Minutes of AEJ General Assembly: Vonitsa, Greece, Saturday December 1st 2018

           Minutes of AEJ General Assembly ... Vonitsa, Greece, Saturday December 1st 2018

               The start of the meeting was delayed  as delegates waited for supporting documents to be

                printed and handed out. The only documents available on arrival  were William Horsley’s                                                       

                minutes of the previous night’s Board  meeting, containing information about election         

                candidates, committee nominations and other developments (cf


1.        Outgoing President, Otmar Lahodynsky opened the Assembly by welcoming all the delegates       and thanking our Greek hosts for organising the Congress in Agrinio. Before the business of the meeting  got underway he invited the Romanian delegation to mark  their national day -  Great Union Day - which commemorates the unification  of the Romanian provinces on Dec 1st. 1918.


2.       Status of Sections ...Prior to the Assembly there had been some disquiet about the status of the Greek section, now known as  ‘AEJ for Independence and Transparency’  with respect  to Paragraph 4 of the AEJ Statutes ... ‘each country has a single AEJ section’ . This had led to an exchange of letters and e-mails and a series of discussions.  At the Assembly, Greek Section President Saia Tsaousidou, read a letter from former President Athanase Papandropoulos, in which he outlined the reasons for the changes. The law in Greece concerning Not for Profit Organisations  means that since he is now retired he can no longer be the legal representative of the section, thus necessitating the change.  Saia then informed the Assembly that a new board of 7 younger members was elected in early November and was now ready to progress the work of the section. In the absence of further queries or objections by delegates, the matter was treated as resolved.

It was with great pleasure that the Assembly  welcomed Kyriakos Pierides and Hasan Kahvecoglu from Cyprus, (Greek and Turkish sides respectively) as a returning section and invited guests of the Association.  Both told  delegates that conditions in Cyprus had improved, peace-journalism was being promoted, the Turkish (Cypriot) section was again active and better co-operation was giving them the chance to re-build the section. They also thanked Athanase, Saia and William Horsley for their continued support and encouragement.

Albanian journalist Arbet Hitaj was also invited to the Assembly as a guest of the Association and he outlined moves in his country to form a section ... he spoke of the many challenges facing journalists in Albania, said there were two journalists’ unions but that neither had links with European organisations and were anxious to join the AEJ. More than 80% of the population is in favour of the EU, though they don’t know too much about it.

On a practical level 5 journalists have applied to register the AEJ in Albania and are awaiting registration, there was no indication of a timeline for this or when a board might be formed.

3.       Tally of votes ..                                                                                                                                   Outgoing Secretary General  Tibor Macak outlined the number of votes in play for the election of the officers of the board.  The list provided by Treasurer Luigi Cobisi talked of 50 votes but concerns were raised about a proxy vote held on behalf of Ukraine .... Ukraine is exempt from fees and there is no indication as to how many members are in the section or whether they are indeed entitled to a vote. Following concerns about principle, openness and transparency, raised by Alexandros Koronakis and Lieven Taillie (Belgium),  Andrzej Krajewski  (Poland) and others, it  was decided to withdraw the proxy vote and follow up with Ukraine to determine the status of that section, with this information to be communicated to the membership.                                                                        That left 49 votes ... Austria -2, Belgium – 4, Bulgaria -2, Finland -3, Hungary -2, Ireland -3, Italy -4, Slovakia -5, UK -4, Spain -9, Greece -5, France -3, Romania -3.


4.       Minutes 2017

The Minutes of the Vilnius General Assembly 2017, having been circulated, were approved by the Assembly  ( the question of Irina’s status as Special Representative was deferred – see pt. 10)


5.       Annual Reports 2018                                                                                                                                                               

Tibor Macak ... Report of the Secretary General

Tibor’s report contained much about the killing of the Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee in February. In the months that followed the AEJ and other organisations expressed their deep shock at this cold-blooded murder, and Tibor said that in his 10 years working with the AEJ he had never experienced such solidarity and collegiality. There was trouble in other countries too and the AEJ had published several statements on the situation in Turkey, Hungary, Poland and Romania – (See  ) He again encouraged members to visit the website and register for the members only area (where Assembly  reports  and minutes are posted)

He also referenced the Brussels summit, an enquete in Austria and the 50th anniversary of the UK section in London in September. He concluded by thanking all members (active and retired journalists) for their continued contributions to the AEJ.         


Mike Springate ... Report of the Audit Committee- (see  members’ area)

Mike Springate, appearing for the last time as a member of the audit committee outlined a number of issues raised by the committee and some recommendations....

Only two members of the committee received the Financial Report 2017, and while it seemed to reflect accurately, the financial position, the Audit Commitee didn’t have access to supporting documents, nor did they have time to view or validate them, which fell short of best practice and standard procedure. The Committee had had sent the Audit Report to the Treasurer and other members of the board by e-mail in mid-November, asking for assurances that the Financial Report and outlook had been approved by the Board. No response was received.

The Committee recommended that tighter procedures be introduced to ensure a)that the Board  examines and approves the report before b) it is sent to all members of the Committee simultaneously

The Committee also recommended that the Audit Report be circulated earlier to sections, outlining  fees paid and arrangements made for travel and exemptions ... these could then be updated at the GA.

The recommendations were accepted by the GA with Lieven Taillie (Belgium) saying this report and others should have been circulated earlier by the Secretary General.

Tibor responded by saying he had mistakenly  thought  the Audit Committee Report (which Mike had sent to the Board on 15/11) was a personal message to Treasurer Luigi Cobisi, ccd to himself and some others.

Mike announced his retirement from the Audit and Arbitration Committees and was warmly applauded for his work over the years.


As the treasurer, Luigi Cobisi, wasn’t present at the GA, no further debate on these reports was invited and their contents were not discussed .


6.       Reports of Vice-Presidents  and Special representatives... (see members’ area)

Saia Tsaousidou ....highlighted the concern about the future of journalism in every country, for young  journalists in particular. She also talked about continued co-operation with the European institutions both in Greece and in Brussels and with unions, though the AEJ is not a union – it’s the only volunteer association of journalists in Greece.

 The focus now she said would be on the European Elections and encouraging young people to vote


Javier Fernandez Arribas ... talked about the challenges facing journalists in 2018 as they confront the continuous threat of  fake news.

He called for increased co-operation between the sections and the need to continuously promote  quality journalism as we deal with challenges like Brexit, trade wars and more locally the situation in Catalonia.

He also renewed his commitment to serve as VP


William Horsley – VP and Media Freedom Rep... talked about his work in support of the AEJ’s day to day business and his collaboration with other organisations to develop the Council of Europe’s Platform for the safety of Journalists. The AEJ is now a loud voice on media freedom being heard by the institutions. Early next year there will be a new Annual report  by the Platform partners which again gives sections the chance to highlight concerns by passing them on to him....

He also encouraged members attending international events to report back for the AEJ website, and fully endorsed the spirit expressed by the motto ‘the AEJ brings together’.


Lieven Taillie – Brussels Rep ...Informed delegates that the AEJ’s registration with the  EU Transparency Register (which had lapsed in 2017) had been restored. This allows the Association to be informed of upcoming consultations, tenders etc. He also said he would take responsibility for updating AEJ data on the register and informing members about future opportunities arising.

He is also working with Gian-Paolo Accardo from France on a series of exchanges with Frans Timmermans of the EC on the Multi-annual Financial Framework 2021-27, these consultations could put our relationship on a secure footing and allow the AEJ to seek funding for special programmes.


7.       National Reports

Romania – Oana outlined a Romanian proposal for a ‘centralised project management structure’ to be managed by a dedicated volunteer, and  the Romanian section is nominating Catalin-Teodor Dogaru (who organised the 2011 Congress in Bucharest)

Poland – Andrzej spoke of the election cycle currently underway in Poland (local, European Presidential) and the section’s participation in a study revealing political bias in recent election coverage on Public TV ... some 2 million people watch the news each day but are ‘fed only propaganda’ he said.

Spain – Javier talked about sponsorship – saying that the Spanish section could engage in all kinds of activities because of continued sponsorship (even though it’s down 45% since the recession).

He encouraged delegates to write about the Congress and Assembly  to entice further sponsorship. Alexandros wondered who the sponsors were?

8.       Election of Board members

The candidates for the various positions were invited to outline their priorities ..

First up outgoing President Otmar Lahodynsky  .. he reminded delegates that when elected in 2014 he said he would do more with the European Institutions and after two years had organised a summit in Brussels in June, which took place again this year...

He also brought Giles Portman Head of the Stratcom Task Force to Kilkenny and continues contacts with him. If re-elected he promised to continue networking  to raise the AEJ’s profile in Brussels and to grow the AEJ family , reaching out to Serbia, Albania and possibly Germany. He will have a reduced workload as he edges towards retirement.


Presidential candidate William Horsley spoke again about bringing people together... he has spent 25 years working as a journalist, reporting from every part of Europe, East and West.

For journalists it was a challenging time which called for professionalism in reporting with integrity and he said if elected he would make the board more responsive, with good communication and prompt responses.

He outlined 3 priorities for the Association ... to advance a common purpose ,including the expansion of the AEJ’s active network of sections,  to co-operate with the institutions and to make sure the association’s mechanisms worked well, to serve the needs and ambitions of sections.


Secretary –General candidate Violetta Teetor, who organised the Congress in Vilnius, said it was all about communication. She said she was happy to be a facilitator between sections, would update the website, organise an event calendar, grow the social media presence and encourage younger members.


Outgoing Secretary-General Tibor Macak recalled his election in Offida, at a very difficult Assembly , which had to be suspended temporarily in a row over the Statutes.

He said he had a good relationship and contacts with the President, organised a board meeting in Slovakia each year, had tried to compile a members’ list several times, all the while working full-time for Slovak Public radio.


Vice-Presidential candidate Oana Enachescu said it was an honour to be nominated ... she had been involved in organising two Congresses in Romania and hoped to bring value, ‘young value’ to the Association.


Vice-presidential candidate Irina Nedeva is the Chair of the Bulgarian Section. Earlier this year, she co-ordinated the AEJ’s submission (based on input from sections) to the Commission’s public consultation on fake news and disinformation. She relished the joy of working together. At this difficult time for journalists she said there was a need to re-build trust in general.

In Bulgaria, the AEJ can influence the national debate and she dreams of having such influence internationally too.


Vice-Presidential candidate Saia Tsaousidou again focussed on attracting younger journalists to the organisation and said we must have ‘active journalists’ on the board.


Vice-Presidential candidate Javier Fernandez Arribas said we must improve, and support others in these challenging times. He again emphasised the importance of inter-section co-operation  and the need to publicize all of our public activities to attract sponsorship.


The Election Committee was then appointed by consensus on the basis of further nominations... Alexandros Koronakis (Belgium), Simone Rapple (Ireland), Joseph Horvath (Hungary) Kambiz Ghafouri (Finland) Antonio di Stefano (Italy), Ed Steen (Austria) and Javier Martin-Domingo (Spain)


In the Presidential election Otmar was re-elected  with 27 votes to William’s 20, with 2 abstensions

Tibor was re-elected Secretary General with 27 votes to Violatta’s 21, with 1 abstension


And Saia (39 votes) Javier (30) and Oana (29) were elected as Vice-Presidents ... Irina got 24 votes and there was 1 abstension.


As there was only one candidate for the post of Treasurer, Luigi Cobisi was elected by acclamation.

All those elected were warmly applauded and congratulated.


9.       Audit and Arbitration Committees ...

Some nominations were received by the board in advance, others were announced at the Assembly and the following were appointed

Audit Commmittee – Tim Ryan (Ireland), Soren Haar (Belgium) and Javier Martin-Domingo (Spain)

Arbitration and Conciliation Committee-  Giuseppe Jacobini (Italy) Brindusa Armanca  (Romania) Pedro Gonzales Martinez (Spain) Eileen Dunne (Ireland) Alexandros Koronakis (Belgium) Jack Hanning (UK)

10.   Special Representatives

William Horsley was re-appointed SR on Media Freedom

Lieven Taillie was re-appointed SR for Brussels

Irina Nedeva was ratified as SR for fake news and disinformation


11.   Additional SR appointments .....

       This item was not addressed by the Chair and in the absence of any interventions, was not       

       debated, despite Jozsef Horvath having been asked in Vilnius to continue his work with new or    

       revived sections, pending ratification.



12.   Annual Fees /exemptions 2019

It was agreed that the annual fee be kept at €15 per member, and a follow-up inquiry is to take place into the Ukrainian exemption and any others  that may exist. 

Lieven stressed the importance of communicating the outcome of such inquiries to sections between Assemblies.

13.   AEJCongress/GA 2019

Catherine Andre from the French section made a presentation on their plans to organise a seminar in Paris next Autumn ... around the threats to a free press and the attempts to control Public Service media. It is proposed that the General Assembly  be organised in conjunction with this seminar.

The proposal was received enthusiastically!

14.   Resolutions ... it was proposed that a resolution be drawn up on the state of play in Hungary where more than 400 media organisations have become part of a pro-Government conglomerate , sparking renewed fears for press freedom. It was agreed that such a resolution would be drawn up in the coming days. ( International AEJ Hungary protest statement against latest  threats to media freedom  since published on


15.   Any other business ...Brigitte Rambossek (Austria) proposed that the Romanian section provide articles on their website in support of the Romanian Presidency of the EU as the Austrians had done .

There being no further business Otmar thanked Eileen and Ed for taking minutes and closed the meeting.