Council of Europe insists on right of reply

By EDRi · December 30, 2004

The Council of Europe (46 member states) has issued a hotly debated
recommendation on the right of reply on 15 December 2004. “Governments of
the member states should examine and, if necessary, introduce in their
domestic law or practice a right of reply or any other equivalent remedy,
which allows a rapid correction of incorrect information in online or
off-line media.” “Anybody can claim a right to react to any information in
the media presenting inaccurate facts about him or her and which affect
his/her personal rights.” The right is only limited in length (should not
exceed the original article), should only ‘correct facts’ and should be
provided in the same language as the original article. The replies must be
‘given the same prominence’, both in the publication as well as in any
electronic archive.

The Council notes that it is “a particularly appropriate remedy in the
online environment due to the possibility of instant correction of
contested information and the technical ease with which replies from
concerned persons can be attached to it.” In the draft recommendation the
right of reply was limited online to “any other service available to the
public containing frequently updated and edited information of public
interest.” This wording seemed to exclude individual websites, but the
adopted recommendation speaks about edited web-based news services. This
seems to include all kinds of personal publications such as web-logs.
Another remarkable change, when compared to the draft, is the fact that
one exception has been deleted; namely if the medium has corrected the
inaccurate statements on its own initiative.

Article 19, a global organisation dedicated to freedom of expression,
vehemently opposed the proposed recommendation in August 2003. “Under the
proposal, websites such as those run by human rights organisations, a
national health service or political parties – which are all frequently
updated, edited and contain information on matters of public interest –
would all be treated as mass media outlets and be obliged to grant a right
of reply to those who allege that their rights have been infringed by
incorrect factual statements. For example, the administrator of the
website of a human rights organisation would have to grant space to the
spokesperson of a military dictatorship to respond to alleged factual
inaccuracies that may be impossible to verify. Or a government
representative would be able to post a mandatory reply on the site of a
political opposition party, to refute allegations of corruption.”

Only the United Kingdom and the Slovak Republic reserved the right not to
comply for online services with the recommendation.

Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the right
of reply in the new media environment (15.12.2004)

Article 19 submission to the draft recommendation (22.08.2003)