Journalists ask for more support at regional EU conference

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How important is the media situation in the EU accession negotiations? Over 250 journalists and media experts as well as regional politicians and EU representatives discussed this question during the "EU – Western Balkans Media Days" (EUWB) on 9th and 10th November in Tirana. The KAS Media Program South East Europe contributed to the agenda in a panel discussion and with a TED Talk.

The conference, organised by the European Commission, was dedicated to the role of media in countries in transition. Two panels and six workshops provided the participants with the opportunity to discuss the current situation of media freedom in South East Europe and explore new ways to strengthen independent journalism in the region.

The conference was opened by Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania, and Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations. In his opening speech, Hahn underlined the importance of media freedom for EU candidate countries. He underlined that real media freedom is a prerequisite for EU membership.

In the recent years, many Balkan states showed a slight, but steady decline in regard to media freedom. Journalists still lack good framework conditions to report independently due to political and economic pressure as well as concentrated media ownership. As a consequence, journalists from several countries used the opportunity to call on the EU to make its voice heard by South East European politicians in this matter.

During the workshop "Media freedom in societies in transition", Christian Spahr, Head of the KAS Media Program South East Europe, Flutura Kusari, media lawyer, Borka Rudić, Secretary General of the Journalist Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Tamara Skrozza, journalist and member of the Press Council of Serbia, exchanged their experiences on how to overcome the apparent obstacles of media freedom. The discussion was moderated by Mogens Bjerregard, President of the European Federation of Journalism (EFJ). The best way to challenge old structures, is to strengthen new and alternative business models, commented Spahr. Newly founded media NGOs and regional investigative networks are good examples that already advance media diversity.

Christian Spahr also contributed to the conference with a TED Talk. He spoke about the low level of public trust in traditional media. In his view, more and more journalists tend to leave big media outlets in order to be independent and start their own projects. "The KAS Media Program supports free and independent media through summer schools, seminars and workshops", said Spahr. The same applies for the modernisation of political communication. PR managers in politics have to create a true dialogue with citizens in order to communicate both government decisions and promote common European values. "Organisations like SEECOM, Europe’s first professional association for government spokespersons, are of big assistance in this context", emphasised Spahr.

The intensive debates helped to increase the mutual understanding between journalists and EU officials as well as to strengthen the common dialogue. As a result, the European Commission decided to organise the "EU – Western Balkans Media Days" on a regular basis in the years ahead.

Author: Kristin Puschmann, KAS Media Program South East Europe

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Tirana, November 10, 2017