EFJ Intervention at Council of Europe Media Summit in Kiev

Council of Europe Ministerial Media Summit

Kiev, March 10-11th 2005

Intervention by Aidan White

European Federation of Journalists

First, of all can I say that journalists across Europe will welcome the tone and practical content of the draft conclusions before this summit. The issues you have touched on – the rule of law, editorial independence, tolerance, public service values, pluralism and social cohesion – are democratic values which are nourished by quality journalism, which is at the core of the European Federation of Journalists current agenda for change.

In particular, media will take comfort from your recognition of current efforts within the industry to reduce the risks facing journalists and other media staff.

The targeted killings of reporters and systematic violence facing independent media in crisis conditions require an uncompromising commitment from governments to bring those responsible to justice as well as a partnership with media professionals to nourish a culture of safety within media.

All of these questions find an echo here in the Ukraine. There were many thousands of heroes during the orange revolution, most of them ordinary citizens and including many journalists whose defiance of political pressure and intimidation demonstrated that worthy aspirations for freedom are meaningless without the courage and confidence to take action in their defence.

Symbolic of the struggle of Ukraine journalists for justice is the shameful case of murdered journalist Gyorgy Gongadze which is only now being investigated with serious intent – more than four years after his death.

This week the EFJ as part of an international journalists' inquiry will meet with the General Prosecutor and the Ukraine Interior Minister to discuss the next steps in this case and on Monday an interim report of our international inquiry into the story of incompetence and abuse of authority regarding Gongadze will be published. On the same day our report on the role of journalists in the Orange revolution will be released.

The death of former minister Gravchenko, a key witness in the Gongadze case, only days ago adds to the deepest fears of journalists that people desperate to avoid the facts coming out will do anything to suppress the truth. But justice for Gongadze, his colleagues and his family must not be denied. It is a supreme test of the new government to ensure that those responsible for the assassination are exposed and called to account. We are confident they will not fail.And the president's comments this morning reinforce that confidence fold.

The issue of protection of journalists is, of course, our first priority, but achieving all the objectives of this conference provides will be testing for all Council of Europe states. Journalists and media organisations welcome the goodwill and worthy sentiments of your deliberations, but they look to governments to deliver on the promises they make. Calling for media responsibility, particularly over terrorism, is all very well, but this must not be used as an excuse for attacks on civil liberties and new forms of control over the work of journalists.

Journalists throughout this region have ambitions of their own, in particular, to create a new media landscape to meet the yearning of people for open government, social justice and quality information. Last week Ukraine journalists agreed a new manifesto for change that sets out a coherent programme for social and professional rights in media.

Journalists support reform – but they want change in a planned and an orderly manner and in close consultation with journalists and media professionals. Here in the Ukraine, for example, the issue of denationalisation must be addressed with prudence and recognition that the livelihoods of many thousands are at stake. Change must bring with it new hope for the future and a fresh start for all in media. Again I welcome the President's commitment to partnership with media in the Ukraine.

Although the focus is rightly on the Ukraine and neighbouring countries like Belarus and Russia where the press freedom continues exists at best in a twilight world of undue political pressure, across Europe there is a deep anxiety that the mission of journalism is being derailed by turbulence in the relations between governments and media and the changes taking place within the media sector.

Your agenda and plan of action gives hope that we can get back on track in the years to come. In that endeavour I can assure you that journalists' groups will be ready to do what they can to support your efforts.

Thank you.