Freedom of Opinion, Freedom of Expression and the Right to Information are basic human rights and they are seen by the European Union as cornerstones of democracy in any society. These rights are essential parts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which in its article 11 reads:
- Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.
- The freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected.
In 2014, the Council of the European Union adopted the EU Human Rights Guidelines on Freedom of Expression Online and Offline which spell out how the basic principles should be incorporated in democracy support in the EU partner countries around the world.
The actions below are priorities of the European Union in the area of freedom of expression:
- Combating violence, persecution, harassment and intimidation of individuals, including journalists and other media actors, because of their exercise of the right to freedom of expression online and offline, and combating impunity for such crimes
- Promoting laws and practices that protect freedom of opinion and expression
- Promoting media freedom and pluralism and fostering an understanding among public authorities of the dangers of unwarranted interference with impartial/critical reporting
- Promoting and respecting human rights in cyberspace and other information and communication technologies
- Promoting best practices by companies
- Promoting legal amendments and practises aimed at strengthening data protection and privacy online/offline
The EU systematically raises the issue of Freedom of Expression at different levels of political dialogue, including in its human rights dialogues and consultations with partner countries. The EU Special Representative (EUSR) for Human Rights raises issues related to freedom of expression and freedom of the media during official visits to partner countries and in human rights dialogues.
In additions, the EU supports financially projects and activities in this field including training, capacity building and protection of journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders, media regulators etc. and support to legal and administrative reforms in the media sector as well as promotion of access to information and production of unbiased media programmes.
These activities are financed both by the geographic programmes and instruments (e.g. DCI or EFD) and by thematic instruments of the EU development cooperation. Special mention should be given to the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) which has financed the largest number of projects related to freedom of expression, such as a project in support of media development in the context of peace-building initiatives in Myanmar or a media project in Somalia focusing on strengthening the role of media in holding security services to account.