Foreign ministers from around Europe have come out against online censorship and political pressure on providers of social networks and other communication tools.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the Council of Europe's decision-making body, the Committee of Ministers, said new media tools had become crucial to civil society representatives, whistleblowers and human rights defenders. The committee said such facilities had become a "significant part of the public sphere", despite being privately operated.
The committee particularly warned of the dangers of political influence and "politically motivated economic compulsion" on those operating such services, or those hosting websites with sensitive content.
"Direct or indirect political influence or pressure on new media actors may lead to interference with the exercise of freedom of expression, access to information and transparency, not only at a national level but, given their global reach, also in a broader international context. Decisions concerning content can also impinge on the right to freedom of assembly and association," the committee said.
The committee noted that "distributed denial-of-service attacks against websites of independent media, human rights defenders, dissidents, whistleblowers and other new media actors are also a matter of growing concern".
"These attacks represent an interference with freedom of expression and the right to impart and receive information and, in certain cases, with the right to freedom of association," the committee said, adding that web hosts lack an incentive to continue hosting sites that may come under attack.
The purpose of the statement, the committee said, was to underline the "gravity" of the situation and the need for people to comply with articles in the European Convention on Human Rights that back freedom of expression and information.