President’s speech at the EFJ Annual Meeting 2020 (online)
Speech by Mogens Blicher Bjerregård (EFJ President)
Before – and now during the pandemic, the EFJ worked consistently on the issues that our affiliates required from us, incorporating our vision and ambitions on behalf of all our affiliates and your members, and if I may add: for all journalists and media in Europe for the benefit of our societies and democracies.
In the Activity Report, you will find more details and an idea of the scope of our work during the last year and a half. We should have held this annual meeting in spring in beautiful Zagreb (Croatia), but we had to postpone it, and now we are here for another online meeting, which we are getting more familiar with. But we are also looking forward to real meetings. Hopefully next year we can hold our annual meeting in Zagreb.
In the meantime, we will just continue, and in my current speech I will address some of the main topics and also the development of the EFJ organisation itself.
As I said before, security remains an important issue and since the General Assembly in Tallinn, journalists have once again paid the highest price for their work.
– Sajid Hussain Baloch, Pakistani journalist and asylum-seeker in Sweden, editor-in-chief of the online news magazine Balochistan Times in April 2020, was found dead near Uppsala in Sweden after he had been missing for two months, allegedly because he had been threatened.
– On October 2, Irina Slavina, journalist and editor-in-chief of the Russian online news magazine Koza Pres, died after setting herself on fire outside the police headquarters in Novgorod, the day after a police raid on her apartment.
– In June last year, the Ukrainian investigative reporter Vadym Komorov was killed.
And we still have the problem of impunity. The masterminds behind the murders of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Jan Kuciak have still not been brought to justice. We must continue to pursue these cases.
The Corona virus has been and remains at the top of our agenda. We all suffer from the pandemic – financially and in terms of freedom of the press. It has also cost the lives of our colleagues. At least 29 journalists in Europe have died of Covid-19. Corona has changed our world and forced us to work remotely, far away from normal life. This is not only a great challenge now, but also when we will return to a kind of new normality.
It is important that journalists will meet again, develop together and be innovative. The situation has also shown how important professional media are for society.
Some authoritarian leaders, under the auspices of Covid-19, have increased the pressure on press freedom and have also shown less respect for the right to information. We have been monitoring the situation, sending alerts to the Council of Europe platform for the protection of journalism and have been actively involved in Mapping Media Freedom.
We were in close contact with the EU Commission regarding the European Economic Recovery Plan. Together with leading representatives of the employers’ associations, I participated in several meetings with Commissioner Vera Jourova and her staff responsible for transparency and values, including media freedom and pluralism, as well as Commissioner Thierry Breton, responsible for the internal market and a key player when it comes to the EU economic recovery plan.
So far we have not been involved in the recovery plan because EU support for the media can be very complex – because the money would be distributed by governments, with the risk of favouring pro-government media. That’s why we have put forward a project proposal to support local media and start-ups, and we would insist on this because it is urgently needed. Only yesterday I met again with Members of the European Parliament who are promoting it.
Such a project would also support freelancers, as they are in the most vulnerable situation they have ever seen. Covid-19 has ended the working life for many of our freelancers. They are also under pressure with regard to their working conditions, not least because of competition rules.
This situation has been a very important issue for the EFJ for years and when our colleagues from NUJ Ireland managed to make changes we were all encouraged to go further.
Last month, representatives of the EU Commission gave us hope for change in a workshop. I have been dealing with this issue for decades, first in my home country Denmark and now for the whole of the European Union, and I have never experienced such a dynamic as now, possibly thanks to the absurd situation of platform workers whose working conditions are not protected at all and who do not yet fall within the scope of the Social Dialogue.
Therefore, in the coming years, we will do our advocacy work together with our partners in the European Trade Union Confederation and not least with the artists to make the changes now. I believe we can make it!
In the meantime, trade union responses to the Corona measures are urgently needed and the EFJ database, which compiles information on what has been achieved to support the media, to support freelancers, is very useful as you can use examples to increase support in your own countries. We have agreed with the European Trade Union Institute to run a series of workshops on the Corona issue.
Another step forward is our work for anti-SLAPP legislation as the European Commission on this subject is very dedicated to providing the tools. It is scandalous that in a country like Croatia, you are facing more than 1000 lawsuits against journalists to silence critics. The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom is an excellent partner in this field. We will continue our efforts, so please do not hesitate to send us your alerts.
We have many tasks, some of which are dealt with as part of our regular core work, and some of which are dealt with through the projects we have been able to secure. It is important for me to emphasize that our approach to projects is a strategic approach and an important part of our work program.
It is essential to remain relevant. The EFJ is taken very seriously by intergovernmental institutions such as the EU, the Council of Europe, OSCE and UNESCO, as well as by all the NGOs and CSOs we work with.
Of course, the International Federation of Journalists is our most important partner as we can remain strong together. We appreciate our good cooperation in the joint office and look forward to a continued good financial agreement between the EFJ and the IFJ. In order to achieve this, we need to respect each other, two strong and important organisations side by side.
Our cooperation should also be based on equality, especially with regard to decisions on how to reach new members and respect for our affiliates who have to make their own decisions about joining international organisations. We need to discuss this until the next annual meeting.
Looking at our other partners and stakeholders, there is no doubt that we have been enriched by ever closer cooperation with other relevant organisations in the field of journalists and media and with human rights organisations. We respect each other, with different skills, and this is a win-win situation for all.
We should also discuss how we can reach out to more journalists and help our affiliates to do so. This could be done, for example, by cooperating more with professional networks of investigative journalists, data-collecting journalists, etc. Given the relevance of our action, it is important to make our voice heard both within our profession and on labour rights.
Finally, I would like to underline our solidarity with our colleagues in Belarus, the Belarusian Association of Journalists and their members. The organisation has survived restrictions, harassment, violations over the last two decades and now random violations that we can hardly imagine. Despite all this, you and your members in Belarus resist and continue to make your strong – and often feminine – voice heard. I have known of your commitment since my visit to Minsk years ago. We have cooperated, we have built capacity, and all that matters today. And I can assure you that you can count on us. We will continue our cooperation with you until you achieve freedom and security of the press. Note that we have a statement today regarding the situation in Belarus.
I could mention several countries where press freedom is under pressure. Turkey has been at the top of our agenda for years, and this year again we have a motion on the situation in Turkey. We are with you. There are also other countries that are facing great challenges.
We as the EFJ are doing everything we can to make a difference, to keep our promises. We will not only continue on this path, we will even intensify it! We need a long and deep breath to get through these very difficult times. We are resilient and we succeed when we stand together.