EU Parliament Resolution to tackle anti-EU Propaganda comes under criticism from journalists

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Propaganda pressure on the EU from Russia and Islamist terrorist groups is growing, the European Parliament warned in a non-legislative resolution voted on Wednesday. To counteract so-called anti-EU campaigns, MEPs suggested reinforcing the EU’s “strategic communication” task force and investing more in awareness raising, media literacy, online and local media as well as investigative journalism. The resolution calls on EU member states to boost funding for counter-propaganda projects. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) is not convinced by this controversial resolution.

A total of 691 MEPs participated in the vote: 304 (44%) voted in favor of the resolution dubbed “EU strategic communication to counteract propaganda against it by third parties”, 179 (26%) voted against and 208 (30%) abstained from voting. Proposed by a Polish member of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, Anna Elżbieta Fotyga (PiS), the resolution was mainly supported by the Christian Democrats (EPP), the Conservatives (ECR) and the Greens (Greens/EFA). Most of the Socialists (S&D), the Liberals (ALDE) and representatives of United Left (GUE) abstained or voted against the resolution.

The resolution stresses that the EU needs to counter disinformation campaigns and propaganda from countries, such as Russia, and non-state actors, like Daesh or Al-Qaeda.

The resolution also underlines the need to improve media freedom, media pluralism, independence of the media, ethical journalism, transparency of media ownership, support for journalists, combat media concentrations. It suggests investing in investigative journalism and information literacy, which would empower citizens to analyse media content critically. The report calls on the Commission and EU Member States  to engage in the training of journalists, support independent media hubs and media diversity.

Regarding Russia, the voted text “recognises that the Russian Government is employing a wide range of tools and instruments, such as (…) multilingual TV stations (e.g. RT), pseudo news agencies and multimedia services (e.g. Sputnik) (…), social media and internet trolls to challenge democratic values, divide Europe, gather domestic support and create the perception of failed states in the EU’s eastern neighborhood”. It also calls for the establishment of measures to tackle the perceived Russian propaganda threat.

“The IFJ and the EFJ don’t believe that censorship, harassment and demonization are the right answers to counter so-called propaganda,” IFJ President Philippe Leruth commented. “Rather, we believe in ethical journalism, self-regulation, media pluralism and media literacy to face it. Under the umbrella of the OSCE, IFJ and EFJ have been for years very active to foster dialogue between Russian and Ukrainian journalists under the motto “Two countries, one profession”. On 14-16 December, the EFJ, the Russian Union of Journalists (RUJ) and the EU Delegation in Russia will co-organise in Moscow the fourth and final meeting between EU and Russian journalists. The resolution carried by the European Parliament won’t help promote this dialogue”.

Journalists in Europe say that the resolution creates confusion between political and terrorist propaganda. They also denounce double standards on the parts of the resolution’s drafters.

“In our view, added Ricardo Gutiérrez, General Secretary of the EFJ, the main flaw of this text is its confusion and its lack of coherence. It is irresponsible to equate Russian media organizations with terrorist groups such as Islamic State. It is irresponsible to mix up Russian media with Kremlin-controlled media. The report confuses strategic communication, state propaganda, terrorist propaganda, counter-propaganda and independent information. The final version of the resolution has been improved but the global tone remains worrying. This is typical of the Cold War climate that is numbing Europe.”

“The authors of the resolution didn’t consult the EFJ which is the main journalists organisation in Europe. We would have been pleased to correct some of the inconsistencies and inaccuracies of the text. Just one example: the report mentions the problem of imprisoned journalists in Russia and in the EU’s Neighborhood, without mentioning Turkey! The EFJ is closely following the cases of 127 journalists in jail in Europe. One of them is imprisoned in Russia. That’s a fact. But 121 of them are imprisoned in Turkey,” said Ricardo Gutiérrez.

The resolution drew criticism from Russian journalists who consider the text as a return to the Cold War practices.

“I am deeply disappointed with the vote of this resolution,” said Nadezda Azhgikhina, Vice-President of the EFJ and member of RUJ. “I grew up during Cold War time. I do remember joint efforts of journalists from East and West to work together for a future free from censorship, hate and stereotypes. We did understand that we came from different cultures, and different backgrounds, but we did believe in journalism as public good. The only ideology and religion for journalists is commitment to professional and ethical standards. Today many decision makers try to use media as political tools. The only way to overcome hate and misuse of the media is promotion of quality and responsible journalism. The best way to support it is development of self-regulation, professional solidarity and media literacy. We all have to do our best to resist any attempt to restore Cold War practices, which are the real threats for democracy and cooperation in Europe.”

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Picture credit: Frederick Florin /AFP.

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