Speaking at a conference on media freedom in the European Parliament, organised yesterday (8 May) by the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, the German centre-right MEP said that she would never recommend journalism to one of her grandchildren.
"A recent survey in the US shows that news journalism is for the first time in the ten worst jobs list, between lumberjack and butcher" she said, adding that nobody in the room, packed with journalists from across Europe, would doubt the study or question the possible reasons.
“Journalists, especially the good ones, have many enemies. The pressure is tremendous and increasing. And that they are mostly paid very badly,” Pack said.
The lawmaker further argued that free press means professionalism, which calls for well-educated and trained, well-managed, employed and protected journalists. Without meeting such conditions, no regulation or European initiative could help, she said.
The way things are going, news will fail to be viable as a commodity and a business model, the MEP argued. She blasted the media outsourcing, mentioning European newspapers employing journalists in India to cover “city council meetings via webcam” from thousands of kilometers of distance.
Doris Pack argued the case for saving the profession through public financing, as the media is as a 'guarantee for democracy.'
“If we can agree to consider professional journalism a main ingredient for a healthy and durable democracy, just like the judiciary and the police, then we might reach a point of understanding that this does not comes for free and needs collective, systemic investment of the society as a whole,” she said.
But Doris Pack insisted that journalists should not be financed directly, and that public funding should be rather directed to support education and self-regulation. She blasted the European Commission for producing “propaganda” and a “mess of information” where the journalists could not find what was important. Consequently, she pleaded for re-directing this EU resource towards the real needs of the sector.
Pleading for a new legal base
Pack joined other speakers, who pleaded in favour of putting in place European legislation to uphold media freedom.
European Commissioner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes, who is also responsible for Information Society and media, made a speech at the conference and answered questions. Asked about the weak response she herself gave to the media situation in Hungary, Kroes said the Union didn’t have the necessary legal instruments to uphold media freedom in the member states.
“Does the EU have sufficient competence to defend media freedom in the member states? My answer is a clear cut no,” she said.
But Kroes kicked the ball in the camp of the Parliament.
“My question to you is - is there support in the European Paliament? I don’t have the answer myself,” she said.
A major highlight of the conference was the situation in Greece, where days ago the neo-nazi Chryssi Avgi party made unmasked death threats against Xenia Kounalaki, the editor of the foreign news desk of Kathimerini, Greece’s leading broadsheet,
“Very recently, a Greek extreme-right party made death threats against a Greek journalist. I am very concerned about such threats – I denounce them,” Kroes said.
The case of Xenia Kounalaki and the handling of journalists by Chryssi Avgi was also denounced by Vice President of the European Parliament Anni Podimata (S&D, Greece), herself a former journalist.
Podimata said that following the announcement of the elections results in Greece on 6 May, Chryssi Avgi had asked the journalists to stand up in sign of respect. The journalists refused and left the press conference under the cameras. Their reaction was admired by a very large majority of the Greek society, she said.