September 20th 2006
Intervention by Aidan White
International federation of Journalists
First of all, I want to thank you for the kind invitation to speak at this meeting. It comes at a time when all creators, and particularly, the people I represent are facing unprecedented challenges and attacks on their rights.
Meetings like this are vital. They give us an opportunity to share experiences but more importantly, they give us the chance to develop common strategies that we can use to defend the interests of all creators in the current difficult climate.
The importance of protecting the economic and moral rights of journalists and press photographers has never been more important for us and we are well aware that the next years are critical in this battle.
But we need to be honest and recognise that we start, all of us, from a weak and a worsening condition. The European Federation of Journalists noted this in its recent annual meeting where we have seen that the right to report, something we have always taken for granted, is now under attack. In particular, the right of photographers to work freely is being undermined.
At our meeting in Bled we adopted a resolution to boycott events where artists ask journalists and photographers to sign unfair contracts for reporting their rights. For the first time we have been forced to take action. We supported a boycott of the recent Robbie Williams tour in Germany where photographers were asked to sign away all their moral and economic rights if they wanted to take pictures of the event.
But it is not just the private entertainment business that is undermining our freedom. Even the European Union institutions have tried to limit photographers’ access to events and have instead created a free service available on line – in the process compromising principles of independent journalism and denying remuneration to freelance colleagues.
It is extraordinary that no-one inside the institutions understand that this interferes with free expression; that independent journalism, and photography in this case, can bring nuance and expression that is always denied if we are restricted to public relations work alone.
Every day we see new and pressing problems:
• There is an increase of online press clippings services with no remuneration for journalists (even the European Commission itself produces press clippings for its 30,000 employees without asking any newspapers for permission or making payments for copies).
• Digital manipulation of pictures has become routine and in the process there are regular infringements of photographers’ moral rights,
There is some hope though when, as we have seen in the recent Google case in Belgium whereby from the beginning of September Google.be is forbidden from copying Belgian press articles on its web site. New technologies offer great opportunities, but they must not be at the expense of traditional rights.
The biggest issue for us at the moment is the serious threat on private copying and copyright levies. The European Commission has launched a consultation on copyright levies in a converging world and seems to consider that private copying has negative impacts on free circulation of goods.
The EFJ responded to the consultation and strongly supports the work done by reprographic organisations to collect fees on behalf of journalists. The EFJ says the collection and distribution of levies to journalists is essential to compensate them for secondary use of their work while maintaining free flow of information in the analogue and digital environment.
This distinction between the analogue and the digital environment is important to note. In the analogue arena it is difficult for authors to control certain types of uses of their works. Consequently, the role of collective societies is essential for journalists in all European Union member states.
In the digital environment journalists may wish to choose between individual and collective management of their rights depending on their ability to manage rights themselves. However, the use of individual Digital Rights Management (DRM) is challenged by the fact that journalists -particularly when they work as freelancers- have no capacity to manage their rights effectively. For this reason, collecting societies are also essential for the living income of journalists in the digital environment.
Levies on journalistic products have had and still have a positive effect on the creation and protection of intellectual works of journalists…Phasing them out or scaling them down would result in a considerable loss of income for authors.
But the crisis we face is right across the industry and we get precious little support from some political leaders who ought to know better.
The Finnish Prime Minister, for instance, talking this year to European Newspaper Publishers talking bluntly about the current Finnish discussion on transfer of rights of copyrighted works from employees to publishers said: there are two solutions, either development of agreements for transfer of rights or to amend the provisions in the Copyright Act.
No, Mr. Prime Minister, there is only one solution – a negotiated and fair settlement of issues between journalists and other creators and their employers.
If politicians start offering the option of a change of law which would undermine long-standing principles of protection for authors, this will only encourage intransigence and non-co-operation from publishers.
It is close to irresponsible to send such a signal to employers who have already demonstrated across the European publishing industry that their thirst for high levels of profitability in this sector is unquenchable. Many of them have few scruples about it.
If they have to cutback on investment in editorial products and take remuneration at present due to their employees from rights protection to meet their commercial objectives then they will do it.
The EC is launching a consultation on online content “to encourage the development of innovative business models and to promote the cross-border delivery of diverse online content services” which appears to be a barely disguised attempt to loosen rights protection. We shall be responding after a consultation with our members.
If content policy is driven by market principles only, as it must be given the Commission’s legal mandate, we will see once again how the European Union’s commitment to cultural values, which flourish in the rhetoric of its treaties and declarations, will wither in the face of the need to support the imperatives of commercial competitiveness.
As always we have a major problem in dealing with the Commission when it comes to defence of cultural interests. The European Union in its declarations, statements and preambles to treaties is always ready to state its attachment to the values of freedom and cultural expression, but every time we ask for this to be reflected in policy we find that economic and competition, the first priorities of Union institutions, always come first.
Journalists’ unions are determined to work together to confront the unacceptable consequences of such an approach. We have witnessed over the past ten years a steady decline in the quality of content in much of the European mainstream media. We have seen how editorial budgets have been cut and investment in professionalism and training and a pitched battle for audience and circulation has contributed to “dumbing down” television and the degradation of quality journalism.
Across the European broadcasting and publishing industry the definition of “competitiveness” can be summed up by a headlong rush to the bottom in terms of standards. Everywhere, media employers maintain their levels of profitability by introducing almost scandalous principles of employment – personal contracts in which to get a job people have to sign away their rights, young people who are subject to forms of exploitation – having to work for nothing at all or a miserable allowance just to get one foot on the media employment ladder. The hostility to unions and genuine social dialogue is more profound than ever.
These are the competitive issues which the European Union should be looking at. It will do no good at all for the European Union market to be built upon endorsement of harsh employment conditions, denial of creators’ rights and the isolation and elimination of minority and creative programming just to be able to match the worst of the United States market.
The situation in the new member states of the European Union is as bad, if not worse. And the poor quality of media adds to the general anxiety and divisions that we see present in much of Europe today.
The EFJ is deeply concerned that media, far from contributing to inter-cultural dialogue and raising awareness of the need for tolerance in our societies, is in fact contributing to divisions and failing to provide a structure for dialogue between communities through pluralist and informed media.
New groups pressing for a restoration of decent values, and ethical journalism have been established in Germany in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. This is the moment for thinking clearly about competitiveness in the context of the cultural values of tolerance and peace-building, not just how to divide up the advertising cake and how to rack up more audience for mindless reality television. It is not without cause that the EFJ this year endorsed calls to establish an Ethical Journalism initiative that will restore a vision of mission, integrity and responsibility to European media.
The coming years provide us with an opportunity to improve and review the information landscape and for strengthening pluralism, but this will not be done by loosening the attachment to traditional European standards of diversity and decent conditions for media professionalism. Essential to this is the highest level of protection for the works of authors, journalists and other creators.
Everywhere we have to do more to protect our interests. This morning I briefly joined another meeting across the road in which European organisations representing different groups from civil society met to consider how we can work together to try to restore integrity to media. It’s a challenge that the European Federation of Journalists with other colleagues will want to take up.
Our partnership with the European Writers Congress and others in the Creators’ Rights Alliance is an important and integral part of this work. We have to work more effectively together, when we do we can become an unstoppable force which would convince the institutions of the European Union and some of the member states that they need to get back on track when it comes to protecting European values and culture.