The presence of the journalists, monitors and other observers plays a key role in ensuring the accountability of security personnel during the management of large gatherings. The Grand Chamber of the ECtHR has held that the authorities should not deliberately prevent or hinder the media from covering a demonstration.In Pentikäinen v. Finland [ click for full case explanation ]
The Grand Chamber of the ECtHR ultimately found that the measures taken against Pentikäinen were not disproportionate. It stressed, however, that “this conclusion must be seen on the basis of the particular circumstances of the instant case, due regard being had to the need to avoid any impairment of the media’s “watch-dog” role.”
Those particular circumstances included the fact that the violence took place in an unpredicted area, so that there was no possibility for the authorities to provide a secure viewing area for journalists; that the applicant “was not readily identifiable as a journalist prior to his apprehension”; that when the police became aware of the applicant’s status as a journalist, his equipment had immediately been treated as a journalistic source and not confiscated; that the applicant could have, in the Court’s view, continued to exercise his assignment effectively from outside the cordoned-off area; and more generally, that:
The finding of no violation attracted criticism from scholars, as well as from four dissenting judges. The dissenters accepted that the police were initially justified in apprehending the applicant, but questioned whether detaining and prosecuting him beyond the moment when it had become clear that he was a journalist was really “necessary in a democratic society” (see Assembly Section 4.4).
The IACtHR has similarly emphasized the role of journalists in holding the authorities to account. In Vélez Restrepo and Family v. Colombia, a reporter had filmed how members of the Colombian army were beating a defenseless protester during a demonstration. Several soldiers then attacked the journalist, causing serious injuries, attempting (unsuccessfully) to seize his cassette, and destroying his camera. The IACtHR found that:
The Court went on to conclude that the attack on Vélez Restrepo had violated his rights to personal integrity and to freedom of thought and expression. It also found various violations stemming from the State’s failure to meet its duty to investigate (see Assembly Section 14) the attack and act against subsequent threats and harassment directed against Vélez Restrepo.
UN Special Rapporteurs and several regional human rights mechanisms have similarly emphasized that there is a right to observe and make recordings at assemblies and to disseminate these.
When the authorities decide to disperse an assembly (see Assembly Section 13.4), those observing or recording should not be prevented from continuing to do so. The OSCE-ODIHR Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly state:
The AComHPR takes a similar view.