Letter from AEJ President Otmar Lahodynsky

AEJ Current Topics

Media Freedom News

Upcoming events a dates of interest

Reports on the AEJ Vilnius Congress in November 2017

Llewellyn King’s Notebook: “The new publishing giants”

News from AEJ sections

SEEMO Congress publishes Recommendations on media coverage of human rights issues

Dear friends, dear colleagues!

We are facing turbulent times, not only in the European Union.

Since our 2016 congress in Ireland we have witnessed a stalemate in the ongoing Brexit negotiations. The refugee crisis is not over yet. And the EUCommission could not convince several member states to take part in the relocation program. Italy, Greece and Malta face a growing number of refugees from North Africa. The treaty of the EU with Turkey is put into danger by the increasingly autocratic governing style of President Erdogan.

Pressconference of Media Organizations in Istanbul Photo: AEJ

In March 2017, I took part in a fact finding mission of five media freedom organizations (among them AEJ) to Turkey. We talked to some brave colleagues who still try to do their job normally but face all kind of repression by the Turkish authorities.

More than 155 colleagues are behind bars – almost all of them not having committed any crime but having done their job as journalists.

We have witnessed a growing problem with fake news and propaganda. There were credible reports of Russian involvement in elections in France and maybe in Catalonia. A new taskforce by the European external service to counter Kremlin propaganda was established. I have invited its leader to our congress in Kilkenny. He was in Vienna last october and his reports were alarming. At our last congress in Vilnius/Lithuania in November 2017 we heard a report by the vice-minister for foreign affairs of Lithuania, that his country is in a state of hybrid war with Russia. My thanks go to Violetta Teetor from our Finnish section who organized the congress so well despite a lack of sponsors.

Across the Atlantic we are faced with Donald Trump’s administration. He is not interested in a strong Europe and opposes free trade arrangements and the urgent fight against climate change.

But there is a a major problem coming from within:

There are too few politicians who defend and support the whole European project as many of them fear the opposition of populists and EU-opponents. French president Emmanuel Macron is an exception when he presented some new visions for the EU in his Sorbonne-speech.

There is a growing rift between old and new members of EU as some Eastern European governments are not willing to accept any relocation of refugees. Some of them have problems to accept common European values and seem to fall back in autocratic patterns which many of us thought extinguished after the fall of communism. For the first time ever the Commission opened a legal procedure against the government of Poland because of violations of European values in the justice sector. A feeling of being second class members took place. The European Commission has a responsibilty for that: Often acting arrogantly and doing nothing against obvious discrimination – one example: different quality standards for

products sold under the same brand name. In establishing a new high-level-group for fighting fake-news candidates from new member states were left outside:  Especially our AEJ-expert Irina Nedeva, President of our Bulgarian section, would have been a very good choice.

Media freedom came under attack also inside the EU. In the beginning of 2018 I took part in a mission of media-organizations to Croatia. Political influence on media, especially in public broadcast, is on the rise. Hate speech is growing. There is lack of transparency in ownership of media. (see report). I wish to thank our Media freedom-representative and Vice-President William Horsley for his precious work.

The case of Catalonia shows that there are strong centrifugal forces in Europe. “Nationalisme – c’est la guerre” said Francois Mitterrand in his last and moving speech in European Parliament back in 1995.

In my view EU-politicians did not do enough to deescalate the conflict out of

fear meddling with inner-Spanish issues.

“Brexit” is another conflict which happened because wrong expectations were triggered by both politicians and some media, sadly often with the help of blunt lies and fake news. On my initiative we held a seminar in cooperation with the Press service of the European Parliament in March 2017. We had prominent panelists from different parties on the future of Europe and Brexit.

Among the irresponsible politicians I count Boris Johnson in the forefront, my former colleague in the Brussels press corps in the early Nineties who already then distributed fake news and lies about the EU. Austria will take over presidency of EU in 2nd half of 2018 and is expected to finalize negotiations with UK. Our British section will celebrate its 50th anniversary soon. It goes without saying that they will remain deeply rooted within AEJ.

There is one positive element in the whole Brexit-case: The general support for the EU in the 27 EU-countries has risen. Many EU-citizens still expect protection from the EU and don’t want to leave it. I think that the EU can survive if it really tackles the main problems: Immigration, unemployment, climate change, terrorism – so it has to grant security in all its aspects.

EU is not doomed to fail if some reforms are done.  And here our AEJ comes in. The founding journalists from France, Italy and Germany who created our organization back in 1963 righlty stated that European integration is far too important to be left to politicians and diplomats.

We journalists have a responsabilty to take part in the many challenges of the EU institutions. We should continue to warn of populists, nationalists and all terrible simplifiers.

Our association is on the rise again:  After the new section in Bosnia-

Herzegowina a new section in Serbia is in the state of renewal. Welcome!

My final thanks go to AEJ-General Secretary Tibor Macak. He initiated a cooperation with the „Euro-Iran Media Dialogue“. Its General Secretary of Journalists Support Committee, Yaser Al-Sayegh, attended our General Assembly in Vilnius.

Best wishes for 2018 to all of you!

Otmar Lahodynsky AEJ-President

AEJ Current Topics:

1) AEJ input to the European Commission Public consultation on “Fake news and online disinformation”:

Please send written contributions to Iri Ned on  a.s.a.p.

Iri wrote to Sections on 12 January to report with regret that her application to become a member of the new High Level Group (HLG) on fake news on behalf of the AEJ, as mandated at the Vilnius Congress, was not successful, despite sending in a well-researched bid.

The invitation to send written contributions and the terms and scope of the consultation are explained here:

Despite not having a place on the HLG, Iri has asked for Sections to see the precise terms of the Consultation and send her their own written assessements and comments well before the consultation closes on 23 February.

She wrote: „I will prepare some joint text on the base of your contribution and will send it to you first before submitting it online.“

2) Council of Europe High-Profile Interview Project

Send recommended names to William Horsley a.s.a.p.

William is currently advising the Council of Europe on a new high-profile Project as part of the Council of Europe’s safety of journalists work. It will be a book publication (with other publicity) based on in-depth interviews with leading journalists and editors across Europe who experienced violence, intimidation and other undue pressures. The aim is to draw public and governments’ attention to the scale and damage done by such hostility and the need for urgent threats to support free and independent media. If any Section or individuals can recommend an especially outstanding individual as a possible interviewee to be considered for inclusion in the project, please contact William with full details as soon as possible on . This project is Part Two of the Council of Europe’s survey published in April 2017 on “Journalists under pressure: unwarranted interference and self-censorship in Europe”, which reflected the views of many AEJ members who volunteered to take part:

3) International media freedom delegation in Croatia: some improvements, old and new issues

On January 15 and 16, 2018, an international delegation of press freedom organisation representatives, including Otmar Lahodynsky on behalf of the AEJ, visited Zagreb to observe the state of media freedom in Croatia. This was the second such visit in two years.

After the fact-finding mission in June 2016 produced particularly bad results (please find here the report), the representatives of the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and Reporters without Borders (RSF) did find a slightly more positive situation at the beginning of 2018.

First of all, the new conservative–liberal (HDZ–HNS) coalition at least has media freedom as a matter of the utmost importance for a member state of the European Union on its agenda. However, “it still has a long way to go“, says Oliver Vujovic of SEEMO.

Pauline Adès-Mével of RSF stressed that it’s not a good sign if a delegation visits a member country of the European Union twice in two years. “Now ranked 74th in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, Croatia has fallen steadily in the index since joining the European Union in 2013, by a total of ten places in less than five years. It must be hoped that Croatia will not take the same road as Bulgaria, which began falling as soon as it joined the EU in 2007 and now has the worst ranking of any EU member.”

In meetings with the President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, the Minister of Culture of Croatia Nina Obuljen Koržinek, trade unions, journalists’ associations and professional organisations, journalists, media authorities and ambassadors the criticisms were:

– Various sources claim that biased reporting and internal governance of the public service HRT haven’t really changed since 2016. We did identify several problems and unresolved questions. Due to illnesses in both the HRT management and one of the relevant journalists’ associations, the delegation could not check these concerns on the spot. But there are some encouraging signs, too. By all means, HRT is not only under political pressure, but also under attack by different interest groups demanding to interfere in editorial and management decisions. Boris Bergant of EBU stressed that this shows “a fundamental misunderstanding of the role and function of public service media in the society.” The Minister of Culture promised to improve the legislation.

– The destructive influence of hate speech on society has actually increased. Even though there are no extremist parties in the parliament, the public space seems to be poisoned by daily verbal attacks, including on journalists.

“We were quite astonished to find that the Agency for Electronic Media considered all 30 of the hate speech complaints in 2017 as not being hate speech. In 2016 there was one single case that was recognised as such. Croatia desperately needs to deal with hate speech”, says Sophie Albers Ben Chamo of the ECPMF. The delegation urged the President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović to use her position to speak out decisively against incitement and threats of all kinds.

– The delegation praised the work of the Croatian police, as they have recently arrested more persons who physically attacked journalists, compared to the past. However physical attacks, threats and especially online threats against journalists are still a big problem.

– Still there is no media strategy. The Minister of Culture Nina Obuljen Koržinek announced that her ministry is taking care of the law on media as well as the law on electronic media.

– Part of this strategy should also include the support of non-profit media whose state subsidies were completely cut off by the former government. Their situation hasn’t changed since then.

– Also an issue that needs to be examined is media ownership. “In many cases media ownership is not transparent. One prominent person, not active in media business owns a series of media. A foreign group with unknown owners controls a few regional and local media.”, says Otmar Lahodynsky of AEJ.

– Finally, journalists’ working conditions haven’t improved. “Trade unionists are discriminated and dismissed, collective agreements exist only in few media, and they aren’t negotiated collectively. Journalists are forced not to write about some topics, and there are no trade union organisations in numerous private media”, says Marijana Camovic of EFJ.

The preparation and the swift implementation of this visit must be credited to the support of the local partner of the European Federation of Journalists, the Croatian Journalists Assocation (HND).The delegation will issue a detailed report by the end of February 2018.


from William Horsley

Campaign to appoint a Special Rapporteur to monitor the investigation into the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia: In a Joint Statement on the international AEJ website ten Partner organisatons of the Council of Europe backed the call by Daphne’s three sons for the PACE (Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly) to appoint a Special Rapporteur to monitor the investigation into the killing, which has so far failed to give any sign of identifying the masterminds or instigators.

The AEJ was also one of 14 organisations that sent an Open Letter to the members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) also calling for the appointment of the Special Rapporteur. Other organisations included the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, where Krzystof Bobinski of the AEJ Polish has been active for the past several years; also the European Federation of Journalists, Reporters Sans Frontières, Transparency International, International Press Institute, PEN International, Committee to Protect Journalists, International News Safety Institute, International Federation of Journalists, Index on Censorship, Article 19, English PEN, and European Centre for Press and Media Freedom. The AEJ was also a joint sponsor of the Side event on 22 January in Strasbourg , also sponsored by a cross-party group of national MPs in the Parliamentary Assembly, where the sons Matthew, Andrew and Paul made an appeal in person.

Support among PACE members is strong, with over 100 of them supporting the motion for a Resolution to appoint a Special Rapporteur. Here is the motion with the names of all the signatories:

A decision about the appointment is expected in March 2018.

First “Annual Report” by the partner organisations of the COE’s Platform

The Joint Statement of AEJ and other press freedom groups of 17 January also set out the first Annual Report (on statistics for 2017) of the Partner organisations of the Platform for the safety of journalists The Report highlighted the major negative trends in press freedom including many violent attacks and jailings of journalists. It is well worth reading it, and you may use the data for your own reference or writings: . In 2017 there were 130 Alerts about serious threats to media freedom and 5 journalists were killed in Europe.  You can stay up to date by following the publication of regular Media Freedom Alerts on the Council of Europe’s Platform for the safety of journalists

Campaigns to free jailed and persecuted journalists in Turkey: Since the Vilnius

Congress the AEJ has also cooperated with other press freedom groups to publish public statements protesting against the ongoing suppression of press freedom in Turkey – see the AEJ website

AEJ initiative in the Council of Europe Media Steering Committee. In December 2017

the AEJ made a public proposal to the Council of Europe’s Media Steering Committee (CDMSI) to host regular six-monthly Reviews and Hearings at its plenary meetings to assess and combat violent attacks and legal harassment against journalists. The proposal is now under active consideration.


# My new edition of the OSCE Journalists Safety Guidebook (3rd edition) is due to be published in the coming weeks (launch date and details to be confirmed).

# A major conference will be held in Gdansk, Poland on 15-16 February on ‘Free European Media’. It is organised by Council of Europe, European Federation of Journalists, Association of Polish Journalists and others. Speakers to include Lech Walesa, Thorbjorn Jagland and Harlem Desir, the recently-appointed OSCE Representative on freedom of the Media. William Horsley plans to attend. For information contact EFJ or .

Reports on the AEJ Vilnius Congress in November 2017

Report from the European Journalists Network in Finland 

By Violetta Teetor, President of the EJN

In spite of criticisms and negative feedback I received from people who didn’t actually attend the congress but who claimed they had heard rumors via the grapevine, I firmly believe that the theme and topics that were discussed were more than vital in this age of distrust in the media.

According to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, 59% of respondents would trust a search engine over traditional media and they are also 4 times more likely to ignore information that does not support their existing views. In the light of this, what we learnt about threats to our industry, the pervasive, insidiousness of disinformation and organisations that work to uncover untruths, were all certainly worth a congress and pointed us to the needs and challenges we face in the future. We also became aware of the threats posed to our Lithuanian colleagues who can be termed ‘information warriors’ in their quest in combatting propaganda and blatant falsehoods spread by their erstwhile occupiers i.e. Russia.

The current climate of #metoo highlights the role and dangers facing female journalists a highly topical subject. It is not only in the movie industry that women are faced with coercion of a sexual nature, it all too frequently happens in the media in general. This opens the discussion so aptly taken up by the Association for Gender Equality whose efforts are aimed at raising the status of the way women are treated at work and in the home. Jennifer Adams, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and particularly focused on the safety of women journalists, sent a clear message that these issues cannot be ignored.

Looking back at the Congress and what it achieved, if nobody got anything at all out of the presentations, at least they would now know what a ‘gongo’ is, how ‘bots’ work and the channels that can be used to debunk suspicious news. The most satisfying outcome, however, would be to encourage the Lithuanian Journalist Centre to establish a Lithuanian section of the AEJ. Safety in numbers is not an empty expression and is particularly useful in the media atmosphere that pervades Lithuania and the other Baltic States at present.

I would like to thank everyone who so diligently spread the news about the wonderful city of Vilnius and who reported on our event. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed and the news is spreading. A special thanks to all our sponsors and organisers:

Vita Zilinskaite and her colleagues, Vilnius Convention Centre for their help and quick email reponses Asta. Ceberakaite from the Finnish Embassy in Vilnius and Ambassador Christer Michelsson for the opening reception Veronika Cicenaite at Tech Park Sapiegos for the space Lina Atkočiūtė from the Mayor’s Office and Mayor Remigijus Šimašius for lunch on Friday, Aušrinė Vyšniūnaitė from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Vice Foreign Minister, Darius Skusevičius for opening our congress and for dinner at The Element , Džina Donauskaite from the Lithuanian Journalist Centre for providing us a hall for our General Assembly, Asta Kraujalyte and others from the European Institute for Gender Equality for the presentation and lunch at The Kitchen and finally  Go Vilnius for the walking tour.