should be free to consider, based on ethical standards and editorial guidelines, available information to publish in the public interest.
  • Respect the right of journalists to protect sources and provide a legal framework securing adequate judicial scrutiny before law enforcement and intelligence agencies can access journalists’ material in terror investigations.
  • Refrain from indiscriminate mass surveillance because of its chilling effect on free expression and journalism. Targeted surveillance should be used only when strictly necessary, with judicial authorisation and independent control mechanisms in place.
  • Acknowledge that anonymity and encryption technologies may be the only guarantee for safe and secure communications for journalists and, therefore, are a prerequisite for the right to exercise freedom of expression. Blanket prohibitions are disproportionate and therefore unacceptable.
  • Ensure that restrictions on content are applicable only if they can be demonstrated as threats to national security, such as an intention to incite imminent violence.

Mijatović concludes: “Adherence to these simple rules is necessary because limiting the space for free expression and civic space advances the goals of those promoting, threatening and using terrorism and violence.

“If we give up on our fundamental freedoms we will erode the very substance of democracy and the rule of law.”