JUFREX: new regional publication on regulators and protection of minors in South-East Europe

posted on 23 April, 2019   (public)

Transnational cooperation, self and co-regulation and media literacy are key pillars to establish adequate level playing field regarding protection of minors

In April 2016, the three-year Joint Programme “Reinforcing Judicial Expertise on Freedom of Expression and the Media in South-East Europe (JUFREX)”, funded by the Council of Europe and the European Union, was launched in order to promote freedom of expression and freedom of the media in line with Council of Europe standards in the following countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Kosovo*, Montenegro and Serbia.

In the framework of this support programme, a regional publication on “Media regulatory authorities and protection of minors” was released in April 2019. The report, which was drafted in cooperation with the media regulatory authorities from the participating countries as well as from Croatia, aims to contribute to the understanding of the concept of protection of minors in audiovisual media services and to emphasize the role played by NRAs through an overview of the situation in the region and some recommendations. As the legal context in each participating country reveals the obvious proximity between them, the publication stresses the need for better cooperation and harmonisation. In this regard, the report underlines that the regulators take actively part in the EPRA network which provides them “a valuable source of information and incentives for further developments in this field”.

After providing an overview of the European and International legal background on children rights’ protection, the report focuses on the 2010 AVMS Directive, which was implemented in all the participating countries, and notably on how differently the rules regarding contents “which might seriously impair” and those “which are likely to impair” minors have been interpreted at the national level.

Even though the document underlines the need to take into account the cultural and historical elements that are specific to each country, it nevertheless promotes a clear and harmonized watershed and classification system for the region.

The following recommendations can be highlighted:

  • Regulatory action: there are clear and high expectations from the audience regarding the protection of children and an urge to adapt the actions to the shift of the media landscape. The role of NRAs is crucial and should be extended to offering support to stakeholders involved in the protection of minors through self and co-regulatory schemes.
  • Prosecution and law-enforcement agencies: efficiency of rules and standards requires an “independent, strong, knowledgeable and agile prosecution and law-enforcement agencies”. Strengthening the capacities of these agencies is therefore paramount. 
  • Cooperation: the appropriate level of protection necessarily implies a “balanced combination of legal, technical and educational measures”. In the context of a shared market, and with the advent of video-sharing platforms, NRAs from the region should develop trans-national cooperation between themselves in order to face jurisdiction problems and to reach some harmonization on standards regarding content classification.
  • Self-regulation and co-regulation: the development of the digital world has emphasized the essential involvement of the providers, in a self and co-regulation system. NRAs should therefore undertake to support and supervise self-regulation initiatives and measures undertaken by audiovisual services actors for instance through a closer cooperation with the advertising industry.
  • Media Literacy: the document acknowledges that the main actors in this field are civil society organisations, parents, educators and media professionals. However, thanks to their knowledge and their expertise, NRAs can provide  institutional support by promoting media literacy actions, classification and protection tools online and by conducting research for a better understanding of the issues and a stronger base for actions.
* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.

Further information about JUFREX: the Final conference of the Joint Programme JUFREX took place on 5 April 2019 in Sarajevo. Further to this three-year programme, nearly 250 activities were implemented, reaching out to more than 4000 beneficiaries. More than 2000 judges, prosecutors, and lawyers have been trained, while more than 1500 media actors attended JUFREX events.
However, the protection of freedom of expression and of the journalists remain a major challenge and in many countries in Europe, media actors have to face threats and pressures that jeopardise freedom of speech. It was thus decided at the closing event to continue the work of JUFREX under the Horizontal Facility II (a co-operation initiative of the European Union and Council of Europe for South East Europe in order to strengthen their co-operation in key areas of joint interest) that will be implemented in the region as of June 2019.

Source: Council of Europe Freedom of expression website