The UK government continues to face
questions and criticism as it tentatively tries to emerge from 10 weeks
of lockdown and isolation. Despite general approval of many emergency
measures and wide support for its lockdown policies, Boris Johnson’s
Conservative government has faced growing
criticism of how well they were delivered, especially on hospital
equipment, personal protective equipment for health care workers, nursing and
care homes, and testing and prevention. It continues
to face questions about the timing and effect of post-lockdown measures,
its on-going virus testing and tracing system, and future protection of the
public. And it faces a potential serious loss
of public confidence as questions mount and it manages the fallout
from a damaging breach of lockdown rules by Johnson’s key adviser Dominic
Cummings. Key scientists, health
system administrators, medical groups, and education
organizations have all raised criticisms. Keir Starmer, the
new leader of the main opposition Labour party, has persisted in asking
pointed questions in what‘s seen as an effective
forensic style. Until his election in early April, 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. Labour spent all that time electing a new leader and much
Opposition scrutiny, first of Brexit and then of the virus crisis, was muted
and overwhelmed by a combination of the election result, government
manoeuvring, and the complexity of both major issues. That imbalance
could end after Starmer won election
as Labour leader at the same time as Prime Minister Boris Johnson recovered from a week
in hospital including 3 days in intensive care with the Covid-19 virus,
and the Queen made a rare
unscheduled speech to the British public –only her 5th in 67
years - and issued another
rare message at Easter. Boris Johnson was admitted
to hospital after more than 10 days in home isolation because of
suspected Covid-19 symptoms and was moved to intensive care a day later. His officials insisted he was still
in charge of the government with journalists largely wondering how the prime
minister was ill enough to be in hospital but well enough to run the country.
of course much thoughtful examination about the medium and long term impact
of Covid-19 – among others, these series on BBC Radio 4: Fallout
and The Briefing Room,
Chatham House on democracy
in Europe, an Asian perspective on the
future of globalization, The Telegraph’s next
100 days in the UK. How will this pandemic change our societies, our
economies, our relationships, and our attitudes? And of course it’s raising
questions about the EU – particularly
from Italy - along with the more general impact on international
relationships and multinational organizations. AEJ UK secretary Charles
this look at the EU – the good and the bad.
The coronavirus pandemic has marked a worrying new wave of serious
threats and attacks on media freedom in Europe says the latest annual report
of the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and
Safety of Journalists. In a report titled “Hands Off Press Freedom: Attacks
on Media in Europe must not become a New Normal” the fourteen member press
freedom organisations document how several Council of Europe member states
have detained journalists for critical reporting, vastly expanded
surveillance, and passed new laws to punish “fake news” even as they decide
themselves what is allowable and what is false without the oversight of appropriate
independent bodies. The report – available in full here – says
these threats risk a tipping point in the fight to preserve a free media in
Europe and aggravate an already gloomy outlook.
a statement marking World Press Freedom Day on May 3, Council of Europe
Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić urged governments to avoid misusing
the COVID-19 situation to silence or hinder journalists.
of emergency measures
As many governments have introduced sweeping laws to deal with the
Covid-19 pandemic, the AEJ
has joined other media freedom groups in two urgent calls to European
leaders to protect media freedom. They have called for “determined actions”
from the Council of Europe, the 47-nation treaty-based human rights
organisation, to protect the free flow of information and journalists’ right
to report amid fears of a potentially dangerous slide towards authoritarianism
and police-state societies. In particular the open letter cites Hungary -
where the prime minister has open-ended powers to rule by decree and
journalists and others are subject to prison sentences for promoting alleged
“false information” or impeding government orders – as well as Slovenia and
the Czech Republic which have suspended usual press conferences open to
questions from journalists.
present emergency situation represents a critical threat both to public
health and to the civil and political rights of people across Europe,” said
William Horsley, AEJ media freedom representative and AEJ UK chairman. “Now
is the time for free and independent media and for all those who believe in
basic democratic standards and open government, to combine forces and to
uphold the free flow of information and the inalienable rights of everyone as
guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Please see the open letter
here to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, and the current
and next presidents of the Committee of Ministers, the organisation’s
executive decision-making body.
follows an urgent warning
against misuse of emergency laws from the AEJ and partner organisations to
the presidents of the European Commission, the European Council, and European
Parliament. It emphasizes that the free flow of independent news is essential
both to maintain accurate information to the public and to ensure public
scrutiny and debate on emergency measures, and notes all such measures must
be necessary, proportionate, temporary and strictly time-limited, and subject
to regular scrutiny to ensure excessive powers do not undermine democratic balances,
including the free press.
urgent letter supports
a joint statement from three global special rapporteurs on freedom of
expression with the UN, OSCE and the OAS and is signed by:
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)
The open letter is also
available here on the International Press Institute website.
There is a global
study showing a majority of the public around the world get their
information about coronavirus from mainstream media – yet journalists are
their least trusted source. Please see
this report in the UK Press Gazette and here
for more on coronavirus coverage in the UK.
The AEJ International site has interesting links to EU coverage of the
coronavirus story on its home page.
data could contribute to a cure
response to Covid 19 – every government for itself
decisions the EU should make
Musings on “mad Brexit
It’s a sad day for Europe but a chance to reform the EU writes AEJ President and
Austrian journalist Otmar Lahodynsky. He describes the UK’s exit from the EU
as “slamming shut a door which is unlikely to re-open for at least a decade”
- but it does allow the EU to shape its future without constant opposition
And David Haworth, long-time correspondent in Brussels and a founding member
and former president of the British section of AEJ, has these reflections on
“mad Brexit disease” and the long and winding road of the UK to Europe and
The United Kingdom has officially left the European Union
- at midnight Central European Time on January 31. For a range of news
coverage and what it means please see these links:
Brexit and Quebec separatism
Nick Hopkinson, AEJ member and a former director of Wilton Park, the Foreign
and Commonwealth Office policy forum, finds some striking parallels between
the long campaign for independence in his native Quebec and Brexit in the UK.
And in this article
– first published in February 2020 in The
New European - he argues the Quebec experience can provide some insights
into how the Brexit process may unfold in the United Kingdom.
Gambling on the future
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson won his bet on the future
of Britain in a snap election on December 12. Voters woke up on Friday the 13th
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. Johnson’s
Conservatives won the biggest Conservative majority – 80 seats - since
Margaret Thatcher in 1987 despite taking less than 44% of the national vote
and a mandate to deliver its simple election message of “Get Brexit Done”.
But their promise to leave the EU on January 31 followed by EU
trade negotiations with a deadline in December is only one of a raft of
questions facing the government – some
fairly obvious from the election campaign but others with deeper and
longer-term significance as outlined
here by Trisha de
Borchgrave, artist and daughter of prominent long-time U.S. journalist Arnaud
de Borchgrave. This includes the possible fragmentation of the United
Kingdom as Scotland’s First Minister Nicola
Sturgeon seeks a new referendum on independence and leads the SNP as the
third largest party in the UK Parliament with 48 seats - all but eight of
Scotland’s 56 seats. On the other hand, rumblings about increasing support
for a united Ireland leaving the UK may be on hold as Northern
Ireland’s voters seem to be supporting middle-ground politicians.
Meanwhile the Labour party faces a wrenching period of soul
searching and infighting
over both their leadership and political direction and the Liberal
Democrats look for their fifth leader in less than 10 years.
Please also see here for:
How Johnson’s Conservatives won:
Just days before British voters gave Boris Johnson's Conservatives a
green light to exit the European Union, delegates to the AEJ’s 2019 Congress
in Paris were treated to an assessment of the impact of the new European
Parliament from its Secretary-General, Klaus Welle. At Jean Monnet House
outside Paris – a complex devoted to the life and work of one of the fathers
of the EU – Mr. Welle analysed the May
2019 European Parliament elections held at the height of talks with the UK
about Brexit and after open resistance to EU policies on migration and the
rule of law in the four Visegrad states of central Europe. He said the
election results were mixed: fragmentation of the vote into more separate
party groupings meant that at
least three party groupings will be required to pass legislation. But he also
claimed the new parliament has increased democratic legitimacy because the elections reversed a
long-term downward trend in voter turnout. For more on this presentation please see this
report from Charles Jenkins, AEJ UK member and former Western
Europe editor of the Economist Intelligence Unit.
And AEJ UK member and former RTE journalist Brian O’Connell has this report on the
prospective agendas of the newly-elected political groupings, with Brexit
colouring debate but by no means dominating it.
See here for more Brexit news
regular scheduled lunchtime meetings have had to be paused and have been
replaced by online meetings for the last few months.
Regent’s University – our regular host - has suspended all events and
gatherings at their campus including those with the AEJ.
Updates for online events and Regent’s University will be available by
email and on this site.
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 email@example.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 our Facebook page.
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
A view from
The AEJ UK held its second virtual meeting
of the coronavirus lockdown on July 3 with Danuta Huebner MEP, a member of
Poland's centre-right Civic Platform and the European People's Party in the
European Parliament, who served previously as an EU Commissioner and Polish
Minister for Europe. Professor Huebner drew on her experiences of high-level
involvement with Polish and European politics over the past two decades to
answer a host of topical questions - the uncertain outlook for democracy and
the rule of law in her native Poland, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on
Europe, likely EU-UK relations post-Brexit, and the EU's relationship with
China at a time of unstable leadership in the US.
this report from former FT correspondent Peter Norman on the wide-ranging
discussion with 28 UK and Irish AEJ members who joined the call.
America in trouble
Veteran American journalist and columnist Llewellyn King was the online
guest from Washington for the AEJ-UK’s first online Zoom meeting on June 4.
The wave of angry protests and riots that erupted across America following
the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis are a “bellow of rage”
against the Trump administration, he said, and the U.S. “has never been on
such a precipitous slope since the Civil War.” The honorary AEJ member and
host and producer of the weekly PBS program “White
House Chronicle” was joined by 20 AEJ online participants. For more on
his analysis please read
Peter Norman’s account of the AEJ’s “Letter from America with Llewellyn
King” event and on King’s
China and Asia
China will bounce back from the coronavirus disruption, probably
without any major long-term geopolitical impact. But, says Asia and China scholar Jeff
Kingston, the consequences for President Xi Jinping might be less clear.
Kingston - writer, columnist and Director of Asian Studies at Temple
University Tokyo – briefed an AEJ UK meeting on March 9 2020 on China’s
relationships in Asia. Please see this report on the meeting
from former FT correspondent Peter Norman and this audio recording.
UK cyber security
How is the UK dealing with threats to cyber security and
defending against them? As Brexit looms and debate continues about potential
cyber threats such as the involvement of China’s Huawei in 5G
telecommunications and Russian or other state interference in democratic
processes in the UK and elsewhere, Nicola Hudson, Director of Policy and
Communications at the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), explained the
role of her young agency. She told the AEJ on February 20 2020 the NCSC, formed only 3 years ago, functions
in two very different worlds:
– as an operational division of GCHQ, the UK's signals intelligence agency
- and at a public level seeking ways of raising awareness of fast growing
cyber threats and devising innovative ways of developing the population's
cyber security skills for the future.
For more on her presentation please see this report from
former FT correspondent Peter Norman and this audio recording.
London central to UK future relations with EU?
Rory Stewart, former
Conservative MP, cabinet minister, and contender for Conservative party
leader, says London could have a "very, very
central" part to play in Britain's future relations with the European
Union. Stewart was an independent candidate for London mayor in elections
scheduled for May 7 2020 but withdrew after they were postponed for a year.
He told an AEJ UK meeting on January 29 that London’s connections and
contributions are crucial to the success of the rest of the UK and it could
act as a bridge between Britain and the EU over the next 10 to 15 years in
areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics and nanotechnology while
still learning from policies in other European cities. For more on his
argument and following discussion please see this report from former FT
correspondent Peter Norman and this
audio recording of the meeting.
for more AEJ UK guest speakers
AEJ Media Freedom Project
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 April 2015, 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
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
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.
further, please go to Media
Media visits to the European Parliament
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).
A selection of AEJ-related writings and activities
AEJ member Charles Jenkins, former Western Europe editor
of the Economist Intelligence Unit, blogs on Europe at https://eupriorities.ideasoneurope.eu/
Robinson’s writing is now accessible on FirdevsTalkTurkey.com
William Horsley blogs on the Centre
for Freedom of the Media website.
Long-time AEJ member – and journalist, author and politician – Jonathan Fryer
is the Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman for London. Please see his blog here.
Calls for sanctions against Belarus crackdown
sans Frontieres (RSF) and EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen have joined growing
calls for sanctions against the government of Belarus. RSF said it’s “appalled
by the unprecedented scale of the crackdown” on journalists in connection
with the presidential election on August 9 and called
on the EU to condemn the repression and sanction those responsible. The Belarussian
Association of Journalists says about 70 journalists have been arrested since
the election and 23 were still being held. And von
der Leyen joined the call ahead of a meeting of 27 EU foreign ministers
on August 14. Amnesty
International has similarly protested against the arrests and Latvian-based
reports on Russia and the former Soviet Union has detailed many of them. Even
from inside Belarus journalists
have protested and
media such as www.tut.by are covering the
media such as the
Guardian, the New
York Times and many others are reporting the wider story.
struggles for media freedom worldwide
The struggle to maintain and preserve media freedom continues around the
In Bulgaria the AEJ has
condemned unprovoked violence against a reporter for Radio Free Europe by
security guards and delegates at a national conference of the ruling party.
In Hungary the AEJ has raised
an alarm against the destruction of Hungary’s independent Index news portal. It
has expressed support for Szabolcs Dull who was dismissed as editor in chief and
for all the Index journalists who resigned, accusing the government of political
interference. The sudden sacking came after allies of prime minister Viktor
Orban took a controlling interest in the ownership of the online Index news
website, Hungary’s leading source of independent news and political comment.
And in The Philippines, Reporters
Without Borders (RSF) and other NGOs have opened a petition calling for
the Philippine government to drop all charges and cases against Maria Ressa,
the award-winning journalist and editor of Rappler, and to end pressure on
independent media in the Philippines. Maria Ressa was awarded the UNESCO
World Press Freedom Prize for her courageous work and journalistic
leadership. President Duterte has declared that journalists are “not exempt
from assassination” and his government has sought to close down leading
independent media and imprison respected journalists, including Ressa, who
with her colleague Reynaldo Santos Jr was convicted on “cyber libel” charges.
Justice for Daphne?
It’s been 1000 days since the assassination of Maltese
investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. And justice has yet to be
served as more disturbing revelations of state corruption and impunity have
underscored the weaknesses in Malta’s rule of law, and the entrenched
impunity for both the murder of Caruana Galizia and the high-level abuses of
power she investigated. Marking this shocking landmark the AEJ joined 12
other media freedom organisations on July 12 in again calling for justice.
For more please see
Malta has a new
prime minister and the country’s police chief has
resigned in the ongoing scandal but there remain many questions. Aljazeera
has this report and AEJ UK member and former BBC journalist Firdevs
this look at breaks in the story. On Nov. 20 2019 one of the country’s
richest men, gambling and property entrepreneur Yorgen
Fenech, was arrested and in court two weeks later accused
of being the brains behind the killing. He’s denied the charges and
blamed allies of the prime minister. Two of them resigned and in the face of major
street protests Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said he
would resign. His government spent two years stonewalling any genuine
investigation and far longer rejecting accusations
of widespread money laundering, political corruption and cronyism.
Freedom in the Commonwealth?
”It’s never been so bad,
” says the publisher of Africa Today. Nigerian journalist Kayode Soyinka thus
summed up the wide consensus that emerged from a media freedom panel
discussion during the Taking Stock of the Commonwealth day-long global
webinar on 24 June. The event was organised by the Institute of Commonwealth
Studies as a “virtual tour of the Commonwealth and its challenges” and took
place on the exact date when the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting
(CHOGM) had been due to open in Rwanda. The biennial summit was postponed
because of the Covid-19 pandemic. For more please see
this report from AEJ UK chairman and international media freedom representative
Attacks on media risk a New Normal
annual media freedom report warns that attacks on press freedom in Europe
risk creating a new normal as the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated a growing
pattern of intimidation to silence journalists on the continent. These
attacks underscore the report’s
urgent wake-up call for Council of Europe member states to act quickly
and resolutely to end the assault against press freedom, so that journalists
and other media actors can report without fear. The 14 international media
freedom groups and journalists’ organisations –the AEJ, Article 19,
Committee to Protect Journalists, EBU, EFJ/IFJ, European Centre for Press and
Media Freedom, Free Press Unlimited, Index on Censorship, INSI, IPI, PEN
International, Reporters Without Borders, Rory Peck Trust – warn of a
growing pattern of intimidation to silence journalists on the continent
through attacks, intimidation, media ‘capture’ and sweeping emergency laws
that are open to abuse and severely restrict the media’s ability to hold
state power to account.
Urgent call to stop violent attacks against
journalists covering migrants’ arrival in Greece
has joined an appeal to safeguard journalists reporting on migrants
trying to seek safety in Greece.
European Parliament struggles to reach budget agreement
Is the ghost of Margaret Thatcher’s “We want our money back!” holding
back agreement on the EU’s financial future? Members of the European
Parliament struggled over the EU’s budget for 2021 to 2027. And in a faint
echo of the UK’s long-running debate over Europe, some are focussed on how to
weigh each member state’s net contributions against their benefits while
others want to concentrate on furthering the all-important priorities of the
EU in its domestic and external strategy for the next seven years. These
issues were highlighted in an AEJ seminar in Brussels on February 18 and 19
as this report by AEJ
UK’s Secretary Charles Jenkins explains.
Concerns about UK government media management
The AEJ has joined widespread criticism of the new UK government’s
attempts to control and manage media access, tactics that echo Donald Trump.
And it’s called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to end at once
and partisan media policies.
“The UK government has laid itself open to the charge of hypocrisy,” said
William Horsley, the AEJ’s Media Freedom Representative and AEJ UK chair, “by
seeking to evade the robust media scrutiny of its actions by independent
media that is essential in an open society, while it also claims to be acting
as a champion of media freedom to the rest of the world.”
More than 60,000 people have signed an online
petition urging the government to stop blocking media scrutiny.
On Feb. 3 - the first working day after the UK officially left
the EU – all British political journalists at an official briefing arranged
at the Downing Street residence of the prime minister walked
out to protest the government’s decision to separate and exclude critical
media on an arbitrary basis. The prime minister’s staff had invited selected
political journalists to a “technical briefing” on Boris Johnson’s plans for
a trade deal with the EU. When other members of the Westminster “lobby” –
full-time political journalists based in the Houses of Parliament –showed up
as well, the group was told only those invited could go in and the rest
should leave. All the journalists present including those specifically
invited then walked out. The prime minister’s aides claimed favoured
journalists are routinely being granted special access to some press
briefings a part of an “inner lobby” while others, essentially those
considered opponents of the government, are excluded. That even included Press
Association, the UK’s national news agency.
“We reserve the right to brief whoever we like, whenever we like”, said Lee
Cain, the prime minister’s communications director.
The political editor of Fleet Street tabloid Daily
Mirror, Pippa Crerar, called the
exclusion “sinister and sad”.
questions in the House of Commons the prime minister claimed he loved
journalism – he was once sacked from a reporting job at The Times for
making up a quote.
Please see here for more
AEJ conference and call for media freedom
The international Association of European Journalists opened its annual
conference on Friday Dec. 6 in Paris. Europe is no longer a completely safe
place for journalists or media freedom and panel discussions highlighted the
acute threats and the vital role of the media in the democratic process with
conclusions and recommendations from the meeting to be communicated to the
relevant authorities in UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the European Union.
For one example of the issues being faced please see this presentation on
failing media freedoms in Poland from Krzysztof Bobinski of the AEJ
Poland. The conference also led a call to
respect press freedom and journalistic independence from all the national
sections of the AEJ, Reporters Without Borders,
the European Federation of Journalists, the European Centre for Press and
Media Freedom, and the South East Europe Media Organisation.
Please see this
AEJ newsletter for more on
AEJ co-signs Open Letter for upgraded efforts to protect media freedom
The AEJ has co-signed a letter to the new Council of Europe
Secretary-General for upgraded measures to stop criminalizing and demonising
journalists, counter the toxic atmosphere of hostility to the media, and
stamp out impunity. For more please see here.
AEJ joins call for new European Commission President to prioritize press
The AEJ joined the Committee to
Protect Journalists and others to ask the new President of the European
Commission to make key media issues a policy priority for the EU. The AEJ is
among 20 media and press freedom organisations urging Ursula von der Leyen to
take action on media freedom, journalists’ safety and access to public
information. For more please see
this on the AEJ International website.
See here for more news