They came from twenty three countries to the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom’s base in Leipzig, East Germany … top politicians such as Elmar Brok, the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs spokesman, leading lawyers such as Russia’s Galina Arapova, campaigners like Melody Patry from Index on Censorship, top managers like Hans-Ulrich Jörges, editor-in-chief for Special Affaires, Gruner + Jahr, Hamburg, and leading academics including Professor Dirk Voorhoof from Ghent University.
However, there were places too at the first European Media Freedom Conference for the grass roots muckrakers and activists: Thomas Datt and Arndt Ginzel who investigated the Saxon swamp corruption scandal and got hunted by court cases for years, whistleblower’s defender Mircea Valentin Toma from Romania, Irish invetigative reporter Gemma O’Doherty, sacked for investigating police misconduct, Sanna Bogner whose crew was prevented from filming in China by goons working for the authorities …
True to its mission of uniting Europe’s highly fragmented media freedom communities, the conference brought together decision makers, journalists, lawyers, politicians and activists in a lively yet good humoured event. At the end of the conference many of the 120 participants witnessed the annual Leipzig Festival of Lights.
It was a moving ceremony to remember the Peaceful Revolution of 1989. With lighted candles and poetry, Leipzig recalled the bravery of protestors who took to the streets of the old German Democratic Republic, surrounding the secret police headquarters to demand press freedom and other human rights. Those events led to the reunification of East and West Germany and were one important episode to end the Cold War in Europe.
Like all good journalists, the ECPMF members were once again in the right place at the right time.