Europe: Journalists Against Free Speech

Judith Bergman
Gatesstone Institute


  • Gone is all pretense that journalism is about reporting the facts. These are the aims of a political actor.
  • Being bought and paid for by the EU apparently counts as “press freedom” these days.
  • According to the guidelines, journalists should, among other things, “Provide an appropriate range of opinions, including those belonging to migrants and members of minorities, but… not… extremist perspectives just to ‘show the other side’…. Don’t allow extremists’ claims about acting ‘in the name of Islam’ to stand unchallenged…. where it is necessary and newsworthy to report hateful comments against Muslims, mediate the information.”

The European Federation of Journalists (EJF), “the largest organization of journalists in Europe, represents over 320,000 journalists in 71 journalists’ organizations across 43 countries,” according to its website. The EJF, a powerful player, also leads a Europe-wide campaign called “Media against Hate.”

The “Media against Hate” campaign aims to:

“counter hate speech[1] and discrimination in the media, both on and offline… media and journalists play a crucial role in informing…policy … regarding migration and refugees. As hate speech and stereotypes targeting migrants proliferate across Europe… #MediaAgainstHate campaign aims to: improve media coverage related to migration, refugees, religion and marginalised groups… counter hate speech, intolerance, racism and discrimination… improve implementation of legal frameworks regulating hate speech and freedom of speech…”

Gone is all pretense that journalism is about reporting the facts. These are the aims of a political actor.

A very large political actor is, in fact, involved in the “Media against Hate” campaign. The campaign is one of several media programs supported by the EU under its Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (REC). In the REC program for 2017, the EU Commission, the EU’s executive body, writes:

“DG Justice and Consumers [the EU Commission’s justice department] will address the worrying increase of hate crime and hate speech by allocating funding to actions aiming at preventing and combating racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance… including dedicated work in the area of countering online hate speech (implementation of the Code of Conduct on countering illegal hate speech online)… DG Justice also funds civil society organisations combatting racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance”.

This political player, the EU, the biggest in Europe, works openly at influencing the “free press” with its own political agendas. One of these agendas is the issue of migration into Europe from Africa and the Middle East. In his September State of the Union address, the president of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, made it clear that whatever Europeans may think — polls repeatedly show that the majority of Europeans do not want any more migrants — the EU has no intention of putting a stop to migration. “Europe,” Juncker said, “contrary to what some say, is not a fortress and must never become one. Europe is and must remain the continent of solidarity where those fleeing persecution can find refuge”.

The European Union’s REC Program also recently financed the publication of a handbook with guidelines for journalists on how to write about migrants and migration. The guidelines form part of the RESPECT WORDS project — also EU-financed — which “aims to promote quality reporting on migrants and ethnic and religious minorities as an indispensable tool in the fight against hate”. The new guidelines are “aimed at strengthening quality media coverage of migrants and ethnic and religious minorities”. The handbook was launched on October 12 by the International Press Institute (IPI) — an association of media professionals” representing leading digital, print and broadcast news outlets in more than 120 countries. IPI boasts that it has been “defending press freedom since 1950”. (Being bought and paid for by the EU apparently counts as “press freedom” these days.) Seven other European media outlets and civil society groups based in Europe participated in the project and presented it at an event at the European Parliament in Brussels attended by MEPs and civil society experts. According to the press release, the guidelines are “supplementary to standards already in place at news outlets”.

The guidelines state that, “journalism cannot and should not ‘solve’ the problem of hate speech on its own” but that it can help to prevent its “normalisation”. However, “meeting this challenge requires the involvement of many actors, in particular the European Union, which must reinforce existing mechanisms and support new tools designed to combat hate speech…”

Why do journalists, who claim to fight for the freedom of the press, now appeal to the EU to help bring an end to freedom of speech in Europe?

According to the guidelines, journalists should, among other things:

“Provide an appropriate range of opinions, including those belonging to migrants and members of minorities, but… not… extremist perspectives just to ‘show the other side’… Avoid directly reproducing hate speech; when it is newsworthy to do so, mediate it by…challenging such speech, and exposing any false premises it relies on. Remember that sensitive information (eg race and ethnicity, religious or philosophical beliefs, party affiliation or union affiliation, health and sexual information) should only be mentioned when it is necessary for the public’s understanding of the news”.

Is that why news reports always refer to perpetrators of rape or terrorism simply as “men”?

Specifically, with regard to Muslims, the guidelines recommend:

“Challenge existing anti-Muslim stereotypes that have become pervasive in public discourse… Increase the visibility of Muslim men and women in your general reporting… Take care not to further stigmatise terms such as ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islam’ by associating them with particular acts… Don’t allow extremists’ claims about acting ‘in the name of Islam’ to stand unchallenged. Highlight… the diversity of Muslim communities… where it is necessary and newsworthy to report hateful comments against Muslims, mediate the information. Challenge any false premises on which such comments rely”.

Not even Orwell could have made that up.


[1] Notably, the Media against Hate campaign does not define what it means by “hate speech”. The closest one gets to a definition of what the campaign means by the term, comes from a chapter on hate speech from the report, “Ethics in the News” by the European Journalism Network (EJN) — a British organization that claims to be “an independent, international, non-profit institute dedicated to the highest standards in journalism — that the ‘Media against Hate’ has reproduced on its website. EJN defined hate speech as “…any expression that vilifies an identifiable group — a race, religious community, or sexual minority, for example — and thus prompts harm to members’, e.g. “incitement to… negative discrimination and violence” and “expressions that hurt a community’s feeling, including by insulting beliefs”. While incitement to violence is punishable by law, hurting a community’s feelings is not, but according to EJN, “legal limits should not determine the boundaries of professional conduct… journalists need to develop their ethical capacities to respond to the real risk of serious harm being promoted”.

 

Lead Image: BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – APRIL 29: President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker reacts as microphones are thrust towards him by the media as he arrives at the Council of the European Union ahead of an EU Council meeting on April 29, 2017 in Brussels, Belgium. The 27 members of the European Union will meet in Brussels for a special European Council meeting to discuss the continuing Brexit negotiations. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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