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Groups dismayed by EU's failure to recognise public's right to access information

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) have expressed dismay at the failure of the European Union to recognise the public's Right to Access Information.

The EU Human Rights Guidelines on Freedom of Expression Online and Offline were formally adopted by the European Council's Foreign Affairs meeting on 12 May, despite the IFJ, EFJ and other leading media and freedom of expression groups urging a delay and calling for a formal public consultation prior to adoption.

“It is shocking that the European Union should adopt a set of guidelines on Freedom of Expression that fall so far short of internationally recognised standards,” said Jim Boumelha, IFJ President. “Failure to recognise neither the right to access information, nor the role of journalists unions in protecting the standards and conditions of the profession are fundamental weaknesses that threaten to set back the progress that has been made in advancing the rights of journalists and the public.”

The EU Guidelines are designed to provide “political and operational guidance” to EU staff on how to intervene and assist when freedom of expression is threatened. They could be a very important tool and contain many useful instructions to EU delegations on how and when they can respond in areas of journalists' safety, fighting censorship and protecting sources of information.

However, the failure to recognise the right of the public to access information held by public authorities not only omits a crucial area of activity for EU officials, but also threatens to undermine the right already recognised by international institutions, including the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights.

Moreover, the refusal of the EU to subject the drafts to a formal consultation with stakeholder groups runs contrary to the principles that it seeks to uphold whereby freedom of expression enables 'inclusive development and participation in public affairs'. It also resulted in the launch of a substantially weakened document that does not have the full backing of the stakeholder groups whose interests it seeks to promote.

“We also regret the absence of recognition of the role of journalists unions and associations in protecting the rights and conditions of the journalists' profession,” said Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, EFJ President. “Our affiliates in Ukraine and Russia are at the centre of current efforts to provide safety and support to journalists, fight off censorship, counter propaganda and establish a dialogue between opposing sides.”

“The efforts of journalists unions to build democratic journalists institutions that can sustain independent journalism long into the future should also be recognised in the guidelines.”

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