European Federation of Journalists

President’s speech at the EFJ Annual Meeting 2023 in The Hague

Credits: EFJ

Speech by Maja Sever (EFJ President) on 11 May 2023.

Thank you for your kind words of support, welcome, and hospitality.

My dear friends and colleagues,

Unfortunately, our journalistic work has become such that, despite the pleasure of meeting and the hope that we will discuss and work successfully to strengthen journalism during these two days, I have to start with some sad news from Ukraine. One of us is gone; our college Arman Soldin, a 32-year-old French journalist born in Sarajevo, was killed while reporting in the war zone of eastern Ukraine. I invite you to pay tribute to Arman and to all the journalists who have risked their lives since the beginning of the conflict, as well as to all the journalists who have been killed in Europe while doing their job. 13 of them last year, and this year Arman and two others have lost their lives. We pay tribute to them by observing a minute’s silence.

Rest in peace.

I leave behind my first year at the helm of our organisation; it has been complex and challenging, but thanks to your support, it has been marked by many actions and activities supporting journalists across Europe.

Protecting the safety of journalists has been our priority. In 2022, the Media Freedom Rapid Response recorded 415 alerts in the EU Member States. In all countries, we have cases of censorship, spying on journalists, online abuse and physical attacks at events; SLAPPs are still on the rise, and journalists are being prosecuted and charged.

Over the past year, working with you, I have come to know the people behind the statistics and figures. I have met people who have become targets, who have decided to dedicate themselves to the fight for truthful and accurate journalism because they are journalists.

Our organisation supports these people and helps them. And that makes me proud. The projects we do together, the daily efforts and cooperation of colleagues in the Brussels office with people on the ground, our discussions, the actions of our professional groups, our strategic advocacy, and the collaboration with other media organisations are the real value of our work.

A few weeks ago, at the GENDEG meeting, our Ukrainian colleague Lina Kuschch showed us what one of our six solidarity centres really looks like.I saw that we provide concrete and valuable help to every journalist on the ground there in our solidarity centre. We listen, talk and cooperate with journalists and their unions and associations from Greece and Turkey to Sweden and Estonia.

These days we can see how important this work is in countries like Serbia. Tomorrow, another big demonstration is expected after the tragic murders that took place last week. The most critical demands concern the media and the regulatory body because of how unethical and unprofessional media, which in Serbia are co-financed by public money, can poison the whole society and have a disastrous effect. This shows us why our fight for ethical, professional, quality and responsible journalism is essential.

And why it is necessary to fight this battle in cooperation with all of you. You make us stronger with your experience and knowledge and I hope that our support will strengthen your work.

The importance of joint work is also visible in another of our priorities: strategic advocacy. The preparation and work on documents and laws that regulate our media environments from the European to the national level. EMFA was the central theme last year, and our director Renate Schroeder, who knows the proposed document down to the last comma, prepared with media experts various good amendments. We sent our proposal to strengthen this law and we continue to advocate that politicians do not weaken the proposal but, on the contrary, adopt a strong and solid European media freedom law with our amendments.

Without a strong response from Europe and all its members at the national level, media capture and the violation of journalistic freedom will continue to spread and threaten the viability of free media and democracy. That’s why EMFA is essential. By accepting our amendments, a strengthened EMFA can contribute to the defence of journalism as a public good.

However, the struggle continues and we invite you to cooperate on this and other important documents such as the SLAPP directive and recommendations, the rule of law and all other initiatives.

To assist you in these activities, our team in the Brussels office is always available and contributes to your work at the national level.

I will finish with what I started: the protection of the safety of journalists. A few days ago, at the final conference of the Safety4journalists project, we presented our risk assessment tool designed to help journalists and media workers better prepare for risky tasks. This is a tool that will help me, that will help you, that will help your members and that will help all journalists when they go into the field and report in situations where their safety or even their lives are at risk. This is what the EFJ has done successfully and will continue to do: find ways to help colleagues in all corners of Europe in their daily journalistic work, how to make help concrete and meet your demands and needs.

The past year has been marked by solidarity, cooperation and support for a common goal: the protection and strengthening of the independent and professional work of journalists and the protection of their professional and labour rights.

I believe that these two days will allow us to continue in this direction, and I wish us a fruitful work.