24/01/2016 AEJ Newsletter 1 - 2016

Dear colleagues, dear AEJ members,

The past year was a sad one for media freedom in Europe. Eleven journalists were killed, among them eight of the staff of the Parisian satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo who were murdered by Islamic terrorists in January.

“We have seen a shift in how members of the media are being attacked and threatened,” says Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE's veteran representative for media freedom. Threats were growing “in both magnitude and severity,” she said. Across the region, 33 journalists were physically assaulted, and dozens more threatened or intimidated, according to the Council of Europe.

The OSCE considered the worst decline in media freedom in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, the Western Balkans, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. Our Turkish colleagues reported a growing number of journalists being jailed, and numerous crackdowns on newspaper and other media offices.

AEJ Vice-President William Horsley, our own representative for media freedom, told the Brussels-based Politico news organisation: “It’s become clearer than ever that there is a very widespread and many-sided oppression of free media going on.

It consists both of coercion — pressure and violence — and also cooption, the taking over of media space by pressure groups and politicians.” Even in EU countries there were alarming developments, with further crackdowns on media critical of the government In Hungary, and in Spain new legislation was introduced making it easier to prosecute journalists. In Italy, our sister-organisation Ossigeno per informazione reported a series of crackdowns and intimidations.

The latest setback for media freedom came with the election of a new, openly authoritarian right-wing government in Poland at the end of 2015. It introduced a new law giving itself total control of the public radio and television.

The AEJ was among the first journalists’ organisations to send an open protest letter to the Polish government. This received EU-wide coverage; our Polish section will continue to inform us about developments. The European Commission has just started a procedure – the first of its kind in the EU's history - to verify whether the Polish government is violating basic European values.

But the AEJ has also been critical of European institutions in 2015, notably over a new EU Directive adopted by the European Parliament to protect companies' trade secrets. This will have the effect of making investigative journalism more difficult.

The AEJ is still waiting for a Commission proposal for how it proposes to protect whistleblowers. The AEJ's French section has collected thousands of signatures calling for changes to the Directive.

Our new representative in Brussels, Lieven Taillie, was elected at our general congress last October to succeed our honorary General-Secretary, Peter Kramer, whom I want to thank again for holding the AEJ flag high in Brussels, and we wish Lieven every success in continuing Peter's good work.

Last November's general congress in Sibiu was notably fruitful and interesting thanks to the excellent organisation of our Romanian section. Mulcumesc to the Romanian team with Teodora, Ioana and Oana. You will find more about who said what, and what was decided, in this newsletter and on our homepage.

The AEJ family is growing. We welcome back our Finnish section. Kiitos! A new section in Bosnia-Herzegovina has been established and should be fully operative this year. We are however sorry to report that the Dutch section will not be able to continue in its present form.

We also lost a dear friend and longtime AEJ-supporter from Italy: Vera De Luca, Vice-President of the Italian section, passed away on January 2nd. - R.I.P.!

With growing threats against media freedom the AEJ has an ever-increasing responsibility to stand up for journalists' rights and make its voice heard. I also would like to thank our General Secretary, Tibor Macak, for his efforts and our fruitful cooperation.

I wish all members and their families a happy and successful New Year, and hope to meet as many of you as possible at our next congress. Venue and dates will be communicated soon.

Otmar Lahodynsky, AEJ Int. President

AEJ Congress in Sibiu, Romania, debates politics and media roles in critical times for Europe

The AEJ Congress theme, “Europe in Turmoil- Reflections in Politics and Media” was timely, as Romania has been plunged into deep political uncertainty following the deadly fire at Bucharest's Colectiv club on 30 October which killed 41 people. Large-scale public vigils and protests against political corruption and mismanagement have taken place in dozens of Romanian towns and cities.

Opening the Congress, the mayor of Sibiu, Astrid Fodor said that journalists had a special responsibility for investigating and uncovering the reasons that lie behind the tragedy that forced Prime Minister Victor Ponta to resign. Former Romanian justice minister and MEP Monica Macovei was more blunt. It was widespread corruption that galvanised street protests in the capital and provincial towns, including Sibiu. “Corruption kills” she said.

At a later session, chaired by the AEJ President Otmar Lahodynsky, panellists Nicholas Kralev, Adrian Sturdza, Evgheni Demenok and Firdevs Robinson debated “Europe in turmoil”, the continent’s response to the recent refugee crisis, and the coverage of it by the media as well as shortcomings of global and European diplomacy. Firdevs pointed to the ferocious crackdown by the government and its allies on independent media, and the dismissal or criminal cases brought against hundreds of respected journalists, as part of a wider suppression of civil society and free media. The political and military situation in Ukraine, widespread corruption, and Russia’ increasing reliance media propaganda and distortion as a core part of its attempts to dominate and oppose democratic movements in Ukraine and the rest of the ‘near abroad’.

Discussion about Media Freedom

A worrying trend of declining press freedoms were apparent in Media Freedom Representative William Horsley’s assessment and individual country reports presented at the Congress. Government censorship to silence criticism, self-censorship, use of restrictive laws against the media, physical and verbal attacks on journalists were common threats faced by journalists in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Moldova and Bosnia. Italian journalists came under pressure from the judiciary and organised crime. Loss of employment, low pay, and erosion of trade union rights, increased surveillance powers by security and intelligence services posed further challenges to media everywhere.

AEJ Media Freedom Representative William Horsley urged the AEJ’s national Sections to make the best possible use of the Council of Europe’s newly launched Platform and its Early Warning System to promote the safety of journalists. AEJ sections were also invited to participate in a council of Europe Questionnaire project called “Journalists at Risk: part of the job?: Unwarranted Interference, fear and self-censorship among journalists in Council of Europe member states”, which is being conducted as part of a variety of Council of Europe initiatives to counter the widely-recognised erosion of media freedom and the rule of law in a number of member states.

AEJ President Otmar Lahodynsky specially welcomed a guest from the Bosnian Journalists Association, Arman Fazlic. Arman spoke about the worsening harassment and violence against journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B-H), and outlined plans for a group of journalists representing all of the country’s ethnic communities to form an AEJ Section, with the intention of becoming an official B-H Section of the Association at next year’s AEJ Congress and General Assembly. Lieven Taillie, from the Belgian section has joined the Executive Board as the Brussels representative, replacing Peter Kramer following Peter’s long and distinguished service to the AEJ as Secretary-General and later as the Brussels Representative.

AEJ Open Letter asks Polish ministers to shelve ‘hasty’ plans for government control over public broadcasting

Association of European Journalists urged the newly-elected Polish government to halt its proposal to place the country’s public service TV and radio channels under its direct control, and instead to respect the widely-accepted principles of public service broadcasting, including editorial independence and impartiality. In an Open Letter addressed to Piotr Gliński, Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister and to Krzysztof Czabański, Deputy Minister of Culture and National Heritage, the AEJ expressed deep concern that the proposed radical shake-up of Poland’s public TV and radio services would lead to ‘systematic editorial bias’ in favour of the Law and Justice Party, which won a majority in both of Poland’s chambers of parliament in October’s general election.

The Open Letter stated that the government’s announced intention to push through far-reaching and fundamental reforms within two months of taking office, and in the face of bitter opposition at home and abroad, shows ‘excessive haste and a worrying lack of transparency in a matter of vital concern to the public’. The AEJ urged the responsible ministers to hold an inclusive public debate before announcing any detailed reforms, and to ensure that the necessary safeguards against political interference are upheld so that Polish public broadcasting serves all sections of the public, in accordance with European standards agreed among all the member states of the Council of Europe.

Read the full text of the AEJ Open Letter here.

AEJ joins protests against detention and prosecution of leading Turkish newspaper editors

The Association of European Journalists protests in the strongest terms against the arrest on Thursday evening of Can Dundar, the editor in chief of Cumhuriyet daily newspaper and Erdem Gul, the paper’s Ankara bureau chief. Both men were arrested and detained in Silivri High Security Prison on charges of terrorist propaganda, being members of armed organization, spying and revealing state secrets. These are the latest in a wave of arrests and detentions of Turkish journalists and editors which have brought widespread international criticism. On Friday thousands of journalists and others took part in public protests in several cities, including Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. The arrests followed the publication by Cumhurriyet in May of this year of a report alleging that the Turkish intelligence organization MIT had mounted an operation to deliver weapons to rebel groups in Syria. The report included photographs which the newspaper said were taken in January of Turkish trucks travelling from Turkey towards Syria.

Council of Europe chief asks Poland’s president not to sign contested public broadcasting law

In a rare top-level public intervention the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, has written a letter to Poland’s President, Andzej Duda, asking him to refrain from signing into law the controversial public service media legislation just adopted by the Sejm, and to open a dialogue focusing on Poland’s commitments to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights. Mr Jagland’s letter cites the Alert submitted to the Council of Europe’s ‘Platform to promote the protection of journalists and the safety of journalists’ by the AEJ, Article 19, Committee to Protect Journalists, the European Federation and International Federation of Journalists, Index on Censorship and Reporters Without Borders.

Read the full text of Mr Jagland’s Letter here .

Read the Council of Europe ‘Platform’ Alert about the Polish public service media law and related texts here .

International media freedom organisations appeal for actions to end the high death toll among journalists

In Geneva today major international media and press freedom organisations jointly published an International Declaration on the Protection of Journalists . It calls on the governments of the world to take decisive actions to put an end to murders and other violent attacks directed at journalists worldwide, and to end the long-standing pattern of impunity which means that those responsible for killing journalists commonly escape justice. IPI says at least 73 journalists have been killed so far in 2015 alone. The document highlights the numerous resolutions, statements and mechanisms on the safety of journalists adopted by UN and regional bodies in recent years. But it says ‘States’ failure to implement those mechanisms and fulfil their international obligations has turned journalism into an increasingly dangerous profession.’

The Declaration is the result of intensive discussions organised by the International Press Institute, , the Al Jazeera Media Network and other international partners -- including the Association of European Journalists, which is one of the founding signatories of the document.

EU struggles to match action with values: CPJ says Press Freedom at risk

‘Press freedom is a reliable barometer of the state of democracy. The EU’s failure to live up to its own standards undermines its influence on the rest of the world’, said Jean-Paul Marthoz, author of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report ‘Balancing Act: ‘Press Freedom at risk as EU struggles to match action with values’. The Report was launched September 29, in the Pressclub Brussels Europe (PCBE). Marthoz, a Belgian journalist and longtime press freedom and human rights activist: ‘The EU likes to present itself as a model of press freedom. Indeed a number of EU countries top the international press freedom rankings, and confronted authoritarian states bent on restricting free speech and disciplining critical journalists’. However as documented in this report the EU record is far from immaculate, and too often shows a nagging lack of consistency between ideals and actions.

AEJ condemns unjust verdict against Khadiya Ismayilova in ‘fabricated’ case

The AEJ, Article 19, the European Federation of Journalists, International Federation of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders have together denounced the verdict and prison sentence against Khadiya Ismayilova as based on fabricated evidence and legally unsound. We call for the verdict to be reversed, for the case against Ismayilova to be dismissed, and for her immediate and unconditional release.

On 1 September 2015, a Baku court sentenced Khadija Ismayilova to 7 and a half years in prison on charges of misappropriation and embezzlement, illegal business dealings, tax evasion and abuse of power. In her closing statement, Ms Ismayilova denounced the case against her as politically motivated with the aim of ending her investigations into corruption at the highest levels of government. Leading European authorities including the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights and the OSCE’s Representative on Media Freedom have condemned the verdict as unjust. The Council of Europe’s Secretary-General, Thorbjorn Jagland, has criticised ‘systemic deficiencies’ in the Azerbaijan judicial system and the growing number of prosecution s of human rights defenders and journalists.