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Coronavirus

Another Covid Christmas?
Covid infections rising, hospital admissions up, more deaths, the worst record for covid cases and deaths in western Europe. And the UK government again resisting widespread calls to take preventive action to avoid the need for drastic measures or another lockdown before Christmas 2021.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed there was “absolutely nothing to indicate” the UK would enter another winter lockdown because high levels of infections were in line with earlier predictions.
Health Minister Sajid Javid predicted a “normal Christmas.”
As the clocks ticked down to winter time at the end of October, the government – Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Minister Sajid Javid in particular – kept stalling on the need for “Plan B” – compulsory masks, vaccine passports, a return to more working from home.
A leaked internal government assessment showed Plan B would cost the economy between £11 and £18 billion. The government was accused of using the leak to scupper its own Plan B.
On the same day their chief scientific adviser to the department of health and social care admitted to “Plan C” discussions which could involve even more restrictive measures such as limits on household mixing.
There were a few glimmers of a possible turnaround – data released in the last week of October indicating the rise in infections was slowing and some scientific modelling that predicted an imminent decline in cases.
But the weight of professional and scientific opinion favoured immediate action to prevent further risks from coronavirus.
The British Medical Association, representing the nation’s doctors, accused the government of “wilful negligence” if it did not implement Plan B to stop the NHS from being overwhelmed by covid - especially in the wake of a searing Parliamentary inquiry and report on the government’s previous handling of the covid crisis since early 2020.
The NHS Confederation which represents providers of NHS services called on the government to act without delay on preventive measures to avoid “stumbling into a winter crisis”. Other medical professional groups warned that hospitals and medical professionals were already struggling to cope.
The government’s prime adviser on covid – SAGE, the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, led by its chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance – called for immediate preparations so coronavirus restrictions could be rapidly re-deployed if necessary and said guidance on working from home was likely to have the highest positive impact.
UK global comparative statistics on covid
A covid Christmas?
UK government resisting calls for Plan B
Boris Johnson – no lockdown needed
Sajid Javid predicts normal Christmas
Plan B cost leak
Plan B cost leak intended to scupper plan
Plan C discussions
Slowing infections?
Models predict decline
BMA warns of wilful negligence
NHS providers warn of stumbling into winter crisis
More medical professionals call for help
SAGE calls for immediate preparations

Covid, cash and contracts
The covid pandemic cost an estimated £370 billion in government spending from March 2020 to September 2021 said the UK National Audit Office, the UK’s independent public spending watchdog.
Many of those hundreds of billions went to support health and social care, public services, business and individuals - but some went into unknown and questionable pockets. And since the beginning, journalists and public interest groups have struggled against government resistance to identify and expose those pockets.
In late October 2021 there were signs that struggle might shine more light on questionable dealings:
- the government was ordered on October 18 to reveal the names of 47 companies that got contracts through the VIP fast lane – a privileged, fast-track process that gave firms with political connections a 10 times greater success rate in getting such contracts.
- the Cabinet Office was forced for the first time to reveal the names of ministers who referred covid testing firms for the VIP fast lane. It admitted senior minister Michael Gove and Cabinet Office Minister Lord Agnew referred six firms for lucrative Test and Trace contracts.
- the UK High Court ruled on October 25 to allow further court examination of government transparency, particularly over use of private emails and messaging apps by government ministers for government business.
The decisions flow from Freedom of Information requests by the Good Law project which first revealed the VIP fast lane in October 2020 and has taken the government to court over covid measures a number of times over the past year.
In Spring 2021 a series of revelations exposed questionable dealings by the prime minister and other senior Conservatives – including a blistering public attack by his former chief aide and advisor Dominic Cummings, investigative reports in the FT and Sunday Times newspapers about lobbying by former Prime Minister David Cameron, and a scathing report from the UK Parliament’s public accounts committee which showed no evidence that £37 billion of government spending on the privatized test-and-trace program has helped to reduce infection levels.
NAO cost of covid
VIP fast lane companies
Information Commissioner ruling on VIP companies
Cabinet Office names ministers
UK High Court rules on transparency case
Freedom of Information under threat
Good Law Project
VIP fast lane
Dominic Cummings on Boris Johnson
David Cameron and Greensill Capital - FT
David Cameron and Greensill Capital – Sunday Times
Public accounts committee report on Test and Trace
More on covid

Parliamentary inquiry into government handling of covid
The UK government handling of the covid pandemic in 2020 and 2021 was one of the “most important public health failures” in UK history. That was the judgment of the first authoritative inquiry into the pandemic conducted by two House of Commons committees over 15 months. And their conclusions largely confirmed the often repeated and reported criticisms of the Johnson government’s actions on covid over 18 months since March 2020 – a total of 77 conclusions and 38 recommendations in 6 key areas:
- pandemic preparedness prior to 2020
- lockdowns and social distancing
- testing and tracing
- the impact of the crisis on social care and at-risk communities
- the rollout of the vaccines.
Among the findings:
- prior to 2020, government experts were fixated on influenza and did not see coronaviruses as a threat to the UK
- the government initially adopted a “deliberate policy” that “amounted in practice” to seeking herd immunity – a decision to manage, rather than suppress, infections which proved fatal for tens of thousands.
- the abandonment of community testing on 12 March 2020 was a “seminal failure” and “cost many lives”.
- the Test and Trace system “failed to make a significant enough impact on the course of the pandemic to justify the level of public investment it received”.
- social care was overlooked by the government throughout the pandemic and minority ethnic communities experienced higher levels of death in its early phase.
Two days after the report’s public release, Health Minister Sajid Javid said he had not read it in detail.
And it’s unclear if and when the government will hold an independent public inquiry into the pandemic although Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he intends to launch one in the first half of 2022.
The Parliamentary inquiry began separately in two select committees starting in March 2020 and then jointly from October 2020 through June 2021. The Commons science and technology and the health and social care committees were chaired by two former Conservative government ministers and included MPs from all three major parties at Westminster – Conservatives, Labour and Scottish National Party. They released their report in September 2021 after testimony from more than 50 witnesses and 400 written statements and accounts.
“Worst ever public health failure” – The Guardian
Herd immunity was government covid response –Independent
Covid missteps tragic – New York Times
The joint Parliamentary Committee Report
Health Minister Sajid Javid
Government public inquiry?
More on covid

Not so hidden agendas
Amidst the confusion and controversy wrought by the coronavirus, Boris Johnson’s government has kept pushing its longer term agendas, often with minimal scrutiny from much of the media and the public.
It has already used its overwhelming majority to pass laws in the House of Commons that would allow police to curb the right of protest and could endanger freedom of expression – although this legislation was still being debated in the House of Lords in the autumn of 2021 and awaited final approval.
And with the return of Parliament in autumn 2021 it had plans for a number of other measures that similarly could threaten both free speech and the ability of journalists to do their job:
– changes to the Official Secrets Act that could curtail investigative reporting and threaten whistleblowers
- repealing the law that requires Parliament to sit for a fixed 5 year term, thus allowing a prime minister to call an election whenever he or she wants
- new online safety laws which cabinet ministers claim are meant to protect online users and control the power of tech giants like Facebook and Google but critics say threatens free speech and gives the government wider control on censorship.
Earlier, in 2020, it started revamping the civil service – replacing a series of key civil servants including the top one – and pursuing a hard Brexit, including the appointments of controversial former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott as a trade adviser and hardline Brexit negotiator David Frost as a cabinet minister.
Despite repeated questions about many of the government’s actions through the pandemic, the Johnson government managed to avoid any comprehensive inquiry into lockdown policies, questionable contracts and spending, protection for both health care workers and vulnerable care home patients, and testing and prevention programs.
Journalists carried much of the responsibility for scrutinising the UK government in the first three months of the year as opposition parties struggled to come to terms with the Conservative government’s surprise sweep of seats in December's election muting much opposition scrutiny, first of Brexit and then of the virus crisis, as they were overwhelmed by a combination of the election result, government manoeuvring, and the complexity of both major issues.
The main opposition Labour party was without an effective leader until early April when Keir Starmer was elected.

Official Secrets Act
Government to change Official Secrets Act
Journalists to be criminals?
History of suppression
RSF alarm 

Repealing elections law
Elections law levelling down?
A step forward or backward? 

New online safety laws
Government plans online safety
Government plan threatens free speech
Serious concerns about freedom of expression
Article 19 warning on risk to free speech

Government mandarins
Civil service revamp
Power shift?
New civil service head
Former Australian PM appointed
David Frost
David Frost on Brexit and Ireland


Covid and the Media
The AEJ is among 14 media freedom organizations which have noted and monitored a worrying new wave of serious threats and attacks on media freedom since the coronavirus pandemic first spread in early 2020.
In a statement marking World Press Freedom Day on May 3 2021, Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić urged governments to avoid misusing the COVID-19 situation to silence or hinder journalists.

The 2020 annual report of the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists was titled “Hands Off Press Freedom: Attacks on Media in Europe must not become a New Normal”. The fourteen Platform members documented how several Council of Europe member states had detained journalists for critical reporting, vastly expanded surveillance, and passed new laws to punish “fake news” even as they decided themselves what was allowable and what was false without the oversight of appropriate independent bodies.
The report –
available in full here – said these threats risked a tipping point in the fight to preserve a free media in Europe and aggravated an already gloomy outlook.

Even as the pandemic started the AEJ was involved with other media freedom groups to warn against misuse of pandemic emergency measures – including urgent calls to European leaders to protect media freedom referencing three specific European governments, an open letter to EU leaders to protect the free flow of information, and support for a joint statement from three global special rapporteurs on freedom of expression with the UN, OSCE and the OAS signed by:

AEJ
ARTICLE 19
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists
Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
Index on Censorship
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Institute (IPI)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

More on misuse of emergency measures

 

 

Brexit

Deal
The UK and the European Union have approved an agreement on a trade deal after Brexit. The last-minute deal allows Britain to continue trading with the EU and may avoid the massive disruption to the economy and people’s lives expected if there had been no deal. Exactly how the deal affects business, the economy and individuals will only become clearer with time with constantly updated reporting available here:

Associated Press (AP) - https://apnews.com/hub/brexit

Financial Times(FT) - https://www.ft.com/brexit

The Guardian -https://www.theguardian.com/politics/eu-referendum

BBC - https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/uk_leaves_the_eu

 

Details of the deal are here and for some early analysis please see:

FT - https://www.ft.com/content/34dd4cbe-33ef-32f8-9aa2-904339e46bf0

AP - https://apnews.com/article/brexit-europe-global-trade-europe-e0e9914361f0f8975b7f49a834497c5d

Council on Foreign Relations (U.S. based) - https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/whats-eu-uk-brexit-deal

 

For questions about the deal itself and its impact please see:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/55252388

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-55261711

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson unsurprisingly heralded the Christmas Eve deal as delivering on Brexit by taking back control of UK laws and destiny. He said the deal will protect jobs, allow UK goods to be sold without tariffs and quotas in the EU market, and allow companies to do even more business with Europe. From January 1, the UK will be outside the European customs union and single market, Johnson said, and British laws will be made solely by the British parliament, interpreted by UK judges sitting in UK courts, and no longer subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice – all demands of ardent Brexiteers. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the deal was fair and balanced and Brussels would "continue cooperating with the UK in all areas of mutual interest" such as climate change, transport and security. She said agreement on the highly contentious but symbolic issue of fishing rights guaranteed 5½ years of "full predictability for our fishing communities".

Rejoining the EU?
Even as the ink dries on the Brexit trade deal and at least early problems with it surface, there are of course questions about Britain’s future relationship with the EU – including the possibility of rejoining.  AEJ member Nick Hopkinson predicts future British governments will eventually seek closer relations again and may even want to rejoin. The former director of Wilton Park, the international policy forum, and a long-time supporter of close relations with the EU, Hopkinson examines how and when that might be in this article in The New European.

Brexit – January 2020

The United Kingdom officially left the European Union at midnight Central European Time on January 31, 2020. For a range of news coverage and what it meant please see these links:

https://apnews.com/e48bf51838ced94e2d92adba189b4944

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-51333314

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/10858199/brexit-news-uk-live-eu-latest/

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/live/2020/feb/01/brexit-britain-wakes-up-to-uncertain-future-after-uk-leaves-eu-live-news-and-updates

https://inews.co.uk/news/politics/brexit/what-happens-after-brexit-day-uk-transition-period-when-leaving-eu-date-explained-1373410

https://edition.cnn.com/europe/live-news/brexit-day-uk-leaves-eu-gbr-intl/index.html

https://www.foxnews.com/category/world/world-regions/europe/brexit

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/01/brexit-uk-officially-leaves-european-union-200131211418625.html

https://www.gov.uk/transition

https://www.gov.uk/staying-uk-eu-citizen

The course of Brexit was set when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson won his bet on the future of Britain in a snap election on December 12 2019. Voters woke up on Friday the 13th December 2019 to a thumping Conservative majority, the resignations of both main opposition party leaders – Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and the Liberal Democrats’ Jo Swinson, and a resurgent Scottish National Party seeking the independence of Scotland. Please also see here for:
Election result numbers

And here for how Johnson’s Conservatives won:
https://www.ft.com/content/ab3692b0-2317-11ea-92da-f0c92e957a96

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/uk/how-boris-johnson-became-britain-s-most-powerful-prime-minister-since-tony-blair-1.4120281

See here for more Brexit news

 



 

 

Lunchtime meetings

Covid-19 Impact
The AEJ UK hopes to resume regular in person lunchtime meetings at Regent’s University as soon as possible depending on circumstances related to the Covid pandemic.
AEJ UK meetings usually start at 12:30
and are open to journalists, academics and Europe specialists and guests. Pre-registration is necessary by email to cas.jenkins@gmail.com. A fee of £25 is charged to cover the cost of refreshments - £10 for under-25s and free admission may be extended to students on a discretionary basis.

 

Reports on meetings are usually available on this website and for a list of our recent lunchtime guests see Events
AEJ UK meetings were kindly hosted at Europe House, the London home of the EU Commission and European Parliament, for many years. Please see their
UK website for EU events and information.


Recent AEJ UK guests

Afghanistan – past and future

The West lost in Afghanistan by mistakes it made 20 years ago – and it kept losing by backing the wrong factions since, says David Loyn. Even so he listed three key reasons for the UK and the West to stay engaged or re-engage with the new Taliban government:

-the need to deal with what he called currently the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, aside from Yemen.

-the historical lessons that ignoring Afghanistan “tends to come back to bite us”.

-the threat of renewed attacks from jihadi groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS based in Afghanistan, estimated by U.S. intelligence as possible within 6 to 12 months.

Loyn was strategic communications adviser in the Afghan president’s office in 2017-18 and is a senior visiting research fellow at King’s College London war studies department, a member of the UK Foreign Office advisory panel on South Asia, and an award-winning war correspondent who covered conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia. He gave the AEJ UK a highly informed briefing on November 24, exactly 101 days since the western-backed Afghan government collapsed in August 2021 and only days shy of the 20-year anniversary of the American assault on Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda in the wake of its 9/11 attack.
Please see this report on the meeting from AEJ member and writer on Asia Nick Nugent and here for an audio record of the meeting.

 

The future of the planet

COP 26 could be the most important climate change summit ever. For some it’s a last chance to save the planet – and the human species - from catastrophe. And days before it opened in Glasgow the AEJ UK was told the success of COP 26 hung in the balance. Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the London School of Economics Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, briefed an AEJ meeting on October 29 about the key issues at the summit and the chances for more effective action to combat climate change. He said the two main goals were greater ambition – commitments not just to 5 year promises but new commitments in 1 or 2 years – and real support for developing countries – the $100 billion per year promised in 2010 has not been met. Many global leaders have announced targets of cutting their emissions to net zero by 2050 and keeping to a maximum 1.5C rise in temperature. But in the lead-up to the conference there have been inadequate pledges for cutting emissions by 2030 and arguments over financial support for developing countries. The recent promises and statements from various world leaders have come in the wake of growing public pressure - demonstrations and protests across the globe particularly in recent years following the example of activist Greta Thunberg, the growth of Green political parties in many western countries, and action by many businesses – notably the car industry – to reduce pollutants which affect climate change. Bob Ward is also deputy chair of the London Climate Change Partnership and a fellow of the Geological Society, the Royal Geographical Society and the Energy Institute.

Please see this report on the meeting from AEJ UK treasurer David Worsfold who is covering COP 26 for various media outlets and here for an audio record of the meeting.
COP 26 website
United Nations Climate Change website
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change global warming report
Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment
COP 26 schedule
BBC on COP 26
Key players at COP 26

Brexit breakup?
Is the United Kingdom about to fall apart? No is the short answer from history professor Brendan Simms. In fact he argues that Brexit will actually make the United Kingdom stronger after a period of flux with Ireland and Scotland. He made his case at an online AEJ meeting on 9 September 2021 using a complex analysis of the history of the UK and its relationships with Europe combined with his view of political events in the last 5 years. Simms is professor of the history of European international relations and director of the Centre for Geopolitics at Cambridge University
whose published historical works - including “Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, 1453 to the Present” and “Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation” – have cast a penetrating light on past European military and political conflicts and shifting alliances that eventually united England with the three other nations of the British Isles in a United Kingdom. A frequent contributor to the New Statesman and other media, his recent writing since the 2016 Brexit vote has illuminated the ways in which ancient rival nationalisms, and modern tensions between rival legal and political systems, underlie the most incendiary topics in today’s news agenda on Europe - in particular the renewed drive for Scottish independence and the highly-charged dispute between the UK and the EU over the status of Northern Ireland after Brexit. Please see this report written jointly by AEJ member Martyn Bond and AEJ UK chairman William Horsley and here for an audio record of the meeting.

No goodwill from Russia
Lithuania’s special ambassador for hybrid threats and resilience says his country is in the middle of a
"massive information war" with Russia
. Darius Semaska was speaking to the AEJ UK on June 22 via Zoom from his home in Lithuania less than a month after a Ryanair jet bound for his capital Vilnius was forced to land in their mutual neighbour Belarus in the contrived arrest of outspoken dissident and journalist Roman Protasevich. Russia denied claims of its involvement despite President Vladimir Putin’s continued support for Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko. Appointed last year as Lithuania’s Ambassador at Large for Hybrid Threats and Resilience, Semaska is a former chief foreign policy adviser to the Lithuanian president and ambassador to the Netherlands and Germany. On the frontline of the struggle with Russia along with neighbouring Baltic states, the Lithuanian ambassador outlined Russia’s current use of political and media subversion, disruption of energy supplies, cyber aggression, and military threats and action aimed at destabilising western democracies and weakening NATO - and some of the measures taken by his country to counter this hostile strategy. For more on this meeting please see this report from Peter Norman, AEJ UK Meetings Secretary and former chief EU correspondent of the Financial Times, and here for an audio record.

Germany post-Merkel
The era of Angela Merkel and “Germany first” may soon change to older, more Euro-centric policies predicts leading German columnist Alan Posener. The former senior editor and now
columnist at Die Welt newspaper spoke to an AEJ UK meeting on May 18 about the outlook for “Germany after Angela Merkel”. After 16 years in power Mrs Merkel will stand down as  Chancellor of Germany at September’s elections. In his iconoclastic assessment, Posener says that despite her reputation as a rock of political stability and a committed European, Angela Merkel took a ‘Germany-first’ approach to important policy decisions, leaving deep divisions within German society and antagonizing many of Germany’s neighbours. Please see here for an edited text of his remarks and here for an audio record of the meeting.

Life after Brexit
Adjustment, adaptation, acceptance: three words from the EU's ambassador to the United Kingdom sum up the challenges facing Brexit Britain. João Vale de Almeida told the AEJ UK on April 26 that all three are needed to meet the opportunities and challenges of future relations between the EU and the UK. By contrast, the ambassador has needed stoicism and patience during his first 15 turbulent months in office since taking up his post on February 1 2020, the first full day of Brexit after the UK's departure from the European Union. Even his title is in dispute as the UK government has so far refused to grant him the same diplomatic status as it gives to envoys of nation states.  In those 15 months, tensions have flared between London and Brussels over the Brexit agreement's Northern Ireland Protocol, its effects on trade between the British mainland and Northern Ireland, fishing rights, and over the supply of Covid 19 vaccines between manufacturing sites in the UK and the EU. João Vale de Almeida brings a wealth of diplomatic experience to his role at this crucial time in UK-EU relations. He has occupied a succession of senior EU posts since joining the European Commission in 1982 in Lisbon, including EU ambassador to the UN and to the USA, director general of the EU's External Action Service, and head of the EU Commission president’s office when fellow Portuguese national Jose Manuel Barroso was president. For more on his presentation please see this report from former FT economics editor Peter Norman and here for an audio record.

Global Britain
What is the future for Britain post Brexit? That’s the question Ed Balls would like the UK to debate, publicly and sensibly. The former Labour Chancellor argues that it needs to steer a middle course, truly accepting that Britain has left the EU and making the right choices to prosper domestically and internationally. And he says failure to get Global Britain right could endanger the very existence of a “United Kingdom”. Speaking at the AEJ UK on March 26, the former politician – and celebrity dancer, champion cook, and documentary maker – warned that the “Global Britain” slogan poses major challenges for the UK’s two main political parties and their leaders who will have to “start building an answer about what a modern forward looking Global Britain looks like outside the EU”. Now professor of political economy at King’s College London and a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, Balls co-authored “Finding Global Britain”, a vision of how to turn what was a Brexiteer slogan into policies for “a pragmatic but ambitiously outward-looking and progressive country”. The Harvard University paper focused on five themes:  trade policy, regulation, migration, domestic inequalities, and the need for a new national narrative. At the AEJ, Balls detailed some of the challenges and opportunities inherent in that. For more please see this report by Peter Norman, AEJ meetings secretary and former economics editor of the Financial Times, and click here for an audio record.

Russian politics in election year
As Russian Opposition leader Alexei Navalny remained in jail, the AEJ UK linked to Moscow live to speak with Dr. Ekaterina Schulmann, Moscow-based political scientist and associate fellow at the Chatham House Russia and Eurasia Program. The meeting on February 8 2021 came against the background of Navalny’s tumultuous return to Russia after a failed attempt by Russian secret security agents to assassinate him with a Novichok nerve agent, sparking a Russia-wide wave of anti-government protests echoing those still going on in neighbouring Belarus. Dr. Schulmann noted that after 22 years in power, Russian President Vladimir Putin this year faces enormous political challenges as the Russian political system enters a turbulent transition phase. Parliamentary elections due in autumn 2021 and a presidential election due in 2024 come amid increasing expectations of change among younger generations of Russians. She said the political system has to renew itself and that will not be easy with the risk for the ruling elite not so much from a popular uprising but from conflicts within itself in reaction to popular discontent.  Please see here for a
report on the meeting from Charles Jenkins, AEJ secretary and former Europe editor/director western Europe at the Economist Intelligence Unit and this audio record.

See here for more AEJ UK guest speakers


AEJ Media Freedom Project

The AEJ works to protect freedom of expression and independent journalism by bringing issues to the attention of governments and advising inter-governmental organisations on behalf of our members. The AEJ’s Media Freedom Representative and Vice President is William Horsley, a former BBC foreign correspondent and the current chairman of the UK section.
Since the 
AEJ Media Freedom Survey in 2007 (Goodbye to Freedom?), the AEJ has published Europe-wide surveys and reports that reveal the erosion of press freedom through physical assaults, wrongful imprisonment, oppressive laws, and unacceptable political and commercial pressures.
The AEJ is an observer at the 
Council of Europe. Since 2 -, it has been one of the eight partners in the Council’s online platform for early warning of and rapid response to attacks on the media. For more information, see Media Freedom.
The AEJ actively supports the ongoing efforts of UNESCO, the UN Agency with a mandate to safeguard media freedom, to implement the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. The AEJ Media Freedom Representative authored the OSCE’s Safety of Journalists Guidebook setting out the obligations of participating states to protect the security of journalists, including those using the Internet.
Our campaigns and activities can also be tracked on the
Media Freedom and News pages of the international AEJ website, www.aej.org


AEJ and the Council of Europe

The AEJ takes part in the policy work of the Council of Europe (CoE) on key issues of media freedom as a participant in the steering committee on Media and Information Society and the Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists. It works on behalf of its members across Europe to hold the CoE and its 47 member states to their commitments on media freedom and freedom of expression.

To read further, please go to Media Freedom.


Media visits to the European Parliament

The EP’s London Office has a small budget to offset some of the travel and hotel costs incurred by journalists when visiting the European Parliament. Only a limited number can be helped in this way, so you must first be invited by the UK Office before seeking reimbursement (see EP website).

 


Briefings

A selection of AEJ-related writings and activities

AEJ member Rick Thompson’s book Park Life has been published – a diary in praise of urban parks, detailing a year of the wildlife in his local park by the Avon and tangential thoughts about legends, folklore, science, climate change, and the health benefits of regular contact with nature.

AEJ member Charles Jenkins, former Western Europe editor of the Economist Intelligence Unit, blogs on Europe at https://eupriorities.ideasoneurope.eu/

Firdevs Robinson’s writing is now accessible on FirdevsTalkTurkey.com

William Horsley blogs on the Centre for Freedom of the Media website.

 

 

News

AEJ condemns legal actions by Roman Abramovich and Russian state oil company Rosneft
The AEJ has joined 18 other media freedom groups to condemn lawsuits against journalist and author Catherine Belton and her publisher HarperCollins. Russian businessman and Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich and the Russian state energy company Rosneft claimed defamation in Belton’s book “Putin’s People: How the KGB took back Russia and then took on the West”, published in 2020. Abramovich’s complaint relates to 26 extracts in the book, including a suggestion that his purchase of Chelsea Football Club in 2003 was directed by Russian president Vladimir Putin. Rosneft’s complaint relates to claims that they participated in the expropriation of Yukos Oil Company, which had been privately owned by businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky. A UK High Court judge ruled on November 24 2021 that the allegations in the book are defamatory but emphasised that the court was only, at this stage, adjudicating on meaning, not deciding whether the allegations made about Abramovich or anyone else were true.
The joint statement from the AEJ and other organizations said the lawsuits against Belton, a former FT Moscow correspondent now special correspondent with Reuters, and HarperCollins amounted to “strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs)”, a form of legal harassment used by wealthy and powerful entities to silence journalists and other public watchdogs.

AEJ and Article 19 statement
Abramovich wins ruling – UK Press Gazette
Abramovich wins first round – The Guardian

2020 worst year for transparency
Investigative journalism website OpenDemocracy says 2020 was the worst year for transparency since the UK Freedom of Information Act came into force in 2005. And it accuses the UK government of waging a secret war using an array of tactics to block release of information to the public. It says just 41% of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests sent to government departments and agencies were granted in full in 2020, down from 43% the previous year. It’s not only the government and some of its departments in particular that the OpenDemocracy report highlights – cases also involved oil giant BP using private spies on environmental campaigners and NHS stonewalling requests for information. The findings were published in OpenDemocracy’s report, Access Denied, which exposes the extent of the government's attack on FOI.
UK government waging secret war on information freedom
Access Denied

Public wants facts, fairness and objectivity
A study in four different countries for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism says audiences want journalists to focus on facts, objectivity and fairness, and avoid opinions and bias. The study by market research company JV Consulting used a series of focus groups and in-depth interviews with politically and ethnically diverse groups of older and younger people engaged with news in Brazil, Germany, the UK, and the U.S. Its findings include differences between age groups on expectations of impartiality and more concern about suppression of views than about bias or the communication of extreme views.
Focus on facts
Impartiality in the digital age
Reuters Institute full report

Daphne still needs justice
Four years ago investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb attack in Malta. Yet justice and accountability remain elusive despite a public inquiry that found the state responsible for her killing. On the anniversary of her death on October 16 2017, the AEJ joined 15 international journalists’ and civil society organisations to renew calls for the Maltese government to accept the inquiry’s detailed recommendations, publish a plan of action on how they will be implemented, and ensure better protection of journalists going forward. The AEJ notes that the government whose corruption she investigated repeatedly obstructed the path to justice including delays to the public inquiry. Dozens of civil defamation lawsuits continued against her posthumously. And human rights defenders and journalists campaigning on her case have been subjected to serious pressure, harassment and acts of reprisal. So far, eight men have either admitted to or been charged with complicity to kill her.
In London the AEJ joined other media freedom organisations in a commemoration vigil outside Malta’s High Commission. The vigil included a message from Daphne’s family and speakers from sponsor orgnisations including the Maltese community in London, ARTICLE 19, the Association of European Journalists, the Commonwealth Journalists Association, Index on Censorship, PEN International, Reporters Without Borders, and Transparency International-UK.
International joint call for justice
London vigil and message from Daphne’s family
Public inquiry report (partial translation)
More on Daphne

Crusading journalists win Nobel Peace Prize
The AEJ has underlined the importance of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize award to two journalists – Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov in Russia – for their ”courageous fight” to defend freedom of expression.
The AEJ’s media freedom representative William Horsley notes that the award
“raises public awareness of the need for urgent and effective actions to reverse what it calls the ‘adverse conditions’ for democracy and freedom of the press today.”  And he writes that the “Nobel Committee has spoken in the name of the most powerful court in the world – the court of informed public opinion.”
The chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, said when she announced the prize in Oslo on October 8: "Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda," adding that the award winners are "representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal”.
This Nobel Peace Prize is the first for journalists since 1935 when German Carl von Ossietzky won it for revealing Germany’s secret post-war rearmament programme.
Ressa is co-founder and CEO of Rappler, a news site which has consistently exposed the "abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism” by the regime of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Muratov is co-founder and editor of independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta which has defended freedom of speech in Russia for decades under increasingly challenging conditions. Six of its journalists have been murdered since it started in 1993 including Anna Politkovskaya who exposed Russian human rights in its war in Chechnya. The award came one day after the 15th anniversary of her killing.
Nobel Peace Prize award 2021
AEJ media freedom representative on the impact
BBC on Nobel Peace Prize 2021
CNN on Nobel Peace Prize 2021
Al Jazeera on Nobel Peace Prize 2021
The Guardian on Nobel Peace Prize 2021
Maria Ressa convicted of libel
Maria Ressa global solidarity campaign
Rappler
Dmitry Muratov
Novaya Gazeta
Anna Politkovskaya

UK judge rules on misuse of Pegasus spyware
A senior UK high court judge has ruled that the ruler of Dubai hacked the phone of his ex-wife Princess Haya using the Israeli NSO Group’s controversial Pegasus spyware in an unlawful abuse of power and trust. And the Israeli manufacturer said it had terminated the contract for its Pegasus spyware with the United Arab Emirates of which the Dubai ruler is prime minister and vice president.
The ruling - made in 2020 but only revealed on October 6 2021 due to legal reporting restrictions - found that agents acting on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum hacked Princess Haya and five of her associates while the couple were locked in court proceedings in London over the welfare of their two children.
The court judgment appeared to confirm one of many elements in the massive Pegasus spyware investigation.
And it also raised questions about the role of Cherie Blair, wife of former UK prime Minister Tony Blair and an adviser on human rights to NSO. Court papers showed that Cherie Blair alerted one of the targets about the hack - Princess Haya’s lawyer Fiona Shackleton, a member of the House of Lords and previously lawyer for Prince Charles in his divorce from Princess Diana.
UK court ruling
NSO cancels UAE Pegasus contract
Lessons from the UK court on Pegasus
Pegasus spyware scandal
Questions for Cherie Blair

Pandora Papers revelations on the rich
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has released its latest leak of millions of documents revealing offshore deals and assets of more than 100 billionaires, 35 world leaders and 300 public officials. Following on from the Panama Papers leak of 2016, the Pandora Papers spotlight how deeply secretive finance has infiltrated global politics – and offer insights into why governments and global organizations have made little headway in ending offshore financial abuses. The biggest ever leak of offshore data reveals the
secret deals and hidden assets of some of the world’s richest and most powerful people. They expose the secret offshore affairs of 35 world leaders - including current and former presidents, prime ministers and heads of state, more than 300 other public officials such as government ministers, judges, mayors and military generals in more than 90 countries, and more than 100 billionaires, celebrities, rock stars and business leaders.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson laughed off the revelations when asked about them and the UK has no plan to investigate the claims despite hundreds of millions of pounds flowing through the UK and questionable donations to Johnson’s Conservative party.
The International Consortium of Journalists was formed in 1997 to facilitate investigation of issues that crossed national borders. The Pandora Papers involved more than 600 journalists from 150 media outlets in 117 countries, including BBC Panorama, The Guardian, Le Monde, Die Zeit and the Washington Post.
Pandora Papers leak
ICIJ Pandora Papers details
Pandora Papers guide
More details on the Pandora Papers
How Pandora’s box was opened
Boris laughs off Pandora

Media blackout on Poland’s border with Belarus
The Polish government is facing new criticism over media restrictions – this time over a blackout on media reporting from part of its eastern border with Belarus. The Polish government has used emergency powers there to deal with a hostile campaign by Belarus to send thousands of unathorised migrants from foreign countries into Poland. But in the context of recent government moves to tighten control of the media, critics say the measures are preventing independent verification of activity in the area and NGO efforts to provide emergency assistance to migrants. The Polish state of emergency was first imposed on September 2 and the government has extended it for another 60 days. AEJ Poland’s Chris Bobinski has this report.

UK Police Bill threatens free speech

Prime Minister Boris Johnson used his overwhelming Parliamentary majority to push through controversial legislation in July 2021 that would allow police to curb the right of protest and could endanger freedom of expression – despite widespread opposition and criticism.
The Police, Sentencing and Courts Bill would amend the Public Order Act of 1986 on the regulation of protest marches and was still being scrutinized in the House of Lords in late October before it’s sent back to Parliament. It passed the House of Commons with no significant amendments even after a wide range of public opposition even from senior police officials and his own party.
AEJ UK Secretary Charles Jenkins wrote that the new laws were a “severe challenge to peaceful freedom of protest long regarded as one of the fundamental rights of British citizens and indeed of those of all properly democratic countries” and noted the legislation “looks more like the rule book of an authoritarian regime than a democracy”.
- More than 700 legal scholars sent an open letter urging the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ditch the “draconian” restrictions.
- more than 245 charities, community groups and campaigners joined a campaign by human rights group Liberty and environmental group Friends of the Earth to stop the legislation.
- Prominent members of Johnson’s own Conservative party raised serious concerns – former Prime Minister Theresa May, former attorney general Dominic Grieve, and joining with him in a joint letter even pro Brexit and Covid lockdown opponent Steve Baker.
- Even senior police and crime commissioners across England and Wales said the proposed law went too far.
The government’s police bill has the potential for long lasting restrictions to public protest. Perhaps illustrative of the complexities of its implementation – people’s rights, public order, public safety, political agendas – was the government’s own role in controversial police handling of a vigil on March 13 2021 for Sarah Everard, abducted, raped and murdered after walking through a park in Clapham south London. Late in the vigil police forcibly arrested several people in an intervention many said was misjudged. It appeared from a memo leaked to The Guardian newspaper that the government supported and encouraged the police action even though it later criticized it in the wake of criticism. A Metropolitan Police officer, Wayne Couzens, later pleaded guilty to the rape and murder and was sentenced to prison for the rest of his life.
Police bill passes Commons
Police bill proposed
An authoritarian rule book?
The bill
Legal scholars protest
Community and human rights group campaign
Former Conservative prime minister Theresa May warning
Former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve concerns
Pro Brexit and anti lockdown Conservative Steve Baker
Police and crime commissioners
Police manhandle vigil
Sara Everard vigil
Questionable police tactics
Leaked government memo
Police officer pleads guilty to rape and murder

Civil society groups demand real results from EU Rule of Law reports
The AEJ joined 60 other journalistic and civil society groups in an open letter to top European Commission officials criticising what they call the often “fruitless” impact of the EU’s annual Rule of Law reports covering the 27 member states. Starting from next year, the signatories have demanded sweeping reforms to the rule of law mechanism to make it an effective tool with “real power” to protect media freedoms and prevent systemic human rights across the European Union. In its second and most recent annual report, the EU Commission claimed progress by ‘deepening’ its assessment of member states’ conduct and spoke of progress towards judicial reforms as well as “serious concerns” about the independence of the judiciary in some member states. But the coalition of civil society groups said the Commission had pulled its punches. And in many cases signatory organisations said their efforts to monitor and inform the Commission about systemic failings had been “fruitless and in vain” because the Commission had adopted a “very narrow interpretation” of the rule of law. The groups called for a more open and inclusive public consultation process and robust tackling of issues like state capture of public service media and repression of human rights defenders. You can find the full text of the civil society recommendations here.

EU Commission President promises better protections
Ursula von der Leyen has vowed to make protections for journalists one of the Commission’s foremost priorities.
“We need to stop those who threaten media freedom”, she declared, citing the murders of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, Jan Kuciak in Slovakia, and Peter de Vries in the Netherlands as examples. The European Commission president used her State of the Union speech to the European Parliament on September 15 to note that the independence of media companies is essential and the EC is putting forward a “recommendation” aimed at giving journalists better protection. She also promised that the EU would have a Media Freedom Act within the next year. 
AEJ media freedom representative William Horsley has
this analysis of the announcement.

Appeals to help journalists in Afghanistan
The AEJ is supporting actions by a number of other groups trying to protect journalists in Afghanistan. The AEJ is one of more than 50 media and civil society organisations, including many with long-standing operations in Afghanistan, which presented urgent recommendations to the leaders of the G7 countries to ensure the protection of journalists and their families in Afghanistan. The joint statement was published on 23 August as the international evacuation of Afghans at high risk from the Taliban takeover approached its final phase and called for a series of specific measures:
- an explicit commitment to evacuate all journalists, media workers and media advocates at risk and their families
- Ease visa restrictions for all Afghan journalists, media workers, media advocates and their families seeking asylum
- Simplify and secure the process for visa application, and collaborate with third countries when possible
- Provide safe passage to and at the airport and other routes
- Remain in Kabul in order to secure the airport and the possibility to evacuate beyond the August 31 deadline
- Create an emergency fund for Afghan journalists and media workers
- Provide pathways for cash to enter in the country
- Repurpose development budget lines to address the emergency situation
- Coordinate efforts within the United Nations system for immediate support
- Call for the establishment of an independent monitoring and investigative mechanism at the Human Rights Council  that is adequately staffed and resourced.
The AEJ also supported the UK National Union of Journalists’
appeal to help media colleagues in Afghanistan and establish a special fund with the International Federation of Journalists to seek donations. The AEJ supports the IFJ’s initiative to set up an Afghanistan Solidarity Fund to channel urgent support to journalists by all means possible. Reporters Without Borders has called on the UN Security Council to meet in extraordinary session to address the crisis resulting from the fall of Kabul and the situation of journalists in particular. AEJ media freedom representative William Horsley said most at risk are those who have worked with western media or benefitted from foreign funding of a modern media and information sector in the country over the past twenty years. He called on European governments to act immediately to provide emergency humanitarian visas, refugee status and new opportunities abroad to Afghan journalists. Hundreds of journalists and their family members were among countless thousands of Afghans scrambling to obtain safe passage on flights out of the country amid scenes of chaos and sometimes violence. The International Federation of Journalists estimated that forced closures of media outlets had already left over one thousand Afghan media workers jobless. There were reports of journalists and broadcasters around the country being attacked or going into hiding and women media workers need special protection against dire punishments and accusations of sexual crimes.  
Recommendations to the G7
NUJ appeal
International Federation of Journalists special fund
Afghanistan Solidarity Fund
AEJ on Afghanistan

 

Malta responsible for murder
An independent public inquiry into the murder of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has found the state responsible for her killing because it had created a “culture of impunity”. The inquiry report, published on July 29, said officials had failed to adequately protect Caruana Galizia from threats to her life prior to her death in October 2017. The AEJ hailed the findings and joined Article 19 and 8 other partner organizations to call on Malta to implement the inquiry report and publish an action plan without delay to ensure better protection for journalists. The inquiry - conducted by one serving judge and two retired judges - heard from dozens of witnesses, including investigators, politicians and journalists over the past two years. This is an unofficial informal translation of the report. Caruana Galizia spent decades before her murder investigating corruption in Malta’s government and in 2017 effectively triggered an early election by publishing allegations linking the then prime minister to the Panama Papers scandal which exposed the use of tax havens by the rich. Her family noted that the Maltese government only agreed to establish the inquiry – more than two years after the assassination - under threat of legal proceedings and following international pressure. The AEJ has worked consistently with other media freedom organizations to focus attention on the case and the Forbidden Stories network coordinated and compiled the work of many journalists following the assassination. Please see here for more.
Guardian report on inquiry   
Inquiry report
BBC report on inquiry  
Al Jazeera report on inquiry
AEJ calls for reforms
Article 19 calls for action
Forbidden Stories compilation of stories
Last interview with Daphne
Daphne’s blog – Running Commentary
The Daphne Foundation
Inquiry report informal translation

 

UNESCO highlights need for safety of foreign correspondents
UNESCO has released a new report on the safety – and increasing threats to it – for foreign journalists. The report emphasizes the crucial role of foreign reporting and the specific threats and political hostility that have been particularly visible during the Covid 19 pandemic. The report was co-written by Meera Selva of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and William Horsley, AEJ media freedom representative and international director of the Centre for Freedom of the Media at the University of Sheffield. He notes that “threats faced by journalists who report across international borders represent an existential challenge to people’s right to live in free and democratic societies. State authorities, lawmakers and civil society actors everywhere must ensure that breaches of international rules protecting the safety and work of journalists have real-life consequences. This is one of the most urgent tasks of our time.”
Please see
here for more.

UK public television under pressure

It is not only in some eastern European countries and places further away that mainstream independent media face government pressure. It is also in the UK. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has opened a public “consultation” on the future of Channel 4 to “review” its ownership and possibly sell it off to private commercial interests. Channel 4 is currently owned by the government but funded on a commercial basis. It has a long and strong reputation for independent journalism including criticism of the government since it was founded in 1982 – under Margaret Thatcher’s government. The current government claims Channel 4 is at risk in a rapidly changing media landscape. At almost exactly the same time Channel 4 announced its best ever financial results. And it has strongly criticized the government’s plans for lack of evidence and transparency. The government consultation was due to end on September 14. The government’s move on Channel 4 follows increased pressure on the BBC in the wake of an embarrassing critical report on how it handled its scoop interview with Princess Diana over 25 years ago. The BBC was already under pressure over its own cuts to local news across the UK and a looming government review of funding and governance and the report unsurprisingly sparked questions and criticism from both long-time critics in Fleet Street tabloids – with their own long history of questionable practice – and Boris Johnson’s government and MPs. The independent report on May 20 2021 by retired judge Lord John Dyson found that journalist Martin Bashir used deceitful practices – faked documents designed to convince Princess Diana to grant the blockbuster interview in 1995 in which she spoke candidly about the breakdown of her marriage to Prince Charles, heir to the throne. The report also said BBC management failed to follow its own protocols before the interview, was “woefully ineffective” in its subsequent investigations, and asked if a series of BBC management actions following the interview constituted a cover-up. The BBC apologized, said it has better procedures now, and launched an internal review of its editorial policies. It did not specify how it will deal with management failures in the handling of the issues. Arguably the world’s most trusted news source, the BBC now faces a series of questions about its actions and opportunistic calls for changes that could endanger its editorial independence and possibly threaten its very existence. Journalistic media like the UK Press Gazette and organizations such as the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) rallied to defend the BBC’s journalists but they also noted difficult questions still to be answered.
Government consultation on Channel 4
Government considers sell off

Media minister defends plan
Channel 4 record results
Channel 4 criticizes government plan
BBC critical report
Dyson report text
Fleet Street critics
Fleet Street practice
Culture Secretary warns BBC
MPs want answers
Martin Bashir
BBC cover up?
BBC internal review
BBC faces questions
BBC vulnerable
NUJ statement
Questions for the BBC

AEJ calls for ban on Pegasus spyware
The AEJ has published an open letter to the European Commission calling for an immediate EU-wide ban on the import and misuse of Pegasus spyware. Quoting a headline in the respected Israeli daily Haaretz – “Israel’s NSO and Pegasus Are a Clear and Present Danger to Democracy Around the World” - the AEJ also calls for a thorough official investigation of EU member states’ use of this and other forms of electronic spying and an effective ban on SLAPPs - strategic lawsuits against public participation that have been used to intimidate and silence criticism through expensive and baseless legal proceedings.
AEJ media freedom representative and UK chairman William Horsley writes that the Pegasus revelations are “shocking evidence of the widespread misuse of spyware and malware against journalists and others….[and] … also demonstrates the massive power of the ‘criminal services industry’ that serves corrupt forces including undemocratic governments worldwide”.
Revelations on July 18 2021 about the use of Pegasus software used to spy on journalists and political opponents sparked a worldwide row. They showed human rights activists, journalists and lawyers across the world have been targeted by authoritarian governments using hacking software sold by a private Israeli surveillance company - NSO Group. 17 media organizations combined in the investigation including The Guardian, Radio France, Le Monde, Die Zeit, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Westdeutscher and Norddeutscher Rundfunk, Le Soir, The Washington Post, PBS Frontline, Haaretz and The Wire with information from Paris-based non profit media organization Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. The investigation revealed a data leak of 50,000 phone numbers selected for surveillance by Pegasus, malware that infects iPhones and Android devices to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls, and secretly activate microphones. Phone numbers of more than 180 journalists were listed including reporters, editors and executives at the Financial Times, CNN, the New York Times, France 24, the Economist, Associated Press and Reuters. Surveillance company NSO, closely regulated by the Israeli ministry of defence, says it sells the software only to vetted government customers – military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies in 40 countries – for anti-terrorism and crime purposes.
AEJ open letter  
AEJ on misuse by governments and criminals
Pegasus revelations
BBC Radio 4 Media Show on Pegasus
Forbidden Stories
Amnesty on Pegasus
Israel launches investigation
New York Times
PBS on Pegasus
Pegasus Wikipedia
SLAPP laws

 

Warnings on further Belarus media crackdown
Journalists have warned of the most recent action by the Belarus government of President Alexander Lukashenko to suppress media freedom. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)) has condemned an attempt to liquidate the country’s only independent journalists’ group, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ). The Belarus justice ministry asked the country’s Supreme Court to close the only professional journalists body in Belarus defending free and independent journalism and a mainstay of resistance to the government’s continuing crackdown on independent media and civil society voices in the wake of last year’s presidential election, widely considered to have been rigged by Lukashenko. The justice ministry claimed the BAJ has ‘repeatedly violated the law’, although reports say that the allegations include technical infringements related to the leases on some of its offices. The BAJ has said it will fight to maintain its legal status. Police raided the association’s offices for the second time, sizing documents and equipment, sealing off its premises and freezing its bank accounts. Please see this background report from AEJ media freedom representative and AEJ UK chairman William Horsley.
European Federation of Journalists warning

 

AEJ helps reverse U.S. journalist visa plan
The AEJ and major global media organisations have helped convince the U.S. government to withdraw a restrictive plan to limit the time foreign journalists and others could stay and work in the USA. AEJ media freedom representative and AEJ UK chairman William Horsley called it “a significant success for joint advocacy”. In October 2020 the AEJ joined 24 global media organisations in a European Broadcasting Union (EBU) appeal to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to drop the plan. The group said the changes – proposed while Donald Trump was still president - would put media freedom at risk and jeopardise the work of foreign media to provide accurate, unbiased news reporting for global audiences from the USA. U.S. Homeland Security proposed shorter visas - 240 days, with a possible extension of a maximum of another 240 days – but many foreign news organizations appoint correspondents for a number of years (commonly 2-5 years), allowing time for individual journalists to better understand the country and therefore better report on it to the rest of the world. The U.S. government notice withdrawing the plan said they received 32,000 comments on the proposal of which 99 percent were opposed. Comments from the vast majority who opposed the plan said it would place significant burdens and exorbitant costs on foreign students, exchange scholars, foreign media representatives, and U.S. employers and potentially interrupt and delay their work or study – aside from being unnecessary to protect U.S. immigration policy.

Dutch reporter shot

Dutch crime reporter Peter R. de Vries, one of the Netherlands’ best known journalists, was shot and seriously injured on July 6 evening in a street in downtown Amsterdam minutes after leaving the studios of RTL TV. He died 9 days later after reportedly being shot five times at close range, including once in the head. De Vries has been the target of numerous death threats during his long career in connection with his exceptional record of exposing the activities of organised crime in the Netherlands. The BBC reports that police chased and arrested two suspects on a motorway as they drove from the scene. The men were remanded in custody.

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, called it a shocking attack on a courageous journalist and on “the free press that is critical to our democracy”. Reacting on social media, European Commission Vera Jourova called it an attack on freedom of the press and democracy, and said those responsible must be brought to justice. Peter de Vries has an almost legendary reputation for covering high-profile crimes, including the kidnapping of beer magnate Freddy Heineken in 1983. The kidnapper, Willem Holleeder, one of the country’s most notorious gangsters, was later convicted of making threats against the journalist, and in 2019 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in five murders. For more please see this from AEJ media freedom representative and AEJ UK chairman William Horsley.

 

AEJ UK award winner

AEJ UK treasurer David Worsfold has won Finance and Business Writer of the Year at the UK’s new Freelance Writing Awards. Launched in 2021, the awards are intended to celebrate and champion the best freelance writing talent in the UK. The organizers say they created them partly out of frustration with a lack of representation of freelancers in the media industry and to provide support after a particularly difficult year due to the covid pandemic which affected freelance writers particularly hard. They say freelance journalists are often left out of awards which can be important to their careers. So these awards were open only to freelancers who would not have support from a media company for such an award. Entries were judged on originality, unique freelance quality, expertise and the context of the work submitted.

 

A turning point for media freedom in Europe?

A major conference of European media ministers has highlighted the actions of European governments accused of persecuting journalists. Council of Europe ministers responsible for media called on the Council’s top decision-making body to implement comprehensive plans for preventing, investigating and sanctioning threats against journalists’ safety in the final declaration of their meetings in Cyprus on June 10 and 11. But while the ministerial conference on Media and Democracy shone a rare spotlight on European governments’ actions affecting media freedom, William Horsley, AEJ media freedom representative, asks if it really will mark a turning-point for better protections for journalism and the safety of journalists? Even as the first such major conference in 8 years ended, Russia disrupted the European show of unity as it objected to a key Council of Europe mechanism for protecting media freedom, the CoE Platform for the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists. The Russian delegation declared its opposition to the Platform’s work in an “interpretive statement” and also expressed its wider disagreement with significant parts of the Council of Europe’s strategy for reversing the decline in the safety of journalists. For more please see this report from William Horsley and here for the conference documents.

 

Belarus faces international outrage over plane arrest

The forced landing of a Ryanair passenger jet and arrest of a prominent opposition journalist in Belarus on May 23 sparked international outrage and condemnation.

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary described the action as “state sponsored hijacking”. AEJ Media Freedom Representative William Horsley reports here on the British and international condemnation - British foreign secretary Dominic Raab told British carriers not to fly through Belarusian airspace and suspended operations to the UK by the Belarusian airline Belavia. The European Union followed suit along with further sanctions. The dramatic

developments unfolded like an international thriller novel.

Belarus state media said President Alexander Lukashenko personally ordered a fighter jet scrambled and the country’s air traffic control to force the passenger plane to land in Minsk as it flew briefly in Belarusian airspace on a flight from Athens to Vilnius in Lithuania. Belarus claimed there was a bomb threat and on the ground arrested journalist Roman Protasevich, co-founder and former editor of Nexta, a channel of online messaging app Telegram. They also arrested his girlfriend and three other people. The EU faces difficulty in taking effective action and both Europe and Russia in particular will need to examine just why Lukashenko took such action and its impact. For more on the ongoing struggle in Belarus please see here.

 

Jonathan Fryer 1950-2021
It was with great sadness we noted the death of Jonathan Fryer, long-time AEJ UK member, journalist, broadcaster, author and active Liberal Democrat. Jonathan died peacefully at an east London hospice on April 16 after being diagnosed with a terminal condition less than a month earlier. With the Liberal Democrats he was most recently chair of the party’s Federal International Relations Committee and a major contributor to its international work for many years. As a journalist he worked for Reuters and the BBC World Service as well as writing for The Guardian and other publications and broadcasters. As a colleague and friend to many in the AEJ and others in multiple other fields he will be greatly missed. Please see here for more.

Council of Europe warns of democratic backsliding

The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić, has issued a stark warning that the increase in violence against journalists demonstrates “a worrying degree of democratic backsliding” and endangers Europe’s “democratic culture”. AEJ media freedom representative and AEJ UK chairman William Horsley has this report.

 

World Press Freedom Day 2021

Marking World Press Freedom Day 2021 on May 3, the secretarys general of both the United Nations and the Council of Europe called for urgent action to stop threats to media freedom. AEJ UK chairman and AEJ international media freedom representative William Horsley has this commentary - The Media Freedom Fightback Gets Stronger. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the coronavirus pandemic and its severe impact on media revenues could lead to a “media extinction event”. The Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić expressed concern about attacks on journalists and limitations to press freedom in many parts of Europe in a joint statement with Germany’s federal minister of justice and consumer protection, Christine Lambrecht, representing the German presidency of the Council of Europe’s committee of ministers. Earlier Ms. Pejčinović Burić urged European governments to show stronger political will to protect journalists and independent journalism as she marked the release of the its annual report on media freedom of the Council of Europe Platform for the protection and safety of journalists. AEJ UK chairman and AEJ international media freedom representative William Horsley contributed a personal message of support for editor and journalist Maria Ressa in the Philippines as part of an innovative and unprecedented global solidarity campaign led by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the #HoldTheLine coalition. Their website features hundreds of videos from prominent supporters around the world - with a call for public contributions - that will stream on a continuous loop until all charges are dropped against Ressa and the media outlet Rappler she founded. Ressa faces 6 years in prison in the Philippines. She was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2018 and won this year’s UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. This year marks exactly 30 years since the landmark “Windhoek Declaration” when African journalists set out three key demands – for media freedom, media independence and media pluralism - that laid the foundation for a United Nations global campaign proclaiming the date as World Press Freedom Day. Then, South Africa’s apartheid regime was crumbling and the Cold War was becoming history in Europe. This year, World Press Freedom Day is hosted in Namibia and key themes include the survival of independent and local media, enforcing the responsibilities of internet giants, and public media literacy in the face of the “disinfodemic” and persecution of journalists through anti-media “fake news” laws.

 

AEJ Hungary defends media independence

The AEJ Hungarian Section marked World Press Freedom Day with a broadside against the government’s attempts to stifle media independence and a fresh call for the European Union to use stronger means to counteract the hostile propaganda of Hungary’s pro-government media.

 

Media Freedom Report 2021
The 2021 annual report on media freedom by the Council of Europe platform for the protection and safety of journalists notes a strong rise in reports of violence against journalists as well as censorship and reprisals for questioning government policies. At the same time, quality media face serious economic challenges and many journalists have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The report says extraordinary damage was inflicted on free and independent journalism in 2020 as governments across Europe adopted emergency laws and regulations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic that also imposed extraordinary restrictions on journalists’ activities. It says these represent arbitrary interferences in the legitimate work of journalists and news organisations and place excessive limitations on the fundamental rights of people across Europe to enjoy access to uncensored information freely and from diverse sources. The Council of Europe platform for the protection and safety of journalists joins the AEJ and 13 other journalistic and NGO partner organisations in a Europe-wide “rapid response mechanism” to issue real-time online media freedom alerts. The AEJ, Article 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the European Federation of Journalists and the International Press Institute form the core editorial team for the report which is the collective work of all 14 partner organisations. Please see here for the full report and here for the press conference marking the launch.

 

Hungarian media attack on Austrian journalist

The Council of Europe Platform for the protection and safety of journalists has followed the AEJ and other media freedom groups in condemning the Hungarian government for a serious attack on media freedom. The COE Platform has issued an alert about a Hungarian state television broadcast which attacked an Austrian journalist for asking "provocative questions" and questioning her integrity and professionalism. The attack on prime time news prompted a protest from Austria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and a further attack in reply on social media by his Hungarian counterpart. The COE action is one of several recent alerts related to malicious verbal attacks and threats including ones in Bulgaria and Slovenia. Please see the AEJ International website for more.

 

Shocking murder of Athens journalist

The killing of prominent Greek crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz in Athens on April 9 highlights fears that investigative journalists in Europe face growingly more dangerous conditions because of increased hostility to the media from both state and non-state actors. The AEJ’s media freedom representative and AEJ UK chairman, William Horsley, called on the Greek authorities to “conduct an urgent, independent and effective investigation and bring the killers of Giorgos Karaivaz to justice to prevent a further erosion of public trust." Karaivaz was a veteran of crime reporting who had worked for various Greek newspapers and broadcasters. For more please see this alert on the Council of Europe platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and the AEJ International website.

 

Justice for Daphne?

There may be a possible glimmer of hope for justice in the killing of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. One of three previously accused men, Vincent Muscat – believed to have been the hitman - has been sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty in a plea bargain deal. On the same day, Feb.23 2021, police arrested three new suspects - two of them have been charged with supplying the car bomb in Caruana Galizia’s assassination in October 2017. Her son Matthew told the AEJ: “What has happened is a step from no to partial justice. The homicide squad has done a good job, but there are severe problems with Malta’s capacity to fight corruption.” Police claimed all suspects in the case have now been arrested but it’s widely suspected that Caruana Galizia’s assassination involved both organized crime and members of Malta’s elite. Her blog uncovering political corruption in Malta earned her a reputation as a one-woman WikiLeaks. And her murder mired Malta’s ruling Labour party in political scandal. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat resigned in 2019 over allegations that members of his administration had tried to sabotage the police investigation. AEJ President Saia Tsaousidou described the new arrests as “half-good news, but not more than that.”

The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ-EFJ) welcomed Muscat’s guilty plea and urged Malta’s authorities to continue to pursue others involved in her murder. The AEJ has worked consistently with other media freedom organizations to focus attention on the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia and AEJ media freedom representative William Horsley was instrumental in the publication of the last interview with her.

 

CIA confirms Saudi prince approved assassination
The United States has released a Central Intelligence Agency report saying Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohamed bin Sultan approved the assassination of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The new U.S. President Joe Biden stopped short of imposing sanctions on the prince but did announce measures against other key Saudis involved in the brutal killing. The report’s release in early 2021 signals a recalibration of the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia which rejected the report. The Crown Prince - profiled in this BBC Radio 4 program, de facto ruler of the country, and son and heir apparent to the king - has always denied a role in the murder. Jamal Khashoggi disappeared inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct.2 2018, was killed, and his body cut up. He was one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent journalists, once an advisor to the country’s intelligence chief, but left in 2017 to the USA where he wrote a regular column for The Washington Post in which he criticised the direction of his country under Crown Prince Mohamed. Khashoggi’s murder turned a spotlight on the Saudi regime’s pivotal role in a number of key issues – the Yemen civil war, western arms sales to the Saudis, international terrorism, its actions as one of two key Western allies in the Middle East, and its financing and trade particularly in relation to the USA and western European countries. At the time the Association of European Journalists International joined the Journalist Support Committee (JSC) to call for justice and a full investigation into Khashoggi’s death. The AEJ and JSC called for disclosure of all information in the Turkish investigation and for a thorough, independent review of the human rights record of the Saudi authorities. They joined other journalist and human rights groups in their alarm as Saudi activists remain in jail.

AEJ condemns attack on Kosovo investigative journalist
The AEJ and other media freedom groups have condemned a targeted assault on investigative journalist Visar Duriqi in Kosovo. He was hospitalised with serious head and face injuries after the late-night ambush attack near his home. Duriqi had just made a TV appearance in which he accused public officials of corruption and abuse of their positions. The European Union’s office in the capital, Pristina, condemned the attack and declared that journalists must be allowed to carry out their work freely and safely.

Big Tech, media freedom, and money
The world’s tech information giants remain in the spotlight as debate rages across the world over media freedom and money. Australia has passed the world’s first law aimed at making Google and Facebook pay news publishers for content on their platforms. It follows a major struggle with the tech giants in which Google threatened to pull its search engine from the entire country and Facebook actually did block Australians from viewing or sharing news. The law passed with amendments after tough negotiations and mixed consequences from the Facebook ban. Facebook and Google’s fight in Australia were not their first over payment for news and Australia is far from their largest market but the proposed law is seen as a potential global test case for how governments regulate big tech firms. Both Facebook and Google resisted the Australian plan because negotiating business deals would be subject to national rules and they would have less control over how much they would have to pay – but they took different approaches in their fight.
Across the Pacific in the USA there were serious questions about the power of digital media giants and free speech after Twitter and Facebook shut down U.S. President Donald Trump’s accounts. Honorary AEJ member and veteran American journalist and columnist Llewellyn King examines issues of media freedom and free speech in the wake of actions by the tech giants. They shut down Trump’s accounts after he encouraged protests that turned violent at the Capitol building in his last days in office. What if these companies get politically activated in the future, King asks, while acknowledging that ex-President Trump deserved censure and the digital companies’ actions may not be wrong at a time of crisis. Quoting journalist and essayist H.L. Mencken in 1940 - “freedom of the press is limited to those who own one” - King says the current exercise of censor authority should alarm all free-speech advocates and is power that exceeds anything ever seen in media. For more on his call for a re-examination of current law and a larger discussion on all the issues of free speech on social media please see his column in the White House Chronicle and InsideSources.

AEJ joins protests against jailing of Navalny

The AEJ notes growing concerns about the health of jailed Russian Opposition leader Alexei Navalny. A report by AEJ secretary general Edward Steen follows strong protests from the AEJ against the jailing of Navalny as well as attacks on journalists covering protests in his support. The AEJ has joined the Committee to Protect Journalists, Article 19 and Reporters Sans Frontieres in recording and protesting against a record wave of arrests, attacks and criminal cases against journalists. The London-based Justice for  Journalists organisation reported nearly 400 attacks on Russian media workers and their families in the last few weeks of January. The Council of Europe has issued a formal media freedom alert on the Europe-wide platform for the safety of journalists. At the time former AEJ president Otmar Lahodynsky said the sentencing of Navalny for 3½ years in a penal colony was “a grotesque infringement of elementary human rights.” Lahodynsky said there had been no investigation into the poison-attack on Navalny in August 2020 and called for sanctions by the EU. And the man who helped evacuate Navalny from Russia says his sentencing “suggests Russia under Vladimir Putin is on an unstoppable shift back to the old authoritarian ways of the Soviet Union” – in a guest commentary on the AEJ International website. Jaka Bizilj is the founder of the Cinema for Peace Initiative and flew with Navalny to Berlin in a private plane on August 22 2020 at the request of Pussy Riot in a humanitarian gesture supported by the German government and the Presidents of France and Finland.

 

Hungary’s Klubrádió in jeopardy

The AEJ Hungary has called for Europe-wide support for Klubrádió, one of the last independent radio stations in Hungary. A Hungarian court has confirmed a decision by the government-controlled Media Council to deny Klubrádió’s broadcasting license from February 15 although the station still plans to broadcast on the internet at https://www.klubradio.hu/

The AEJ Hungary said the government’s intention was to reduce voices and programs independent and critical of the government less than a year before planned elections and called for solidarity and support as the station appealed to Hungary’s Supreme Court. The president of

Klubrádió described the lower court decision as “shameful” and the removal of its licence as “illegal”.

 

Will Europe defend journalists at risk today? 

As journalists in Turkey face continuing pressure from the government many marked the anniversary of the murder of renowned Turkish investigative journalist Ugur Mumcu. Killed in a car bomb explosion on 24 January 1993, he defined journalism as the medium that “talks about struggles in all areas of life”. AEJ UK chairman and international media freedom representative William Horsley writes that those words still ring true today as the struggle for survival of independent media across the world has grown more acute and many political leaders want to transform the role of the media from that of a public watchdog that holds power to account into propaganda weapons for their own advantage. The AEJ joined a mission to Turkey with 10 other international media freedom, journalism and human rights groups  in October to warn of a growing crisis for freedom of expression in Turkey.

 

Belarus standoff
The Association of European Journalists has called for the release of Belarusian journalist Andrei Aliaksandrau and eight others held in jail in connection with their reporting of public protests against the government. Aliaksandrau, detained since January 12 2021, is a long-time associate of the AEJ, was a deputy chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists from 2009 to 2012, and is the founder and chief editor of the news website Belarus Journal. In November 2020 the Belarus Association of Journalists was awarded the prestigious Media Freedom Award from the Global Media Freedom Coalition, now made up of over 40 countries, that was established in 2019 by the UK and Canada. The award citation recognised the BAJ for its commitment to covering human rights and election fraud in the face of violence and threats. The AEJ previously called for a strong, concerted international response against violent suppression of free media in Belarus, saying on September 3 that the Belarusian authorities’ violent suppression of free media, targeted attacks against journalists, and the denial of accreditations and deportations of large numbers of journalists were aimed at preventing journalists from reporting on legitimate protests against alleged election fraud and other government abuses.

Hundreds of journalists have been arrested in Belarus in a harsh crackdown by the government of President Alexander Lukashenko on mass protests that have continued weekly for five months against August elections widely considered as rigged. The European Union has not recognised the legality of the elections, saying they were “not free and fair” and an investigation supported by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe found massive and systemic violations of basic rights before and after the poll. On January 18 the International Ice Hockey Federation stripped Belarus of its right to co-host this year’s world championships, a slap to avid hockey fan Lukashenko. For some time Lukashenko has been stuck in an ongoing power standoff with opposition protesters. His state media said on December 31 he will hold a referendum on his suggested constitutional reforms and has called a congress of his supporters in February. At the same time reports surfaced that neighbouring Russia plans to launch a pro-Russia party in the Belarus borderland between it and the EU. Russia has kept a low profile amid much reporting about its plans – ranging from speculation about losing patience with Lukashenko through opposition hopes for support from new U.S. President Joe Biden, along with earlier analysis of Vladimir Putin’s options from the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, the Washington Post-owned Foreign Policy, and even from inside Russia in the Moscow-based English language Moscow Times.

Please see more on Belarus.

 

Journalism in the age of Covid
There has been concern for most of the last year about growing pressures on journalists and politicians of all stripes using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to control reporting and suppress information. For an update on this – reported here on the AEJ UK website earlier this year – please see this update and round up from Brussels Morning.

Quicker justice for journalists
The AEJ has formally endorsed an authoritative legal report calling for an international task force to ensure effective investigations into violent attacks and abuses against journalists. The report by 15 leading international lawyers calls for creation of a new International Investigative Task Force to ensure effective investigations into violent attacks and abuses against journalists. It was launched on November 25 by the independent High Level Legal Panel supporting the Global Media Freedom Coalition made up of some 40 UN member states. The task force of forensic and legal experts is intended to act with strong political backing with a mandate to strengthen existing UN mechanisms to bring to justice perpetrators of acts such as the assassination of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in a car bomb attack in 2017, and the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

How journalists handle political pressure and threats
AEJ UK chairman William Horsley has addressed the Council of Europe committee on media and information society about the extraordinary experiences, persecution and courageous work of 20 frontline journalists across Europe detailed in a new book he has co-authored. Along with co-author Marilyn Clark, associate professor of psychology at the University of Malta, the writers hope to provide a new rationale and impetus for protecting journalists more effectively from physical and legal attacks, exclusion and online harassment, and the impact of climates of impunity when journalists are attacked or murdered. The book “A Mission to Inform: Journalists at risk speak out” was launched on October 14 coinciding with the third anniversary of the death of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. It includes the last interview she gave, available here – only 10 days before she was killed while reporting on corruption issues. On the anniversary of her death on October 16 2017, the AEJ added its voice to 19 other organisations supporting journalists, international free expression, anti-corruption, and civic participation in demanding an end to impunity from prosecution for the attack.
The new book is based on “in-depth interviews with 20 journalists from 18 different countries selected for their experience and skill in reporting in the public interest and exposing injustice and abuses. Each … shared their insights into the realities of doing cutting-edge journalism to bring the truth to light; they spoke about their first-hand experience of threats, hostility and intimidation, surveillance and cyberattacks, and about self-censorship, resilience and coping strategies, as well as about what they portray as routine failures by state authorities to give journalists the protection they need to fulfil their public watchdog role.” It is published by the Council of Europe and the foreword by the COE’s Director General of Human Rights and Rule of Law notes that journalists across member states face various forms of pressure and intimidation meant to silence and hinder their ‘mission to inform’ - “worrying given that democratic societies can only function if media actors can report on matters of public interest without interference and without fear”.  The COE notes that the book is a follow up to a study in 2017 involving nearly 1000 questionnaires answered by journalists which revealed grave statistics concerning the risks they faced. “A Mission to Inform: Journalists at risk speak out” is aimed at analysing how journalists responded to pressures exerted on them and what solutions they found to overcome fear and continue being able to fulfil their public watchdog mission.

Fake news updates
Two key characters in the ongoing fake news saga of the last few years now face forms of justice. In the UK, Alexander Nix the former head of Cambridge Analytica has been banned from running any limited liability company for seven years. And in the USA, right-wing promoter and former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon has been charged with fraud. The Cambridge Analytica story first looked like a plotline straight out of the U.S. TV series Homeland – allegations of an illegal data grab used to manipulate national votes in both the U.S. presidential election and the UK referendum on leaving the European Union. But it was life once again imitating art – sparked by an investigative report published in mid-March 2018 by The Observer newspaper and shared with the UK’s Channel 4 television and the New York Times. For more please see here.

 

 

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About the AEJ
The AEJ is an independent network of journalists, writers and specialists active across Europe, a 
Europe wide network of national sections with the goal of advancing knowledge and debate on European affairs and upholding media freedom. In the UK we host regular meetings for journalists providing a forum for open-minded exchanges with public figures of all backgrounds to promote informed debate on European and international affairs. Our lunchtime meetings are open to bona fide journalists and visiting members of other AEJ sections; an entry fee must be paid to cover the costs of food and drink and pre-registration is essential. Journalists, writers and specialists in European affairs may also apply to join the Association of European Journalists – please see here for more about the benefits of membership or contact the AEJ UK Secretary.
We are independent of any institutional or political group and are recognised by the Council of Europe, the OSCE and UNESCO.

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