Dear friends and colleagues:
Things are at last moving in a better direction in Europe. EU-wide resistance to repressive policies in Hungary and Poland – both chipping away at the last of their free media – is positive. Well-prepared and determined EU-legislation against the over-mighty Big Tech firms like Facebook are already bearing fruit. There seems to be a genuinely new spirit in the European Commission which can only encourage us.
Therefore I was delighted to have arranged our recent online meeting with Vera Jourova, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for promoting fundamental values and transparency. She now has a budget for supporting free media, and is open to our suggestions about how it should be spent – on training journalists, for example.
This is exactly the kind of high-level relationship the AEJ needs to build up. Similarly, the immediate, vigorous protests made by our new Albanian section over the arrest and abuse of their vice-president, the prominent journalist Qamil Xhani, last week, also bore fruit. He was quickly freed.
There is a real European dynamic behind press freedom. It is essential we support it, not just over such outrages as intimidating journalists and nationalising or corrupting the media. The plague of cyber-manipulation and fake news which have destroyed or crippled so many great newspapers and media is the real enemy of all of us. Tough, single-minded Commissioners are now, at last, taking the lead against the powerful US coporations like Facebook& Google. The next US-President Joe Biden will hopefully soon establish better relations with Europe after four years of Trumpism.
As my presidency is about to end soon after six exciting years, I am delighted that I could strengthen our European pillar – with several seminars and high-level contacts to Commissioners and MEPs. I hope that the soon to be elected new AEJ-board will stay on this course. And I wanted to thank our present AEJ-board with our Special Representatives for their precious work done for our association.
We have a large part to play, but only if we remain tough and united about what we believe in – a free, democratic Europe with independent media which are able to control politics and politicians as the fourth power in a democratic society. Brexit has been a blow to European unity. But the rest of the EU has stood firm despite the pandemic. The last-minute reached trade deal between UK and EU will avoid problems in the economic exchange but not in the relations between people. Boris Johnson announced a stop for European students studying at British universities with the Erasmus scheme.
And the EU will hopefully play a more decisive role in world politics. The recent attacks of Russian President Vladimir Putin on several EU-countries at a time when the involvement of his secret service in the poisoning of Alexej Nawalny became evident should lead to a firm reaction of the European Union.
And after the scandalous 27 years prison-sentence for the prominent Turkish journalist Can Dundar I find it is high time to stop the negotiations with Ankara for EU-membership.
Back to our agenda: All national sections please note Tibor Macak’s message that you need to propose candidates for the forthcoming online elections (February 15) by mid-January at the latest: the statutes specify 30 days maximum before elections. The vote, apart from the election of the Board (see statute 9), will be open and the elections will be the only item on the agenda.
If we are lucky we will soon be able to meet face-to-face in Greece and resolve, amicably, as has always been our tradition, the various tensions which have arisen during this difficult time.
I wish everyone a productive, successful, and above all healthy New Year!
Otmar Lahodynsky, President, AEJ