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European Commission Speech At The Media Conference Of The Eastern Partnership

World Affairs

Open Eyes Opinion {source: EC}

Latvia

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1st Media Conference of the Eastern Partnership

Riga, 20 May 2015

Johannes Hahn, Commissioner forEuropean Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner

Minister(s), Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

We have reached the end of today’s first Media Conference of the Eastern Partnership and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to provide some closing remarks.

I do not believe it is an accident that countries like my own enjoy an enviable lifestyle. On the whole, the countries of the EU prosper because they are places where there is great personal freedom: freedom to start a business, freedom to demand change, freedom to do things differently. It’s about the freedom for each individual to make their own choices.

Free speech and an informed, professional press are essential for this kind of democratic society. They are fundamental to the choices that citizens make about the future of their country. Without them, the public cannot weigh up options or judge their leaders. Without them dangerous prejudices and misperceptions take root, which undermine chances for peace and stability.

That is why freedom of the media is one of the very foundations on which our Union is built. And we believe that a strong independent press is fundamental to successful societies everywhere.

Media in EU and neighbourhood facing major challenges

I would like to pay tribute to journalists everywhere who have taken great risks to do their jobs. We can all think of cases of journalists who have paid too high a price for taking on the establishment. I am glad to live in a country where, I believe, no journalist has to live in fear, and that is what we all should want.

But the threats to free journalism are complex.

Media working today both in the EU and in the neighbourhood face major challenges. Vested interests often make it difficult for independent media to survive financially.

And, concentration of media ownership can undermine the diversity of messages that are necessary for a vibrant democracy – limiting the possibility for independent journalism and fostering self-censorship.

The flowering of different forms of online and social media is a great contribution to our democracies, and citizens’ media can play an important part. However, not all sources can be read with the same degree of trust.This is why we must continue to support professional journalism and the training of journalists; and why we must do all we can to increase the sophistication of our news consumers.

Freedom to choose from a variety of media sources

It is more important than ever for people to have accessto a variety of objective, good quality and independent information. This is true for voters everywhere, and perhaps even more true in countries going through an important transition.

No one source of information will ever have the whole picture: so a diversity of voices is essential.

Unfortunately, in many of our countries, the fundamental principle of freedom of the media is being undermined by those who spread disinformation and misrepresent the facts.

The principle of free speech means we must defend the right of others to say, to print and broadcast views we do not share. BUT that should not hold us back fromexposing disinformation when it appears. And it need not hold us back from pointing to abuse or false propaganda when it arises, or from demanding greater transparency about the influence of certain media empires.

Governments have responsibilities with regard to the overall media environment, such as guaranteeing a safe environment where different options can be expressed and ensuring that all citizens have access to factual and objective information.

AND, civil society and media representatives haveimportant roles to play in holding governments to accountwhen it comes to media freedom.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Closer engagement with partner countries on media freedom

Today’s conference clearly shows the need for closerengagement of the EU with partner countries on the issues of media freedom and development. Free and reliable media are crucial for implementing the goals of the Eastern Partnership.

The countries that have chosen closer relations with the EU have to live up to European standards in the media field. It’s a challenge. But the alternative is a weakened process of state building, without democratic control, with limited scrutiny of corruption and a public opinion dangerously exposed to misinformation.

More ambitious EU media assistance in EaP region

Media in countries that are in the process of state building are more vulnerable to government interference and control. A controlled media is a weak media. That is why it is important that media professionals in the Eastern Partnership countries get the assistance that they need. The EU can use already the existing instruments at its disposal by:

a) supporting journalists’ training and helping build experience and knowledge of the European Union to encourage accurate reporting

b) establish a network of journalists already familiar withEU matters who can exchange material and information;

c) support the journalists’ professional organisations, topromote high standards and self-regulation, and to helppromote critical awareness of media issues among consumers .

A word about TV: in Eastern Partnership countries morethan 80% of people receive their news from TV. Here there is a crucial role for regulators, who need to act withprofessionalism and independence. I also want to underline the importance of an independent public broadcaster – we have seen encouraging examples in this respect in Ukraine.

Let me close by saying that if the public does not understand the goals of the Eastern Partnership, it will remain a “project of political elites”. Today’s conference is also about what the media can do to communicate aboutthe Eastern Partnership itself. Not through propaganda or public relations, but through critical, determined reporting of a variety of views so that the man and woman in the street can make up their own minds.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Free media makes your countries stronger. Where information is omitted, distorted or falsified, democratic systems are weakened.

You know far better than I the power of freedom of expression, and the threats which it faces.

Our challenge here is to harness that power and to combat the threat. I assure you that the European Commission is and will remain committed to this issue.

Thank you.

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