Lech, Austria, 24/04/22
by Otmar Lahodynsky, Honorary AEJ President
A seminar of media experts (in German/ DE) on the Arlberg pass was dedicated to the new threats to media freedom – especially during the war in Ukraine.
The 14th European Media Summit in Lech am Arlberg from 21 – 23 April was dedicated to
the dramatic consequences of the war in Ukraine and the increased threats from disinformation and fake news, especially for the media sector.
Austria’s Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg warned that Putin’s “war of aggression” was also an attack on the Western model of democracy and personal freedoms. Only one fifth of all UN member states are now committed to basic Western values such as democracy, rule of law, media freedom, market economy and strong civil society: Mainly EU countries, the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan and Israel.
The Russian Federation and China in particular are pursuing an authoritarian course that has largely abolished individual freedoms. Putin had developed his own model for expanding Russia’s sphere of influence and limiting democracy since coming to power in 2000, when the EU had offered him cooperation and also “change through trade;” and had focused on strengthening Russian civil society.
Schallenberg defended the position of Austria, Germany, and other EU states of buying natural gas and oil from Russia. However, Putin’s true intentions should have been recognised at the latest after his annexation of Crimea in 2014 and his support for the separatists in the Donbass.
However, the EU had shown great unity after the Russian army’s massive attack on Ukraine and had adopted “the toughest sanctions package” against Russia, which went far beyond the sanctions against Iran.
Schallenberg caused strong objections in Kiev with his statements on EU accession to Ukraine. Asked about a quick admission of Ukraine to the EU, Schallenberg pointed to “tailor-made offers of the closest possible connection of Ukraine” to the EU, which “do not necessarily have to go through full membership”.
Schallenberg stressed that the EU should not forget about the countries of the Western Balkans. Countries such as Northern Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia or Serbia have been waiting for years for accession talks to begin.
For Ukraine, Georgia or Moldova, the EU should therefore allow participation in the internal market (similar to the EEA) or equal participation in working groups (on energy or transport, for example). Ukraine would then be able to participate in decision-making as a member.
Schallenberg also expressed doubts as to whether, for example, the Common EU Agricultural Policy could still be continued as it is now if Ukraine were admitted.
Russian and Ukrainian media interpreted this as a categorical “no” from Vienna to Ukrainian EU membership, and there was clear criticism from Kiev.
Now it was right for the EU to build up stronger military cooperation, as had already been planned in the 1950s but blocked by France. Austria would participate in this as a neutral state, but would not join a military alliance. “Putin has failed to achieve all his goals: he has turned all his European partners against him. Sweden and Finland are considering joining Nato.” Even after the war in Ukraine, ended he said, there would be no “return to the status pro ante” in the EU’s relationship with Russia. But channels of dialogue would of course be needed.
Othmar Karas, Vice-President of the European Parliament, said that the EU could only face the new threats together. “We must defend our European values more resolutely in future. There needs to be more cooperation among EU countries instead of duplication, including in military cooperation.
Matthew Caruana Galizia, Director of the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, appeared at the talk on the various methods of intimidating journalists through “SLAPP lawsuits”. According to investigative reports, his mother (right) was murdered with a car bomb under circumstances that have not yet been clarified. He said there was an urgent need to change the way the EU was fighting corruption. The media would link up with each other worldwide. This was lacking in the police authorities, Galizia complained.
Boguslaw Chrabota, editor-in-chief of Rzeczpospolita in Poland, reported that a large amount of state money went to media outlets to control them. However, some were resisting: “The government is opposing freedom of the press, but we still have a large number of independent media that are resisting. We are oppressed by the state, but we protect our freedom.”
In a panel on “Media between Fake and Facts”, the deputy editor-in-chief of the Süddeutsche Zeitung“, Alexandra Föderl-Schmid referred to an increase in intimidation attempts by Russian diplomats after critical articles about Russian massacres in Ukraine. As panelist I referred to – in my view- the justified ban on Russian TV channels such as “Russia Today” and “Sputnik” imposed by the EU Commission. Their war propaganda had nothing to do with media freedom.
I also pointed to the EU’s resistance through the portal “EUvsDisinfo”, which has been deliberately exposing Russian disinformation for years. For example, Putin’s trolls are currently distorting “Wikipedia” articles written by his critics in the West. Since more than 80 per cent of Russians have been influenced by state media to believe lies about alleged genocide of Russians in eastern Ukraine, an independent media channeling independent reports to Russia was obviously needed.
The negative role of “social media”, which influenced the outcome of the Brexit referendum via micro-targeting – such as by “Cambridge Analytica”, was also addressed. By siphoning off advertisements, especially quality media had been deprived of financial resources. I called for more efforts to promote “media literacy” in schools, also through a new and separate subject of media studies, so that young people learn to distinguish facts from fakes.
Overall, however, quality media would increase in importance, due to the pandemic and now the war in Ukraine, was the consrnsus among the panels on the three days of the event.
- All panel discussions (mostly in German) are accessible at www.mediengipfel.at
Since its inauguration in 2007, the European Media Summit in Lech am Arlberg has provided an exceptional setting for unfiltered insights and well-founded perspectives into the ongoing turbulent world of the media, European politics and the economic and socio-political contexts of European life. The European Media Summit under the patronage of the Austrian Foreign Ministry – initiated by the communications agency ProMedia Kommunikation and since then organised in a leading role with Lech Zürs Tourismus GmbH and the Association of the Foreign Press in Vienna – is supported by the Municipality of Lech and the Provinces of Vorarlberg and Tyrol, the European Parliament under Vice-President Othmar Karas, the Press Club Concordia and the Association of the Foreign Press Berlin. Other partners are Tirol Werbung, PEMA, BTV Bank für Tirol und Vorarlberg and BMW. The Media Academy is supported by APA – Austria Press Agency, the European Parliament, Moser Holding GmbH and Russ Media. Media partners of the event are APA – Austria Presse Agentur, Der Standard, Tiroler Tageszeitung and Vorarlberger Nachrichten.