Congresses

AEJ 2013 CONGRESS AND GENERAL ASSEMBLY IN BRUSSELS, 22-23 NOVEMBER 2013

The Association of European Journalists gathered in the EU capital for its 51st Congress and General Assembly on Friday November 22. ‘Journalism and democracy in a time of flux…’ was the theme of the successful congress (see special item below). The following day the General Assembly started with an In Memoriam for Dr. Horst Keller who sadly passed away in August. The address was given by David Haworth, who spoke movingly about the AEJ stalwart’s impressive journalistic career and called him ‘a great friend whom we will never forget’. An important moment for the association was the approval of the modification of the Statutes, not only an adjustment to reflect our changing times, but also an opportunity to streamline the organisation by introducing a fully-fledged Board.

Special attention was required for young journalists. Vice-President Saia Tsaousidou suggestion to make a top priority of interesting young colleagues in the activities of our association, met broad approval by the delegates. The General Assembly unanimously adopted two resolutions about secret interception of communications by state agencies and about serious abuses of human rights in Azerbaijan and other European countries (both resolutions published in an item below).

The event was organised by AEJ Int.’s Brussels representative N. Peter Kramer; with many thanks to the sponsors Huawei Technologies, Visit Brussels, Wallonie-Bruxelles Int., Stand-Up for Europe, Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, Restaurant Chez Leon and PressClub Brussels-Europe.

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A summary of major issues about the practice of journalism debated at the AEJ’s 51st Congress and Assembly held in Brussels on 22-23 November: first-hand accounts from East and West of journalists under growing pressure from governments and media owners; threats to investigative journalism from secret ‘dragnet’ surveillance and tracking of electronic communications; and the start of an intensive debate on media futures and new ideas for funding quality journalism.

AEJ 2013 CONGRESS AND GENERAL ASSEMBLY IN BRUSSELS, 22-23 NOVEMBER 2013

A Report by Firdevs Robinson, member of the AEJ UK Section

The theme of the annual Congress of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), held in Brussels on November 22-23 2013, was “Journalism and democracy in a time of flux”.

In her introductory remarks, AEJ President Eileen Dunne highlighted the importance for societies of the role of independent journalism. Media actors everywhere, she said, were facing growing threats to their profession and their personal safety.

The 51st Congress was declared open by Torbjorn Froysnes, Council of Europe Ambassador to the EU. Ambassador Froysnes spoke of new challenges for the Council of Europe’s work, including the protection of whistle-blowers, state-surveillance and resulting interference with journalists’ freedom of expression. In particular, failure to protect journalistic sources is now very much under the spotlight.

The first Congress session focused on serious attacks against media freedom in Europe. Chaired by William Horsley, the AEJ Media Freedom Representative, leading experts spoke about what has been done to provide a safe environment for journalism, what further action is needed and how widespread use of surveillance by state intelligence agencies is hampering the work of investigative journalism.

Council of Europe legal expert Onur Andreotti said that violations of the rights of journalists had consequences beyond their profession; it impacted on entire society and the freedom of expression for all.

In Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, journalists are included in the term “everyone”, but there is increased protection provided by the Court. This was seen in the Dink vs. Turkey case in 2010. The Court found that the state authority’s failure to prevent the murder of the journalist constituted a violation.

Onur Andreotti pointed out that the state’s duty is not merely to refrain from interference but also to observe its ‘positive obligations’ with respect to protection for journalists.

The right to freedom of speech is not absolute, but under the Convention the restrictions are subject to a test of legality, a test of legitimacy and a test of proportionality. Andreotti again emphasised the obligations of states to prevent violations being committed; to guarantee the right to life, to put in place an effective criminal law and to act against impunity by launching an effective investigation. That investigation should be independent and prompt, because delayed justice is denied justice.

She said that as a result of judgements by the European Court of Human Rights relating to the protection and safety of journalists many states, including Turkey, have since changed their laws.

William Horsley said that it was important for the Court’s rulings to take effect through national laws and national justice systems. The member states and the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe had acknowledged that extra measures are now needed, over and above decisions of the Court, in real time.

Onur Andreotti told the Congress that there will be a meeting of the Committee of Ministers’ deputies – meaning European ambassadors in Strasbourg - on the 12th December to discuss the safety of journalists, and that a project was now under consideration to create a web-platform that may work as an alert system.

The second panelist was Ides Debruyne, Director of Journalismfund.eu, an independent non-profit organisation, promoting investigative journalism in Europe. Debruyne described how his organisation was involved in a study in 2011 commissioned by the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control on how fraudulent use of EU funds could be deterred through investigative journalism. The resulting study, which looked into the state of investigative journalism in the EU member states, was presented at the European Parliament last year.

Debruyne mentioned that the main recommendations from the study included the need for access to information being made easier, bureaucracy being reduced and cross-border cooperation and exchange of information being further encouraged by European institutions.

European policymakers should do more to facilitate investigative journalism and increase the budget for promotion of freedom of speech. In order to combat fraud and corruption, the level of journalistic professionalism needs to be raised. If the countries wish to pass the “grandma test of transparency”, it was necessary to develop investigative journalism capacity through training and establishing sustainable business models.

The market was not enough. New business models for ownership of the media should be explored and empowered.

Jean-Paul Marthoz, a Belgian journalist and senior advisor to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), talked about the impact of mass surveillance practices on investigative journalism.

He presented a US perspective, arguing that censorship there meant censorship everywhere, because many of the major US stories are also global stories.

Aggressive surveillance and pursuit of leaks create a chilling environment for journalists. People are now afraid to provide information to journalists in case their identities might become public one day. This has created a serious problem for journalists who need to double-check their information and go beyond spinning to establish facts.

“Thanks to Edward Snowden, we now have a clear idea of what’s been going on in the USA. The idea that the journalists are not responsible people and only the state knows which information should be shared is not correct” said Marthoz.

Better oversight of security services is vital. Jean-Paul Marthoz asked if there will be a reform of the system or whether it was already too late to do it. In the US, there are some members of Congress had called for changes to the regulation of mass surveillance. The government, too, had reservations about giving too much power to the NSA.

Marthoz recommended a Washington Post investigation entitled: Top Secret America. The national security and intelligence systems have grown so big, technology has become so complex and sophisticated, and it is no longer taken-for-granted that the system fulfils its main purpose of keeping citizens safe.

In response, Onur Andreotti reminded us of a declaration by the Committee of Ministers on risks to fundamental rights stemming from digital tracking and surveillance technologies. Adopted on the 11th June 2013, this was before the Snowden case came into light. The Council of Europe’ standards and case law of the European Court of Human Rights have established European norms regarding the right to respect of private life, confidentiality (such as the protection of journalists’ sources), the right to freedom of expression and the right to receive and impart information.

Jean-Paul Marthoz regretted that the media in the US and the UK were no longer an inspiration to other countries. He called for stronger reaction to surveillance and pressure on the media from journalists and their organisations. Maintaining unity among journalists was a real problem.

The afternoon session of the AEJ Congress, chaired by Eileen Dunne, discussed the future of media and media funding. The main speakers were Andrzej Krajewski, Free Speech advisor to the Polish Broadcasting Regulator KRRIT, Wilfried Ruetten, Director of European Journalism Centre (EJC) and Sixtine Bouygues, Director of Strategy and Corporate Communications, European Commission.

Andrzej Krajewski talked about a sharp reduction in journalism jobs in Europe and in the USA, with a greater proportion of PR material finding its way to the news coverage.

In the US, cheaper to produce discussion programmes were replacing news programmes. Celebrity gossip, reality shows and cooking demonstrations were turning the media non-political and simplistic.

Krajewski feared that in a few years’ time, the slide in media standards would erode the democratic system. “Saving the media should be seen as saving democracy” he said.

So how could media be funded better and in new ways? Krajewski suggested moving away from ‘funding by prize-giving’, which tended to produce exclusively positive EU stories. Instead, it was time to start independent high-quality media funds. High quality journalism should be supported just like elections, he argued.

Wilfried Ruetten of the EJC suggested that EU money to be given to individual journalists rather than media houses. Unlike media houses that tended to spend it on bureaucracy and buildings, individual journalists reporting on serious issues could be held more accountable.

He also suggested establishing a European monitoring body which would create a data-base of European journalists and their fields of expertise and interest.

Sixtine Bouygues addressed the question of what role the EU Commission should play.

Following the euro crisis, budgetary pressures increased and expenses had to be reduced sharply. Everyone had to do better while spending much less money.

She described how the Commission had reduced the costs of its own Communication work. The EU had been able to cut the costs of its visual logos, and websites had been simplified and rationalised.

Christophe Leclerq of EurActiv.com, argued for a swift process of consultation with media organisations and other stakeholders to devise proposals for boosting public support to independent media coverage of EU policies in new ways. He argued that EU institutions had missed opportunities to move in that direction in the past; and that the editorial independence of any entity receiving public funding would need to be strengthened. Eric Maurice of Presseurop said that his consortium (of four magazines, publishing online a wide selection of daily press articles from all over Europe translated into 10 languages), had helped deliver pluralism and diversity of information . Presseurop has been funded by the European Commission under an arrangement that is coming to an end this year. Nicola Frank of the European Broadcasting Union noted the changing media landscape where everyone was competing with everyone, but said the EU and EBU, with members in 56 countries, could help public service media especially when a country was seeking membership of the EU. Finally Katharine Sarikakis of Vienna University commented that journalists could only be independent if there was a sound financial structure and legal framework, and lamented the closure of ERT, the Greek public service broadcaster, even though it was making a profit at the time when it was forcibly closed down.

The 51st AEJ Congress in Brussels passed two resolutions.

The AEJ General Assembly applauded the recent revelations by Edward Snowden and other whistle-blowers and denounced the widespread and secret snooping by state intelligence agencies, condemning intrusions on freedom and privacy.

The AEJ General Assembly condemned the crackdown on media representatives and human rights activists in some European countries including Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia. An AEJ resolution urged the Council of Europe to postpone Azerbaijan’s forthcoming chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers in May 2014 if it continues to treat its dissenting voices with ‘a blatant disregard for human rights, democratic values and the rule of law. ‘

More details are available on the AEJ website www.aej.org.

Firdev Robinson’s regular blog interpreting many aspects of contemporary Turkey can be read on http://www.firdevstalkturkey.com/