Speech by Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations at the closing of the First International Assises of Journalism, Tunis, November 17, 2018
It’s not only a pleasure but also an honor to join you for the first edition of this international symposium of journalism in Tunis. It’s indeed as we are already now at the end an important milestone for journalism and media in the Mediterranean region and beyond and I want to congratulate all of you for your important contributions. The symposium is an important platform for media professionals from the Mediterranean region and beyond for exchanging views and sharing best practices. This is crucial for the development of independent media and the sector as a whole.
Democracies cannot live without free diverse and independent media. Freedom of media is an essential pillar of democracy. Independent media providing good quality information is indispensable for the development of resilient societies.
It is regrettable that more and more journalists and media face shrinking spaces in which they can work. This is an addition to already difficult conditions for media operations, including hostile environments and restricted financial resources, just to name a few.
Media literacy has become another key concern in the media sector as we race through the digital Internet age. People’s media consumption habits are changing rapidly. We see that more and more people are turning to online and social media to gain information or access daily news. While these are certainly useful tools, the downside is that this virtual environment can hamper critical thinking and can become easily targeted by fake news, hate speech or other manipulative practices. Information has become the currency and the munition of the day. Reliable, fact-based and independent information is key for the stability, resilience and democracy in our societies. This underlines how timely this symposium is, especially its reflection on the raison d’être of journalism and media which is informing the public. You should also remember that the media sector is a business. The digital revolution is changing our economies across sectors, media included, and creates new opportunities but also of course challenges. It will be important that media and journalists keep up and use the new digital opportunities to generate income. Ultimately more financial independence could foster editorial independence too. The European Commission’s work in the region is dedicated to delivering visible and then tangible results to citizens. In the media sector particularly the European Commission promotes delivery of good quality information to citizens through different strains of support – for promoting ethics and professionalism, that is for example the EU funded project MedMedia which has facilitated the adoption of the declaration for media freedom in the Arab world, which includes countering hate speech and racism in the media, among others. It’s also about empowering youth through the engagement in broadcast media and online and providing, as it was already said, training on production of high quality content, management and business or encourages regional and cross-border exchanges such as the present symposium. I’m glad to see that the discussions on increasing professionalism and the necessary skills of journalists have been highlighted as well as media literacy and I hope these discussions continue outside of these premises and then increase professionalism.
Quality of information provided to the public and media literacy help to resist the spread of fake news and simplistic sensationalism. More importantly, they make essential contributions to democratic transition in this region and beyond. To conclude, let me reassure you that the European Commission remains committed to supporting the sector, journalists and media in the region.
We are on a joint mission to continue to promote and protect the fundamental right of freedom of media, and in this context, I don’t shy away we are very much concerned about the growing number of physical attacks against journalists, may I say all over the world including Europe the European Union we have thought this is not possible within the European Union but unfortunately, it is, it is apparently everywhere possible. We are talking not only about physical attacks but even about assassinations, about murder and in that case, the case of Mr. Khashoggi is probably the worst in a series of lethal attacks. We all have the expectation, justified expectation, that all of these cases are thoroughly investigated and cleared up and brought to justice, and it’s not only about the perpetrators but it’s in particular about the instigators and here we should not differentiate between different representatives in different societies. Instigator is instigator, no matter it’s a member of a royal family or not, but it has to be clarified it has to be cleared it has to come to justice and we expect a fair transparent trial which finally leads to concrete results, sentences, which gives protection, reassurance to journalists about the way how they can conduct their work. And may I say the European Union, if it comes to its Neighborhood policy is very much interested to export stability, but it would be a big mistake and misunderstanding to believe stability means stillstand, the opposite. It means the development of transparent, pluralistic, colorful, vital, vivid society. In that respect media and their actors play a decisive role. Journalists, critical journalists should not be seen as a threat, they should be understood as constructors to a better life, to a better society and this is what counts, and this is also where the European Union is a reliable credible partner for you, not only of your interests but protector also of the way how you run your business. So, once again, thank you for all what you have done to create a more informative society, not only to be here for two or three days, but to work, to be dedicated, to believe in a better life for more citizens and thanks a lot, I am fully aware that you are not working always in easy conditions and circumstances, quite the opposite. That’s why I am deeply impressed about the dedication of many of you, I wish you all the best and I wish you in particular a lot of success in all our interest.
Thank you very much.