Western Balkan Journalists Ask EU to Do More for Their Media Freedom

Source/Author: SEENPM
Source/Photo: Photo: Predrag Blagojevic/Juzne vesti

TIRANA, 10.11.2017. – Representatives of the informal Group for Media Freedom from Serbia, which gathers journalists’ and media associations and civil society organizations, asked from the EU today in Tirana to support free, professional and responsible journalism in Serbia and cease to neglect its desperate status.

On behalf of the Group, Branko Čečen, director of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia, addressed the participants of the conference EU Western Balkan Media Days, focused on the important role of the media in the EU accession process and organized by DG NEAR.

During Čečen’s address, the Group members stood up wearing black t-shirts featuring message #EUdoMore #ForMediaFreedom.

Čečen said that the EU must offer greater support in the fight for media freedom.

“I speak on behalf of more than 130 organizations, free, independent and professional media that had to unite and form the Group for Media Freedom because they feel desperate”, Čečen said.

He stressed a drastic difference between the public perception of Serbia’s democratic progress viewed from the European Commission angle and the reality where the Government marginalizes and threatens independent journalism.

Čečen announced the forthcoming meeting of the Group with the Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić and asked the European Union for help in reaching an agreement with the Government.

“EU officials could occasionally visit independent journalists and if they find our work to be democratic and European they could publicly support us instead of supporting the Serbian Government only“, Čečen said.

The action of the Group for Media Freedom and Čečen’s appeal to the EU were met with an applause by the conference participants – 250 journalists, editors and representatives of journalists’ and media associations and civil society organizations of the Western Balkan states.

In solidarity with the media problems in Serbia, the Group members were joined by participants from other countries in the region wearing t-shirts with the same message #EUdoMore #ForMediaFreedom.

Video of Branko Čečen addressing the conference on behalf of the Group for Media Freedom:

Slobodan Georgiev, journalist of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), said that media and journalists in Serbia need “greater and clearer support” of the European Commission.

“Our problem is not business model but the lack of freedom and rule of law and that must be reiterated”, Georgiev said holding a t-shirt with the message #EUdoMore #ForMediaFreedom.

Journalists noted that there are different standards of the EU when it comes to reaction to violence against media and pressures on media in the Western Balkan region compared to other parts of Europe.

As an example, they referred to the recent murder of the influential Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and the strong reaction from Brussels whose representatives attended her funeral.

The Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and the European Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn  opened the two day conference in Tirana.

In his opening speech, Hahn said that freedom of expression is a fundamental value of the European Union and that it is not a negotiable condition for any country wishing to join the EU. The European Commission continuously monitors challenges that the Western Balkan media face, Hahn said.

“Cases of violence and intimidation have always been a cause of our concern and the lack of progress in this domain will be subject of our attention. The European Commission will insist on doing away with the practice of impunity“, Hahn noted.

Hahn opined that the politicians in the candidate countries are responsible for media freedoms, as well as for the safety of journalists and decent conditions for their work, but he also stressed that the media are responsible themselves for „critical, responsible and professional reporting“.