Media freedom sinks as crisis bites

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Journalism has become the worst choice for a career, with bad pay, long hours and enormous stress, said MEP Doris Pack, who strongly pleaded for public funding to help save the media as a pillar for democracy.

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.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) expressed “its great unease” with the completely unacceptable treatment of journalists by the Greek far-right Chryssi Avgi party at a press conference on 6 May.

“The restrictions included the exclusion of some journalists from the press conference, including those who refused to stand up when its leader Furrer N. Michaloliakos entered the room.

Arne König, EFJ President, said: "This is a new precedent of an extremely alarming nature. I am very worried by the aggressiveness shown towards the journalists who only wanted to do their work. All political parties have to respect journalists and their professional duty to inform citizens." 

While Europe remains one of the freest continents in the world for media overall, many international civil rights NGOs and journalists' groups have warned that it is losing its status as a model.

Reporters Without Borders recently warned that Europe is "falling from its pedestal" and that the European Union was "losing its leadership status".

These difficulties are due to a mixture of state and private influence in news-making and dissemination in Europe. Concentration of media ownership – very developed in many countries in both Eastern and Western Europe – has been heightened by the difficulties of media in remaining economically viable in the face of the economic recession and competition from online media.

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