Michael Klehm of the German Journalists' Association recently organized an event called "Quality journalism in the forgotten part of Europe." DW spoke to him about that very theme and other freedom of the press issues.
DW: Mr.Klehm, what is the "forgotten part of Europe"?
Michael Klehm: Time and again, we hear about Hungary's media laws and how the freedom of the press has deteriorated there. But if you have a look at neighboring countries like the states that used to form Yugoslavia–or Romania, Bulgaria, and a bit further off, Turkey–you'll find the situation there isn't much better. It's just that much of what happens there isn't in the media here.
What exactly is the problem?
For one, ownership of the media isn't transparent. Then, there's political pressure on the media, and only partially sufficient legislation. Libel is a big problem. As a rule, journalists or entire sections of the media are persecuted. Libel proceedings result in disproportionate fines–completely unthinkable in Germany–and endanger the media's entire existence.
Is it likely the situation will change anytime soon in the countries you've mentioned?
At our event in Brussels, we made it very clear that the EU must become more active in this area, for instance in countries that are in line as candidates for EU accession. In its accession negotiations, the EU must put a stronger emphasis on the observance of the freedom of the press and freedom of opinion as well as protection of journalists. The legal frameworks must be changed to conform more closely to our western understanding of freedom of the press and freedom of opinion as well as the media's task in society.
On May 26, Azerbaijan hosts the Eurovision Song Contest. At the moment, Azerbaijan ranks 162nd on a list of 179 countries which Reporters without Borders publishes annually in regard to press freedom. Would you say the ESC offers an opportunity for a freer press?
I'm afraid I have to say it doesn't. There may be a short time when the media can report freely. Should the ESC not return to Azerbaijan, the foreign media will leave, and people will fall back into their old rut. I don't believe there will be a sustainable effect.
Germany ranks 16th on the press freedom list. Does that mean Germany has no problems with the freedom of the press?
In general, press freedom is something we must defend again and again in Germany, too. Take a look at the present debate on a group of Salafists distributing the Koran. Here, journalists were threatened, quite seriously, at that. That endangers press freedom. If journalists' physical well-being is threatened or if journalists and their relatives are informed that personal matters will be posted on the internet, that could lead to an atmosphere of intimidation in our country. We should be concerned and keep an eye on developments.
If we look at press freedom in Europe as a whole, is there any way to improve it all at once?
There is no cure-all. But I believe that in Europe–above all, from the European Commission and European Parliament's side–the framework [for press freedom] must be improved. It is highly interesting that in the Scandinavian countries, which always score well in the rankings, there is always some form of press subsidy. I don't think that is a model all of Europe can follow. But especially for people in countries with big problems, it is a model people must consider.
You mentioned the Scandinavian countries. At the top of the rankings are Finland, Norway, Estonia, the Netherlands, Austria, Iceland, Luxembourg and Switzerland. That's eight European countries. Compared to other continents, wouldn't you say Europe does quite well on press freedom?
Yes, that must be said. In the context of press freedom worldwide, Europe is in quite good standing. That's wonderful. And I think that journalists themselves have worked together over the years to make that a reality.
Michael Klehm is head of the German Journalists' Association.
Author: Marco Müller/db
Editor: Shant Shahrigian