Letter from AEJ President Otmar Lahodynsky AEJ Current Topics

Events and dates of interest

Dear friends and colleagues:

Rough times for European integration and journalists covering it. Rough times also for media freedom menaced by populist leaders, strategically planned disinformation and growing fake news. And for the first time, we deplore murdered colleagues working inside the European Union like Daphne Galicia Caruana in Malta or Jan Kuciak in Slovakia. Both were investigative journalists whose mission becomes more and more dangerous in these turbulent time of rapid changes. AEJ was among the organizers of an event in the European Parliament in early September with MEP Josef Weidenholzer commemorating these victims and giving the floor to Turkish journalist Mesale Tolu just out of prison.

For the first time in its history, the EU is about to lose one of its members, the United Kingdom, with far-reaching consequences for Britain and the EU. Again, disinformation, blatant lies and irresponsible politicians were behind „Brexit“. One of them was Boris Johnson, a colleague of mine when I was correspondent in Brussels, who already in the early Nineties wrote articles attacking the EU using lies and false information at random.

It was a bit ironic that we celebrated the 50th birthday of our UK-section in London last September with panel debates about „Brexit“ and its consequences with a lot of prominent personalities in the „European House“. Thanks again to the organizers with William Horsley, our Vice-president and media freedom-representative, on top. End of June I had organized another seminar in the European Parliament, this time dedicated to Brexit. An accident in Berlin prevented me from attending the debates in Brussels. Among the prominent MEPs from all main fractions speaking to us was Antonio Tajani, the President of the European Parliament. I believe that with events like this and similar activities by our European representative Lieven Taillie, the voice of AEJ is being heard in European institutions.

This brings me to our next congress in Agrinio/Greece with many thanks to the organizers from our ever active Greek section under the leadership of our Vice- President Saia Tsaousidou. We will have elections of all important positions. After having received support from several sections I will stand for a (final) two years period but I am not clinging to my post.

With all the challenges described before, AEJ has an important role to play.

Therefore there is not too much time for inward views. The sections are the backbone of AEJ and the more activities they develop the whole Association will profit from them.

I – with the whole board –am ready to support them.  Let’s continue the work.

AEJ and JSC common statement to the killing of Saudi Journalist

The Association of European Journalists (AEJ) and the Journalist Support Committee (JSC) express their horror and dismay at the Saudi authorities‘ announcement about what they have said was the „accidental killing“ of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey. The announcement makes clear that the assassination of Khashoggi is a crime of international dimensions with far-reaching implications that requires serious and international efforts to pursue the murderers and the masterminds, who must face justice before an independent international tribunal.

The Association of European Journalists (AEJ) and the Journalist Support Committee (JSC)  call on the Turkish authorities to disclose all the available information related to this crime. Our organisations urge strenuous, independent and transparent investigations to determine the motives and the full facts about the circumstances of this crime and to determine the whereabouts of the journalist Khashoggi’s remains.

The AEJ and the JSC both insist on full accountability for this appalling murder through a prompt and effective international investigation which must determine the identities of every person involved in this crime, including the perpetrators and those who ordered it, and ensure that there is no impunity for anyone who is found to be responsible.

Journalists under attack! Conference in European Parliament in Brussels

On the initiative of the Austrian MEP Josef Weidenholzer, Association of European Journalists and Austrian Journalists Club ÖJC under the patronage of the European Parliament an international conference on Journalists under attack! Attacks on The Free Press in Europe and Turkey! was organized in Brussels on 5th of September 2018 Every year journalists are threatened, imprisoned or killed for their work. Even inside the European Union journalists had to pay for their work with their lives. In Turkey, hundreds of journalists are in prison. On the recent attacks on the free press in the EU and Turkey MEP Josef Weidenholzer invited to a discussion in the European Parliament. Participants on the panel were: Meşale Tolu (German journalist, released from prison in Turkey), Kader Tonc (lawyer for Ms. Tolu), Tibor Macak (journalist, Slovakia, Secretary General of AEJ Int., Fred Turnheim (Journalist, President, Austrian Journalists Club – ÖJC) and MEP Josef Weidenholzer (Vice-President of Social Democrats in the European Parliament).

For more than half a year Mesale Tolu was imprisoned in Turkey with her two-year-old son. After that, the German journalist was initially unable to leave but then the ban was lifted. In the presence of her lawyers and several journalists, Meşale Tolu described in the European Parliament the alarming situation surrounding the freedom of expression and the press in Turkey, as well as shattering details about her detention. Tibor Macak spoke about the situation in Slovakia after the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancé Martina Kusnirova. ÖJC President Fred Turnheim called on the members of the European Parliament to do everything in their power to clarify the killings of journalists in Slovakia and Malta.

Candlelight vigil for murdered Maltese journalist in London

Tuesday 16 October marked one year since the brutal assassination of Malta’s best- known investigative journalist and anti-corruption campaigner Daphne Caruana Galizia. She was killed when a car bomb detonated as she drove away from her home in Bidnija, Malta. Although three individuals have been arrested in the murder investigation, those who ordered her killing have yet to be brought to justice. To honour her bravery, and to call for justice in her case, a group of Maltese people living, studying, and working in London, together with AEJ and a number of free expression and anti-corruption NGOs, a candlelight vigil was organized outside the Malta High Commission in London.

AEJ UK section hosts ‘consensus-seeking’ London debate on future UK-EU relations and marks a major anniversary

AEJ stages ‘consensus-seeking’ debate on future UK-EU relations in London, and marks the 50th anniversary in London. The AEJ has hosted an ambitious event in London on Friday 28 September in a search for a degree of consensus among rival camps in the ongoing fierce debate over Brexit and the shape of future UK-EU relations in the longer term. The AEJ-UK 50 Years Forum: Colloquium on the Future of UK-EU Relations was held just six months before the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU. The event marked 50 years since the formation of the UK branch and it generated something rare in the present fevered political climate in Britain: an open-minded dialogue among figures from opposing sides of the Brexit debate.

The event – presented by AEJ-Vice-president and UK-section president William Horsley – attracted active participation by about 100 diplomate, officials, and representatives of a wide range of professional and civil society organisations, including more than 40 journalists from all corners of the EU. A dozen AEJ member journalists from other EU states, including international AEJ president Otmar Lahodynsky of Austria’s “profil” magazine, flew into London specially to join the debate, at the invitation of the European Commission which supported the organisation of the event by the AEJ in the UK.

Full details of the event, with links to prepared speeches, summaries of the panels and the interventions by AEJ journalists on the reporting of Brexit in the European media, are available on the AEJ UK website  http://www.aej-uk.org/. Audio and video recordings of the Colloquium will also be made available there.

In his keynote speech Sir Martin Donnelly,who until last year held a series of very senior posts dealing with the EU in the UK Cabinet Office, Foreign Office and Department of International Trade, said that the UK government’s mishandling of the Brexit negotiations and unrealistic expectations are likely to result in serious damage to the country’s wealth and standing in the world. He predicted that it would take years or even decades before the UK could achieve an eventual recovery in its fortunes, which would also require a sober re-think of Britain’s often testy relationship with its closest neighbours by a new generation of political leaders.

Austrian Interior Ministry wants to restrict information for „critical media“

The Association of European Journalists condemns a proposal by the Austrian Ministry of Interior to restrict information for what they called „critical media“. A ministry spokesman close to Minister Herbert Kickl (Freedom Party FPO) told police authorities to favour media outlets which report friendly about the ministry and police affairs and withhold information to those newspapers which report „one-sided and negative“ about the Ministry and police.

In an e-mail leaked to the press, the spokesman recommended to „restrict communication with these media to only the most necessary (legally required) degree”.

With these proposals the Austrian minister once again showed his disrespect of media freedom“ says AEJ-President Otmar Lahodynsky, an Austrian journalist. A few weeks ago, in the scandal about the Austrian Anti-Terror and Intelligence office BVT, which was raided by police loyal to Mr Kickl, there were rumours that private homes of investigative journalists might be searched by police.“ Five Austrian editors-in-chief and AEJ warned of any such attacks on press freedom.

AEJ protests against ‘setup’ and wrongful convictions of Myanmar journalists

The AEJ protests in the strongest terms against the recent seven-year jail sentences imposed by a Myanmar court on two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone und Kyaw Soe Oo who was arrested last December while investigating the killings of Rohingya people by the army…

AEJ president Otmar Lahodynsky said: “This verdict, which harks back to colonial times, is based on wholly false accusations of stealing state secrets. We demand the immediate release of the two journalists who were only doing their job of checking and reporting the facts. Apparently, they fell into a trap set by the Myanmar police.

If the reporters are not released EU should consider imposing new sanctions against the military regime in Myanmar. We also support calls that the Sakharov Prize that was awarded to Aung San Suu Kyi should be taken back from the de facto head of government in Myanmar who has taken no meaningful measures to stop the horrific acts of violence and abuse against the Rohingya people.”

International press meeting in Brussels explores Brexit impasse and outlook for the ‘EU 27’

The AEJ’s Press Seminar hosted by the European Parliament in Brussels explored the ‘slowdown’ in Brexit talks and the outlook for the EU’s future without the UK. A senior Austrian diplomat warned there could be ‘no delays and no fudges’ but all sides will be worse off after the UK leaves.  Declan Bredin of the AEJ Irish section reports: Three issues featured strongly in the Press Seminar organised by the Association of European Journalists which took place at the European Parliament in Brussels on June 26th and 27th, immediately prior to the latest EU Summit. They were: Brexit, immigration and press freedom.

Sadly, AEJ President Otmar Lahodynsky was unable to attend because of an accident in Berlin which left him restricted in travel options. However, he did address the seminar by video from his hospital bed and wished us the very best for our two-day meeting.

A special session was held to discuss the looming departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

This is, of course, one of the most significant developments of recent times and the implications for Ireland and the border between the two parts of the island have become a critical item in the negotiations for withdrawal. The panel for the discussion included Dublin MEP Brian Hayes who pointed out that there is currently no physical manifestation of the border between north and south and that everyone is anxious to avoid returning to the controls that existed in the past.

AEJ Austria:  New homepage for the Austrian EU-presidency

The Austrian section of AEJ launched a new homepage for the ongoing Austrian EU- presidency from July-December 2018. Former TV-journalist Brigitte Rambossek collects all relevant articles about EU-topics in Austrian and selected international media and makes them available with links online.