Menue_phone
15.12.2018

NEWSOCRACY conference in Prague: why media ownership concerns us all

ECPMF's Prague conference on media ownership structures in the Czech Republic and Europe strechted from alarms, to outrage, up to hope ... in case you missed it here are a summary and impressions of the day.

news cr Photo: Andreas Lamm/ECPMF

Bulgarian investigative journalist Rossen Bossev spoke about the daily life of independent journalists in his home country which is ruled by oligarchs who care more about value than values. You could wonder how this young man keeps going, facing harassment and intimidation every other day. He just smiled and said: "We are to young not to fight." This hopeful credo sums up ECPMF's Newsocracy conference in Prague on the 14 December 2018. It tackled the damaging effects of media ownership concentration in Europe.

About 50 people met in the Czech capital to discuss the dangers of economic and political interference in editorial independence. Václav Štětka from Loughborough University, UK, gave the keynote presenting the new Media Pluralism Monitor by the CPMF. He showed a grim outlook: that media ownership concentration meanwhile is an issue concerning all of Europe.

The European Union should step up their efforts, because news outlets are used as weapons rather than PR tools, Štětka added. "We need to demand more transparency" and “people need to understand that free media is something desirable".

ECPMF's Managing Director Lutz Kinkel hosted the very strong first panel welcoming Maria Donde from the European Platform for Regulatory Authorities (EPRA), UK, Agnes Urban from Mertek Media Monitor, Hungary, Mark Dekan, CEO Ringier Axel Springer Media AG and Kjersti Løken Stavrum from the Tinius Trust, Norway. Of course, Hungary's new media conglomerate was the issue everyone wanted to talk about. "It's absurd. It's not a market but a political development. There is no market", said Urban. The tone is getting very tough, added Dekan, who acknowledged the death of the old publishing business model, saying "The backbone of the media business was credibility. If you screw up credibility you screw up your business". He had little hope that regulations could stop media take-overs and capture, "oligarchs have shown great imagination in recent years. They will circumvent any regulations. It's a disease!" Hungarian media owner's would be "hacking the Europeans rules", Urban confirmed.

Also Donde expressed little hope for big changes through regulations: "The Council of Europe issued media recommendations but it's up to the Member States to implement those. That's where we get stuck." While Løken Stavrum stressed the media also have a responsibility: "You must be able to change and to transform and to keep your values."

Then Rossen Bossev talked about the desperate situation in Bulgaria. "We cannot solve the problems of media freedom by just focussing on them", he said. In Bulgaria it is a human rights issue by now.

The German-Polish freelance journalist Olivia Kortas gave an insight into her research on Czech media owner Křetínský. She stressed the importance of self-sustaining cross-border networks for independent journalism.

Tomáš Martínek, a Member of Parliament from the Czech Pirate Party spoke about media ownership in the country. That can't be done without mentioning Prime Minister Andrej Babiš who owns a trust that controls the Republic’s largest media publisher. "Unfortunately Czech citizens confuse economic success with political success."

Portugese MEP Ana Gomes didn't hold back her anger about the EU's inactivity in various cases of press freedom violations. She was especially enraged by the stalled Daphne Caruana Galizia murder trial. "Some people say, it's just Malta, it's small ... No, it's one of us!"

"It's good to be here and to know that we are not alone", said Turkish journalist Elif Ince. Later on she illustrated her investigation of the not well known media ownership structures in Turkey.

After a testimony of Ondřej Neumann, Czech Republic, about local journalism in the current Czech media landscape, EFJ President Mogens B. Bjerregård hosted a panel with Brian Cathcart from Kingston University, UK, Tanja Maksić from BIRN Serbia and Bartosz T. Wieliński from Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland. They discussed media ownership implications outside the big cities and outplayed each other with bad news, from arson attacks on journalists to "re-polonisation", which means penalising foreign-owned media.

Cathcart closed the case by saying, "we're all engaged in one big cultural war. But we have to deal with it differently. In Poland, politicians are taking over the media. In the UK it's the other way around." Hee added, "when things go wrong in the press it's not reported in the press". 

Right at the end, Hervé Kempf, editor-in-chief of Reporterre, France, provided a positive, hopeful finale. The online magazine focusses on ecological issues and was founded by Kempf after he quit the daily Le Monde in protest at being censored.

Kempf presented his "rules for success", which were 1. a clean editorial line, 2. to be closer to the people than to power, 3. to be transparent and 4. to be independent. He ended describing a young generation of French journalists and activists who make the future look less grim.

ECPMF's Supervisory Board Chair, Lucie Sýkorova ended the conference by quoting a journalist who said: "You need to adapt to change without selling your soul."

Join us to continue our debate at ECPMF'S next conference on investigative journalism for Europe in January 2019: UNCOVERED.

Until then here are some impressions of NEWSOCRACY in Prague (for even more photos please click here)