Quality journalism in times of crises | South East Europe Media Forum 2016

By Anna Schmidt, SEEMO, and Michelle Trimborn

More than 400 Editors-in-Chief. media CEOs, media owners, experts and leading journalists from more than 25 countries gathered in Belgrade on 21 and 22 November to participate in this year’s South East Europe Media Forum (SEEMF). The event, organised by the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), Central European Initiative (CEI), South East and Central Europe PR Organisation (SECEPRO), International Institute - International Media Center, the Belgrade International Academy and Media Program South East Europe of German Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation (KAS-SEE), is the biggest annual media conference in the region.

With panels like “The refugee crisis as a touch-stone for professional journalism” and “Journalists in conflict zones – Trends in war and crisis reporting”, this year’s focus clearly was on high-quality journalism and professional ethics and standards in times of crises.

“Wars in Ukraine and Syria are destabilising Europe and its neighbourhood, and migration is a major challenge. Nationalism is on the rise, open societies are in a defensive position. Many countries in South East Europe have to make fundamental decisions on the direction: More or less EU integration? Pro-Western or pro-Russian? Liberal democracy or strong state? In this context, quality journalism is particularly important”, said Christian Spahr, Director of KAS-SEE, when he set the conference agenda with his opening statement.

Taking place in Belgrade, the first panel debate, opened by Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucić. looked at “Media and Politics in Serbia”. Panellists like Dragan Janjic (news agency BETA, NUNS journalists’ union) and Ljiljana Smajlović (UNS journalists’ union) stressed the fact of a lack of autonomy of editorial staff.

The rising political influence on media on the country was in the centre of the discussion. But journalists also criticised each other as such a situation can only evolve if there are journalists who are willing to play their part in this political game. Also impunity for crimes against journalists in Serbia was made topic of the discussion as well as the education of young journalists.

The panel about a widely discussed topic – reporting on refugees – turned into a debate of journalistic quality and trust in the media. Henrik Kaufholz. Chair of the ECPMF and journalist for Danish Politiken, stressed the changes in how especially young people gather news – namely through social media – which leads to the spreading of quick news and sensational rumours rather than well investigated articles.

Other panels looked more into the future of journalism and pointed out the gap between journalism studies and current challenges of journalism. In this context, the KAS task force on journalism education presented its new publication based on a survey with more than 500 students from South East Europe and gives insights into the student’s perspective on their journalistic education.

To close the two days, a concluding address was given by the former Vice-Chancellor of Austria and President of the Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe (IDM), Erhard Busek as well as by the Political Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Serbia, Roksanda Ninčić.

As side event, the annual Commission on Media Policy, financially supported by European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and by the European Commission (EC), took place on 23 November. More than 50 media-representatives participated and discussed together with Serbian Ombudsman Saša Janković. The responsibility of journalists under the question: Is there a greater good in my good?

Part of the events were also two awarding ceremonies. The annual CEI SEEMO Investigative Journalism Award was given to Albanian journalist Lindita Cela in the category „Professional Journalist“, and to the Belarus journalist Artsiom Harbatsevich in the „Young Journalist“ section. Iurie Sanduta from Moldova was given a special mention for his investigative work.

The Dr. Erhard Busek SEEMO Award for Better Understanding was received by Turkish journalist and representative of Reporters without Borders (RSF) in Turkey, Erol Önderoglu,  who is a well-known ambassador for media freedom and journalists’ rights in Turkey and strongly suffered from state oppression during the last months and even spend some days in custody after expressing his solidarity with a Kurdish newspaper.

The next South East Europe Media Forum and Media Commission will take place in Sofia, Bulgaria on 27-28 November 2017.