Council of Europe adopts new recommendations on media pluralism and Internet intermediaries

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the formal adoption of two Recommendations of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, containing guidelines to reinforce transparency of media ownership and promote diversity in the digital media environment, and to identify the responsibilities of Internet intermediaries in protecting human rights online. ARTICLE 19 contributed to the preparatory works for these standard-setting instruments, and while they are not perfect, they are strong references for the protection of freedom of expression in the digital age.

Recommendation (2018) 1 focuses on media pluralism and transparency of media ownership. It starts from the premise that it is a positive obligation for States, inherent to the right of freedom of expression, to guarantee that media are free and pluralistic. This is due to their valuable contribution to robust public debate through which diversity in society can be formulated, explored and sustained. The guidelines annexed to the recommendation detail the institutional and legal framework that States should set up in order to regulate transparency, control and concentration of media ownership. They also put forward measures that support independent public service media, local and community media.

The recommendation takes into consideration the evolution of media landscapes and acknowledges that the variety of roles played by internet intermediaries in the creation or distribution of content can impact pluralism and diversity. It suggests that the automated decision-making processes that govern the distribution of online content should integrate the objective of improving the effective exposure of users to the broadest possible diversity of media content online. It is recommended that “any self-regulatory mechanisms developed in this area should operate independently and transparently, be open to meaningful participation from all relevant stakeholders, be accountable to the public and work in accordance with ethical standards that take full account of the multimedia ecosystem.”[1] The recommendation also encourages States to support media literacy efforts.

Recommendation (2018) 2 focuses on the duties and responsibilities of Internet intermediaries. Whilst acknowledging the importance of the Internet for freedom of expression, the Recommendation notes that it has created challenges in other areas, including the protection of privacy and personal data, certain forms of harassment and the spread of ‘hate speech’ online. For this reason, the Recommendation seeks to provide guidance as to what States and Internet intermediaries should do to respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression, privacy and data protection and access to an effective remedy. The guidelines appended to the recommendation stress the importance of respect for human rights and the rule of law, and the need for both States and Internet intermediaries to provide appropriate remedies and complaint mechanisms whenever they or Internet intermediaries interfere with human rights.

Of particular importance are the guidelines emphasising that State authorities should follow legal processes to request restrictions on access to content. The prohibition on general content monitoring is reiterated, as are basic requirements for notice procedures to comply with due process standards. The guidelines generally recommend a flexible approach to any regulation in this area, taking into account the role of the intermediary at issue, including its importance for freedom of expression. The guidelines go on to encourage Internet intermediaries to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and to be more transparent and accountable. While recognising that algorithms can be useful tools to comply with the law or enforce companies’ terms of service, the guidelines make clear that algorithms are far from perfect and should be used with caution.

At a time when the tech sector is under increasing pressure from governments to do more to address the various problems facilitated by their platforms, the Recommendation is a timely reminder of the basic standards that must be met by both States and companies in order for fundamental rights to be protected.


Read the full text of the recommendations:

CM/Rec(2018)1 /  Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to member States on media pluralism and transparency of media ownership

(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 7 March 2018 at the 1309th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)

CM/Rec(2018)2 / Recommendation CM/Rec(2018)2 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the roles and responsibilities of internet intermediaries

(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 7 March 2018 at the 1309th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)


[1] ARTICLE 19 has further detailed this requirement in a recently published brief.