Journalists Warn of Threats to Press Freedom in European Union Debate over anti-Terrorism Policy

The European Federation of Journalists today warned that proposals from the European Commission to bring the role of journalists into its anti-terrorism strategies are reinforcing concerns of news people that politicians want to manipulate media content.

In a letter to Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the European Commission, who is in charge of developing anti-terrorist policy, the EFJ says that suggestions about introducing a code of conduct or establishing guidelines for journalists reporting terrorism issues smacks of attempts to interfere in the work of journalists.

“We recognise the European Union’s desire to promote co-operation in the fight against crimes of violence and we welcome preventative measures that will improve levels of public security and which will bring those responsible for terrorism to justice,” says Aidan White, EFJ General Secretary in the letter to Mr Frattini. “But we believe this must be achieved without compromising the cardinal principles of journalism or the fundamental right to free expression in democratic society.”

The EFJ is particularly worried by the Commission Communication issued on September 21st to the Parliament and the Council Terrorist Recruitment: addressing the factors contributing to violent radicalisation, which discusses the problem of journalism, broadcast media and the Internet “disseminating propaganda” and giving expression to “terrorist views and organisations.”

“Journalists are particularly concerned by statements in the Communication that media should change the way they report terrorist events and that it may be beneficial for some code of conduct or other form of guidance to be adopted for media in this area,” says the EFJ.

The EFJ argues that as part of their professional work, journalists need access to a wide range of relevant sources and often they find themselves in contact with people connected to fringe organisations with political objectives. “This is an essential part of the architecture of investigative and professional journalism,” said White.

“It would be appalling for the European Union to seek to suspend or restrain in any way the vital rights of citizens and media professionals through actions which may limit freedom of the press or free journalism. The only winners in such a process would be the enemies of democracy who seek to promote hatred and discord in settled democracies by their acts of violence,” he said.

EFJ leaders are seeking an urgent meeting with Mr Frattini to discuss these fears and the possibility of confidence-building measures in order to support, says the EFJ, “a confident, professional and vigorous journalistic environment in which the pressing issues of the day – security and public safety among them – can be properly reported without any need to interfere in the work of journalists”

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The EFJ represents over 250,000 journalists in more than 40 countries