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29 листопада 2017

Minutes of the AEJ General Assembly, Vilnius, Lithuania, 18 November 2017

Opening: President Otmar Lahodynsky welcomed the delegates and thanked Violetta Teetor and the Finnish section for stepping in at a late stage to organise the 2017 Congress in Lithuania. AEJ Vice President and Media Freedom Representative William Horsley publicly thanked Dzina Donauskaite of the Vilnius European Journalism Centre on behalf of the association for her vital help in making arrangements for the Congress. 

Minutes of the AEJ General Assembly, Vilnius, Lithuania, 18 November 2017

The AEJ President expressed concern over ambiguity about Brexit. It was one of the biggest political issues of 2017 and it will be likely to remain so in the coming year. Otmar said that last year he had pledged to hold a seminar for journalists in Brussels and together with William Horsley and Brussels Special representative Lieven Taillie the plan had come to fruition a day before the official start of the Brexit negotiations. Next year, he hoped the European Parliament would agree to host another seminar with the AEJ on a different topic. 

In March, President Lahodynsky visited Turkey on a fact-finding mission with representatives of six other media freedom organisations. They met journalists, opposition politicians, diplomats and lawyers, but their request to visit journalists in prison was rejected. In a joint statement, the AEJ and other participating groups called for the release of all journalists in jail.

Otmar said the head of the dormant Serbian section had undertaken to forge links with the Serbian Independent Journalists Association (NUNS) to re-join the AEJ next year. He praised the activities of the French Section in influencing a European Directive about whistle-blowers to be revised, and welcomed Catherine André and Lise Jolly, the first-time attendees to the Congress from France.


The Bosnian section was unable to send a delegation to the Vilnius Congress, but they were still on board. There was a possibility of Croatian journalists forming a formal AEJ Section after some years when senior Croatian journalist Zdenko Duka had acted as a sole ‘AEJ contact’ there.   Otmar wondered whether Italian members could help explore if a section could be established in Malta. 



Turkish delegate Dogan Tilic was invited to address the General Assembly. Dogan, who had sent a detailed media freedom report about Turkey earlier, thanked the AEJ for solidarity shown to Turkish journalists, who were facing massive problems with state oppression, censorship and high unemployment. International solidarity was needed more than ever, yet it carried risks for Turkish journalists in contact with foreign colleagues. He urged discretion in one-to-one communications but asked the AEJ to keep speaking up about Turkey. 


Secretary-General’s Report: 


Tibor Macak congratulated Maria Fernanda Gabriel of the dormant AEJ Portuguese Section on winning the annual Konstantinos Kalligas Journalism Award. Tibor talked about verbal attacks on journalists in Slovakia and the activities of the Slovak Section countering pressure from the government. The section asked Prime Minister Robert Fico to apologise for his verbal attack on journalists. The Slovak Section received significant support from the Council of Europe as well as widespread publicity in Europe. 

Tibor acknowledged Otmar Lahodynsky’s and William Horsley’s efforts to raise concerns about countries including Slovakia, Armenia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Hungary, Poland and Romania at various international platforms and urged members to follow these developments on the AEJ website www.aej.org .

The Secretary-General participated in two special activities this year. He attended the Euro-Mediterranean Media Dialogue meeting in Tunisia in March, and in July he took part together with AEJ Vice-President Saia Tsaousidou in the General Assembly of the Islamic Radio and Television Union of Iran in Mashad.

The Assembly directed questions to the Secretary-General on the shortage of communication with sections. There were complaints that the board discussions and information received from sections were not regularly and adequately communicated to members. 

It was pointed out that on the AEJ International website, section contacts, member e-mails and other key information were out of date. The Members Area had not been updated for two years. Minutes from the last year’s GA and Bratislava board meetings were not yet posted; and AEJ Newsletters to all Sections were no longer sent out regularly. Some delegates suggested that Newsletters were needed at least once every quarter in order to circulate regular information.  

Tibor said he had sent the Minutes to the AEJ webmaster. He was asked why he did not follow up to make sure it was published. William Horsley remarked that AEJ Newsletters should really include fresh information from Sections. The same point had been argued at last year’s Assembly in Kilkenny, and the Secretary-General had then been asked to contact Sections in advance to contribute news and other items regularly for inclusion in Newsletters. William reminded delegates that he has been helping on a voluntary basis to edit and publish fresh material from sections, including news related to media freedom issues, on the international website as well as for use in Newsletters. He said Section representatives were welcome to send their news to him for publication online.

William asked if Belgian member Alexandros Koronakis, a website specialist, would work with him and others to update information on the website, including the list of ‘useful external links’ which had become outdated.

Alexandros said he was happy to do that. 


William Horsley, Vice-president and Media Freedom Representative:


William gave headline points from his detailed written yearly report. 2017 was a very busy year with unprecedented intimidation faced by journalists in Europe and a wide range of advocacy and campaign activities by the AEJ. 


The AEJ worked closely with the Council of Europe, OSCE and European parliament and with other journalistic and freedom of expression groups. It was instrumental in raising “early warning and rapid response” alerts at the Council of Europe’s Platform for the safety of journalists. Only last week, the ‘Platform’ partner organisations (AEJ, EFJ, Reporters Without Borders etc) had met senior Council of Europe officials and agreed to issue our own Annual Report on threats to media freedom’ early in 2018 highlighting cases and issues of urgent concern to journalists and human rights groups. As part of the Turkey Advocacy Group, based in London, the AEJ had participated in submissions made to some Turkish courts hearing some cases against Turkish journalists, and in other joint submissions to the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Many related news items could be seen on the website www.aej.org 


The Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination in October prompted a demand from the AEJ and other international press freedom groups for full and independent investigation. The AEJ Media Freedom Representative’s statement condemning the murder and calling for an independent investigation was published in Parliament magazine in Brussels. 

During the Sibiu Congress, over 20 AEJ members had signed up to the Council of Europe’s survey titled ‘Journalists under pressure’, which was published in April 2017. William himself had been a member for the AEJ of the Council of Europe’s drafting committee that produced a formal Recommendation to member states in 2016 including new guidelines for governments on the protection of journalists and journalism. 

William told the Assembly that the AEJ was “inside the system” with European organisations and it had signed two separate joint statements by the Council of Europe’s Platform partner organisations pressing for the appointment of  a new Representative on Freedom of Media at the OSCE this year. Finally, Harlem Desir from France was appointed in late summer. William will also author a new version of the OSCE’s ‘Journalists’ Safety Guidebook’.


Treasurer’s Financial Report:


Luigi Cobisi presented his budget report on income and spending on all activities. In 2016, 15 actively contributing sections paid a total of Euros 4.935,00 to the budget, with Spain being the biggest contributor.

The Treasurer expected slight reduction in contributions in 2017 but assured the Assembly that there was some reserve and the finances were healthy, with a positive balance currently of Euros 4,300. He emphasised the importance of receiving fees from sections regularly and on time for the survival of the Association. 

UK delegate Kevin D’Arcy said the Treasurer’s report to the assembly should include Audit Committee signatures, too. Luigi replied that the Audit Committee had seen his report and approved it by e-mail some days before the Congress. 


VP Saia Tsaousidou:


Saia urged members to read Honorary President Athanase Papandropropoulos’ message to the Congress carefully. She spoke of the need to bring more young journalists to the AEJ and to be more active in dealing with Europe’s problems. Saia suggested that the next Congress should include a discussion of Greece and Europe’s migration problem and its coverage by the media. 

On her visit to Iran with Tibor Macak, Saia said it was educational for her to learn about the Islamic world’s thinking. The Iranians wanted more co-operation and communication. Saia proposed bringing young journalists from both sides to platforms where they can exchange ideas, first by Skype, later face-to-face. 


VP Javier Fernández Arribas:


Javier spoke at length about Catalonia’s independence movement and the dangers he perceived it posed for Spain and Europe in general. Spanish Section held 12 different debates on the issue with journalists from various regions including Catalonia. At William Horsley’s suggestion he agreed to write a short report about the issues discussed at the series of meetings between journalists from Catalonia and other regions of Spain, as a topic of high interest for AEJ members and other journalists.

Javier spoke about the launch of a new website about entrepreneurship for journalists, reflecting the growing number of journalists out of work and the belief that the best way out of economic crisis of the media is through learning to be enterprising and autonomous. 


Special Representative for Brussels:


Lieven Taillie described the role of the Special Representative in Brussels as providing support to the Board in dealings with all Brussels institutions. 

Together with his Belgian section colleagues, Lieven lobbied and organised activities at the Press Club. They helped mobilize MEP’s on freedom of media issues. They also organised the session on data journalism at the Vilnius Congress. Lieven told delegates that the Press Club in Brussels was always open to visits by all visiting AEJ members. 


Appointment of new Special Representatives:


Several delegates spoke from the floor questioning why the Agenda for this General Assembly, the key decision-making body of the AEJ, had not been circulated well in advance; instead it was projected on screen in the meeting room. Tibor clarified that he had sent it out to delegates by e-mail on the previous evening. 


President Lahodynsky remarked that there was still some opposition to the creation of two new special representatives, who would also become members of the AEJ’s Board. The 2016 Kilkenny General Assembly Minutes recorded that the Assembly had “approved the Board’s Recommendation to ask Irina and Jozsef to begin developing the new roles” with the intention that the two roles would be formally approved at the 2017 Assembly, with Irina Nedeva of Bulgarian section becoming a Special Representative responsible for Fact-based Journalism and Media Literacy, and Jozsef Horvath of Hungary as the special representative for AEJ enlargement (increasing the number of AEJ sections); but their formal appointment had been delayed for a year following an objection that the matter had not been communicated 3 weeks in advance of the Kilkenny Assembly as an Agenda item. Otmar acknowledged that the appointment of the two new SRs had again not been publicly circulated to Sections, as foreseen, before the Vilnius Assembly meeting. Then he told delegates that Jozsef had indicated that he had changed his mind and did not wish to take up the post. 

Jozsef responded by telling the Assembly that he had fulfilled his obligation to prepare a report, outlining the job description for the post. He sent it to the Secretary-General and the Board but was disappointed to see it was not distributed. He said he did not receive the support and confidence of the Board to go further.


Saia suggested that it was not a matter of trust but a problem with communication. William Horsley recalled that Jozsef had set out his credentials in detail in Kilkenny and as a former AEJ vice president a decade ago he probably knew sections better than anybody. He had set out his plans and proposals clearly in writing. In Kilkenny, the objection to appointments was on technical grounds because the General Assembly agenda did not include the item, so – despite the Assembly’s approval of the appointments in principle, as recorded in the 2016 GA Minutes-the appointments were postponed for one year.  


Former AEJ President Eileen Dunne stressed that the agenda for a GA must be published and distributed 21 days in advance, as set out in the AEJ’s Statutes. A year on, we faced the same situation of not having an agenda in time and not being able to vote on a key issue.


Luigi also expressed disappointment with the situation and said the Italian Section would again object to a vote taken on new Representatives on precisely the same grounds as last year. 

Some delegates observed that the source of the problem was the failure by the AEJ’s officers to send out the agenda notice in time, as was required. Otmar proposed that the Assembly should ask Irina and Jozsef to continue with their work pending their formal appointment at the Assembly in 2018. 

Irina pointed out that there were deadlines connected with the EU Commission’s current public consultation on ‘fake news’, and the AEJ had to make up its mind quickly whether it wanted to get involved.. 

Otmar and William asked Irina to co-ordinate the effort and suggested that as an interim solution, until her post would be made official in 2018, Irina should act as the AEJ’s agreed expert on this topic, and she accepted. Jozsef was asked whether he too would agree to go ahead on those terms as well, and he agreed to do so. 


The General Assembly voted to approve both Irina and Jozsef to be named as AEJ experts/co-ordinators, Irina Nedeva for Fact-based Journalism and Media Literacy, and Jozsef Horvath for new and revived Sections. 


Closing: The AEJ President was presented with a plate by Yaser Al Sayegh, Chairman of Journalist Support Committee (JSC) who attended the Vilnius Congress as a guest.

President Lahodynsky closed the General Assembly inviting proposals for next year’s Congress.


(Minutes recorded and written by Firdevs Robinson, UK Section)



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