Conference in Wroclaw identifies threats to press freedom in Europe and inspires calls for action in Brussels and beyond
Last week on Friday 1 July, the European Magazine Media Association, in cooperation with a coalition* of national, European and international journalist, publisher and press organisations, organised a press freedom conference in the Wroclaw Town Hall in Wroclaw, Poland. The conference “(R)EVOLUTION OF EUROPE’S PRESS” brought together 80 media experts, journalists, politicians, start-ups and technology experts from across Europe in order to examine how changing political priorities in Europe and technological innovations are impacting press freedom.
The event opened with a keynote speech by MEP Michal Boni (EPP/PL), who spoke of the increasing challenges press freedom is facing in Europe – from the threat of terrorist attacks and the issues related to the refugee crisis, to the growth of populism and extremism on both the right and left and the impact of digitalization on the press sector.
“If we need to change and improve politics and overcome populism, if we need to build the new identity based on local, regional, and national values – and open for European values – if we need to refresh the democracy [then] we need a new model of communication,” said Boni. “Press freedom – together with active civil society – creates the background for a democratic state and democratic Europe.”
“The problem we see today is an old-fashioned mentality from totalitarian times regarding the role of media in a democratic society by politicians and unfortunately also by citizens,” said Mark Dekan, CEO of Ringier Axel Springer during the opening of the first workshop session, which aimed to identify the changing political priorities in Europe and the impact this has on press freedom. “But the truth is, the role of media in a democracy is to serve its people, not its politicians - the main criteria being editorial credibility.”
Dekan continued, saying that additional challenges - particularly in the countries where Ringier Axel Springer is active: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Serbia - include online piracy and the enforcement of intellectual property regulations, the arbitrary allocation of advertising expenditure from state and government-related players, and the quasi-monopolistic status of search engine sites, which “get the monetizing clicks [while] we get the salaries and production costs.”
The one-day conference was divided into two interactive sessions, where participants, speakers and commentators gathered together in small groups to discuss the state of press freedom in Europe from their unique perspectives and to develop jointly ideas on how to combat some of the bigger challenges. Attendees and speakers came from a variety of backgrounds, and included publishers, such as József Bayer, CEO of Ringier Axel Springer Hungary; Tamas Botka, CEO of Asolut Media Zrt (HU); Krzysztof Komar, CEO of Motor-Presse Poland; and Erwin Reisch, President & CEO of Alfons Gentner Verlag (DE); editors, such as Michal Broniatowski, Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Poland; Marcin Walter, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Fakt (PL); and Boguslaw Chrabota, Editor-in-Chief of Rzeczporpolita Daily News (PL); journalists, such as Ton van Lierop, Vice-President of the Journalismfund.eu (BE); Holly Watt, investigative correspondent at The Guardian (UK); and Jean-Paul Marthoz, journalist for the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (BE); and policymakers, such as MEP Julia Reda (Greens/DE) and MEP Rebecca Harms (Greens/DE). There were also representatives of various start-ups and technology platforms, such as Paul Lee, Founder of Ecuiti (USA), and Aleksander Kutela, CEO of Onet.pl, who brought unique perspectives to the debate on how technological innovations impact press freedom.
Daniel Knapp, founder of AEMII and Senior Director, Advertising at IHS Technology, explained in the opening of the second workshop session that technological advances have dramatically altered the ways in which the press, advertisers and audiences interact. Whereas with the traditional media model publishers played a gatekeeping role, meaning that they alone had access to audiences and could control what information is published when and for whom, the advent of the Internet and rise of social platforms as aggregators and distributors of news has radically transformed these relationships. These changes have also affected the business models of the press.
“As the gatekeeper role of publishers vanishes, this mandatory funding relationship between advertisers and the publishers vanishes as well,” said Knapp. “Publishers want to reassess this and say, ‘yes, there is still value in our context.’ They come up with new advertising models, via sponsorship or native advertising to rekindle this relationship and rebuild this subsidy. But as we’ve heard earlier this morning, this raises questions on editorial independence and the influence of advertisers on content.”
While identifying the threats to press freedom was the first step, participants and speakers at this event also spent time during the workshop sessions trying to brainstorm solutions to these big-picture problems.
Beata Balagová, Editor-in-Chief of Daily SME (SK) and Executive Board Member of the International Press Institute (IPI) identified existing defamation laws and their (mis)use as one of the major threats to press freedom, particularly in central and Eastern Europe.
“In many countries…the judiciary is interpreting the existing laws in a way which favors those in power,” said Balagová as she shared the results of the workshop discussion she hosted. “So one of the recommendations we came up with at the table is that there is an urgent need to rephrase or revising some of the defamation laws and privacy laws.”
This call was echoed by Peter Javurek, Journalist and Political Analyst at the Daily Pravda (SK), who added that the misuse of defamation laws or antiterrorism laws puts media freedom at risk across Europe. “These laws are often used as a rather tools of election marketing with vague formulations, with no clear definitions,” said Javurek. “When anything can be said to be incitement of or given the motivation of [terrorism], with vague phrases anything is possible.”
Many of the discussions over the course of the day prompted calls for action from the workshop participants. In her summary, Balagová said that she and many other participants felt that journalists and journalist associations, particularly in Eastern Europe, were not vocal enough in presenting their own cases. “In our every day job we really need to get better organized and try to push more these buttons [for change],” said Balagová.
The conversations started last week will continue, as the Future Media Lab. will be organizing a Future Media Lounge session in the European Parliament as a follow-up to this event in September. Additionally, a summary of the conference, as well as video interviews and other materials will be added to the event website in order to help maintain the discussions started last week: www.revolutionpress.eu.
The conference was hosted by the Mayor of Wroclaw, Rafal Dutkiewicz, and was organized in cooperation with Wroclaw 2016: the European Capital of Culture.
*This coalition is made up of: the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Czech Publishers Association, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, the European Journalism Center, the European Federation of Journalists, the European Magazine Media Association, the European Newspaper Publishers' Association, FIPP – the network for global media, the Future Media Lab., Fondation EurActiv, Gentner Verlag, Heise Medien, the Hungarian Publishers Association, the International Press Institute,Journalismfund.eu, Mediengruppe Klambt, the Polish Publishers Association, PRESSCOM, Reporters Without Borders,Ringier Axel Springer, the Slovak Publishers" Association, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, and Wroclaw 2016: European Capital of Culture.
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The European Magazine Media Association, is the unique and complete representation of Europe’s magazine media, which is today enjoyed by millions of consumers on various platforms, encompassing both paper and digital formats.www.magazinemedia.eu
The European Newspaper Publishers’ Association (ENPA) is the largest representative body of newspaper publishers across Europe. ENPA advocates for 14 national associations across 14 European countries, and is a principal interlocutor to the EU institutions and a key driver of media policy debates in the European Union.www.enpa.eu