The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) held its Annual Meeting in The Hague, Netherlands, on 11-12 May 2023. Organised by the Dutch journalists’ union NVJ, the event gathered 62 delegates from 41 journalists’ organisations from all over Europe joining forces to defend media freedom and the working conditions of journalists.
As every year, decisions were taken on the budget, the EFJ work programme (see here the 18 resolutions and 5 statements adopted on national and European issues), the financial and activity reports. But the Annual Meeting is also an opportunity to provide a space for discussion to journalists’ trade unions and professional associations on the major current challenges, such as the safety of journalists and reporting in times of war.
In her opening remarks, NVJ President Renske Heddema introduced the NVJ campaign, “Journalism is a profession”, which aims to reflect on the role of journalism: “We want to take a step back and take our responsibility, in order to be proud again of a profession, a guild which is attacked on all sides. Journalism is no amateur game, it is no propaganda. It is an honest collection and publication of news, fair comments and criticisms. Journalism is, in short, a profession.”
President Maja Sever, in her first speech to the Annual Meeting since her election in Izmir in 2022, stressed the many actions and activities carried out in support of journalists across Europe, in particular in the field of safety. She also underlined the strong cooperation between EFJ affiliates and other media organisations to meet the demands and needs of members in many ways. She finally praised the work done on EU legislation, in particular on the European Media Freedom Act, with the aim of defending journalism as a public good.
“Over the past year, working with you, I have come to know the people behind the statistics and figures. I have met people who have become targets, who have decided to dedicate themselves to the fight for truthful and accurate journalism because they are journalists. Our organisation supports these people and helps them. And that makes me proud,” said Maja Sever.
The Annual Meeting paid tribute to the journalists and media workers killed on duty over the past two years: Arman Soldin, Bohdan Bitik, Pal Kola in 2023; Brent Renaud, Maks Levin, Pierre Zakrzewski, Oleksandra Kuvshynova, Roman Nezhyborets, Zoreslav Zamoysky, Güngör Arslan, Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, Oksana Baulina, Yevgeny Bal, Ilhor Hudenko, Yevheniy Sakun, Mantas Kvedaravičius, in 2022.
The safety of journalists was chosen as the theme for this event as the Netherlands is at the forefront of European protection mechanisms with pioneering PersVeilig. Thomas Bruning, Secretary General of the NVJ, and Project Manager Peter Ter Velde presented the programme – which consists of monitoring attacks, training and supporting journalists and initiating rapid investigation of cases – highlighting the success of the multi-stakeholder approach thanks to the unique collaboration between the NVJ, the Editors’ Association, the police and the prosecution.
An inspiring Lecture on “Independent reporting in times of war” was delivered by Al-Jazeera international correspondent Step Vaessen, followed by a panel discussion with Mikhail Fishman (TV Rain), chief foreign editor of the NOS Esther Bootsma and Andrei Jvirblis, General Secretary of the Journalists’ and Media Workers’ Union (JMWU). Vaessen spoke about her experience as a reporter in different countries, the issues she faced especially in covering the war in Ukraine, and her concern to maintain public trust with high-quality journalism. Different perspectives on how to cover today’s Russia in an honest way and the ethical issues involved were discussed.
“We journalists are not at war with anyone. We only have one weapon, our impartiality and search for facts,” said Step Vaessen.