Judicial expertise in freedom of expression has been improved in the region by the joint European Union and the Council of Europe programme “Reinforcing Judicial Expertise on Freedom of Expression and the Media in South-East Europe (JUFREX)”, said the representatives of the two organization during the final conference devoted to the implementation of this programme in Sarajevo.
“This year the Council of Europe marks the 70th anniversary of its work, based on three pillars: human rights, rule of law and democracy. These are values that we still need to promote and defend”, Drahoslav Štefanek, Head of the Council of Europe Office in Sarajevo said in his opening speech.
Nicholas Bizel, Head of Operations I-Governance, Delegation of the European Union to Bosnia and Herzegovina pointed out that a healthy media environment is of crucial importance for democracy in every society. “It is also fundamental for the EU and its enlargement policy and it is subject of many EU assistance programmes in Western Balkans” he added.
Silvia Grundamnn, Head of Council of Europe’s Media and Internet Division that “The role of JUFREX was to enable dialog and enhance expertise of legal professionals and all other actors on freedom of expression and freedom of the media. When working on freedom of expression, it is vital to involve all actors on the scene and JUFREX did that.”
More than 150 representatives of the judiciary, legal professionals, media regulatory authorities, journalists, media NGOS and other media actors from the Western Balkans region, who have been active partners in the implementation of the project, participated in the event.
During the past three years, nearly 250 activities were implemented, reaching out to more than 4000 beneficiaries. More than 2000 judges, prosecutors, and lawyers have been trained and more than 1500 media actors attended JUFREX events.The successful results of the project show that all Academies of Judges and Prosecutors adopted the training curricula on freedom of expression and integrated regular in-service and/or pre-service training sessions on the matter using the training material and the pool of certified trainers created under JUFREX.
In addition to that, in 2017 and 2018 domestic courts delivered many judgments relating to freedom of expression, explicitly referring to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and adopting its reasoning. As for the support to media regulatory authorities, the regional activities steered the direction for activities at the national level, focusing on improvement of capacities and efficiency of this bodies, in particular concerning hate speech, protection of minors and media literacy.
Co-operation with media actors was focused on training for journalists on the freedom of expression, European standards and inter-professional seminars. These activities were aimed at strengthening dialog and understanding between all relevant actors as well as enhancing quality of information delivered to citizens through improved understanding of rights and responsibilities in reporting on judicial proceedings.
The Conference concluded that guaranteeing freedom of expression and the safety of journalists are still major challenges in many European countries, with journalists and other media actors facing threats such as censorship, political and economic pressure, intimidation, job insecurity, abusive use of defamation laws as well as physical attacks. Moreover, new media and internet have brought many benefits but also new challenges and the need to set standards in this field.
Both the European Union and the Council of Europe representatives confirmed their commitment to further promotion and support of freedom of expression initiatives in Western Balkans and announced the continuation of JUFREX under the Horizontal Facility II that will be implemented across the region as of June 2019.