Council of Europe leader calls for support for local
media and emphasises the "major role" of local and
regional authorities in tackling disinformation and
A leading member of Europe's foremost human-rights
organisation, the Council of Europe, has said that
"fake news and hate speech" targeting local and
regional elected representatives has "worsened
significantly in recent years" in recent years,
adding that efforts to counter disinformation
should include support for local media.
Leendert Verbeek, President of the Council of Europe's
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, was speaking at a
of the European Committee of the Regions a day after
President Emmanuel Macron
told the assembly of local and regional leaders that
"the protection of our democracy and of our democracies
against all forms of manipulation" is one of the great
challenges facing the European Union.
Both men flagged up actions expected in in 2022.
President Verbeek said that the Council of Europe's
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities will in
March present recommendations for fighting online fake
news and hate speech in the local and regional context,
while President Macron said that he would use France's
six-month presidency of the Council of the European
Union to advance the
European Democracy Action Plan. President Macron put the spotlight on three aspects
of the plan: one, the creation of a European mechanism
to ensure the robustness of electoral systems, another
to increase the transparency of political parties'
finances, and, lastly, regulation of political
President Verbeek of the Congress of Local and Regional
Authorities called for more regulation, saying: "If
technology spreads disinformation, it should be tamed."
He said, however, that "trust in fake news begins with
the mistrust in public authorities and the information
they provide. Rebuilding citizens’ confidence in the
political system is therefore the only sustainable way
to reverse the spread of disinformation. It must begin
at the local level, in municipalities, towns and
cities, for they are the glue of our societies."
Local and regional authorities could, he argued, "play
a major role on all fronts in responding to this
complex issue, using their proximity to citizens. They
can do so by: engaging citizens and civil society in
public debates and democratic participation, supporting
grassroots initiatives and local media, raising public
awareness as well as improving media literacy and
access to reliable information overall."
He also drew attention to the challenge that the public
faces in finding high-quality information about their
cities and regions. "Local media, which has come under
immense financial pressure in recent years, must also
be actively supported financially by central and local
authorities and institutions," he argued.
(PT/PES), First Vice-President of the European
Committee of the Regions and member of the Azores
Regional Parliament, stressed the particular importance
of "strengthening media literacy and civic education",
two elements brought to the fore in the CoR's
on the European Democracy Action Plan.
He said: "Addressing how to ensure a functioning and
resilient democracy at all levels is crucial in view of
one of the biggest threats of our modern times to
democratic societies: disinformation. Local and
regional authorities are well placed to play an active
role in countering this threat. In elaborating
effective measures to counter disinformation, we need
to pay particular attention to strengthening media
literacy and civic education. We will continue to
advocate for a stronger role of cities and regions in
empowering citizens against disinformation, and
ensuring democratic resilience in the broadest sense.
We are looking forward to continued cooperation with
the Congress towards this goal."
In January 2019, a member of the European Committee of
the Regions – Paweł Adamowicz, mayor
of Gdańsk – fell victim of a hate crime, dying shortly
after he was stabbed at a charity event. Addressing the
CoR on 1 December 2021, President Macron celebrated the life
and legacy of Mr Adamowicz, describing him as a
"synonym of the fight against discrimination, against
intolerance and hate, but also a synonym for promotion
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