Closing address
by Mr Pierre-Henri IMBERT
Director General of Human Rights of the Council of Europe

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the close of your discussions, and following the summary which we have just heard, I do not think it is necessary to repeat all the points made during what I consider to be a very rich Conference. Furthermore, this is the first time that I have had the opportunity to visit the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in my capacity as Director General of Human Rights of the Council of Europe.

Instead, I will restrict myself to some general comments which I consider to be of particular importance from the point of view of what has been the focus of this conference, namely the establishment of a democratic media system.

But before doing so, please let me thank ANEM for having taken the initiative of organising this Conference at a crucial time and let me also pay tribute to the active commitment which ANEM and its affiliated stations have constantly demonstrated over the last years in favour of human rights and democracy, despite repressive and dangerous conditions.

Clearly, as you all know, there cannot be a democratic system if the media are not able to collect and disseminate information, ideas and opinions without interference by public authorities and regardless of frontiers. This basic requirement, enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, implies that States commit themselves to a number of essential principles which have been set out by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in its Declaration on the freedom of expression and information of 1982.

The first of these principles, which is the opposite of the totalitarian media policy witnessed in many countries around the world, including, until recently, this one, is "the absence of censorship or any arbitrary controls or constraints on participants in the information process, on media content or on the transmission and dissemination of information".

Without the firm commitment by the public authorities to remove such arbitrary controls, there cannot be a democratic media system, and I sincerely hope that the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia will take rapid and resolved action towards this objective, first and foremost on the legal side, but also, and this is equally important, on the practical side.

This leads me to observe that it is not because censorship has been abolished that one can affirm that a free and democratic media system is in place. Nor is stating the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of the media sufficient to guarantee these freedoms.

Numerous practical requirements need to be fulfilled and will be taken into account to assess the progress made by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia towards the common principles accepted by the family of European democratic States under the Council of Europe banner. Again, these other requirements are eloquently reflected in the above-mentioned Declaration and I will quote only three of them.

The first such requirement is "the pursuit of an open information policy in the public sector, including access to information, in order to enhance the individualís understanding of, and his ability to discuss freely political, social, economic and cultural matters." There is no genuine democratic society without a transparent public policy in terms of access to official information and documents.

The second requirement is "the existence of a wide variety of independent and autonomous media, permitting the reflection of diversity of ideas and opinions". There is no genuine democracy without policy measures allowing all views in society, and in particular minority ethnic, religious and other groups, to express themselves via the media. We should never forget that the basis of human rights is the recognition of other individuals, respect for their dignity and - it unfortunately has to be recalled - their existence.

Finally, the third is "the availability and access on reasonable terms to adequate facilities for the domestic and international transmission and dissemination of information and ideas". There cannot be any genuine democratic media system without the abolition of State monopolies over the printing and distribution of the press, or the removal of restrictions concerning access by the electronic media to transmission facilities.

The task ahead might appear to be immense and beyond the capacity of the public authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. However, they are not left alone. The presence of representatives of numerous international intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations during the conference demonstrates that the international community is willing to assist them. The Council of Europe, with its long-standing experience and expertise in the area of media law and policy, will take full part in this joint effort.

One might think that now, everything has been said about the question of how to establish a democratic media system in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. But this is not the case. One major player is missing and has not yet been mentioned, namely the media themselves.

Too often, including in what sometime people call "the older democracies", one tends to overlook the fact that the media, like all the other actors in society, have certain "duties" and "responsibilities", as expressly mentioned by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Among these responsibilities, which the media in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia should constantly bear in mind in their day-to-day operation, I will mention, in particular, the duty to respect the dignity and fundamental rights of all individuals, such as the right to privacy or the right to a fair trial, as well as the duty not to advocate violence, racism, intolerance or hatred, notably on grounds of the ethnic origin of people.

I believe that it is of utmost importance, for the successful transition to democracy and stability of both the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the region of South-East Europe, that all the media in this country commit themselves to the highest ethical standards in order to respect these rights and fundamental democratic values.

In this respect, the electronic media will have a crucial role to play, given their audience and their impact on the formation of public opinion. This is true of course of the private broadcast media, and in particular those affiliated to ANEM, that I would like to encourage in its efforts to build a democratic civil society.

This is also true of the new public broadcasting organisation which the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is going to establish. Bearing in mind how the RTS was used until recently as an instrument of propaganda, war and racial hatred, it is clear that those who will be in charge of the management of this new organisation will have the paramount responsibility of paying particular attention to the definition of a specific programming policy which provides a reference point for all members of the public and serves as a factor for social cohesion and integration of all individuals, groups and communities.

Via the definition of a new democratic legal framework, and by refraining themselves from interfering with this programming policy, the public authorities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia will also have to play a crucial role in the transformation of the RTS.

I also appeal to the other media in this country, and in particular the printed press, to take an active part in the effort to promote tolerance and better understanding among people and communities in the region, notably through joint projects and operations with other media from neighbouring countries. Without them, no lasting peace and development will be possible.

Again, like all the other intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations present today, and to which I would like to pay tribute for their efforts to promote democratic media systems throughout Europe, the Council of Europe is willing to provide its assistance in this respect.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the hosts of the conference for the excellent organisation of this event and their hospitality.

Thank you for your attention.