26th January 2015
By Stefanie Chernow

Director’s Letter: January 2015

Dear Friends,

We have had the worst possible start to a year. Within hours of the unconscionable massacre in the newsroom of Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7 the EJN published an article advising journalists to defend free speech but also to lower the temperature and avoid encouraging acts of revenge or abuse of Muslims. We called for “slow journalism” and for newsrooms to think carefully about how to handle a story which could have an explosive impact on community relations.

A week later, as a media debate raged over whether to publish or not to publish the Charlie Hebdo memorial edition with its controversial front-page image of the Prophet Mohammed, we published a second article urging journalists to rely on their codes and editorial traditions when making the decision, but above all to tell the story with humanity.

The Paris events have already triggered debates in media circles over free speech, self-censorship and ethical responsibility in journalism. The EJN is at the centre of this discussion and we are already contributing to major debates in Europe and beyond.

We are urging that journalists and media make themselves aware of the dangers to editorial independence posed by some of the profoundly political and ideological hard-line positions being taken after the attacks.

It’s a complex debate about free speech rights and to help provide some relevant context the EJN is commissioning a report on how the Paris events are being reported around the world. In many regions of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, for instance, the media narrative is different from that in Europe.

Our report will, we hope, add perspective and provide some fact-based background information that will help us all forge an ethical response to the threat to media posed by terrorism and extremist propaganda.

We have taken part in meetings and led discussions on the Paris events in Paris (organised by UNESCO) as well as two events in Brussels organised by the Brussels Press Club and the European Federation of Journalists and a fourth debate in Florence at the Centre for Media Pluralism.

This month we also met with journalism leaders in Palestine to put in place a detailed programme to counter hate speech, a programme made even more urgent by the Paris tragedy. We have established a partnership between all of the Palestinian universities providing journalism courses and in conjunction with media and the journalists’ union we will carry out a series of meetings in Gaza and the West Bank.

We have also strengthened our co-operation with the Norwegian Institute for Journalism this year. The EJN will participate in a meeting for Iraqi journalists being held in Istanbul in the first days of February and further co-operation is planned during the year.

Another important development this month was the launch of an Arabic version of the EJN Newsletter. This comes at an important time when the EJN is intensifying its focus on work in the Middle East.

The EJN has also taken a major step forward to improve its governance with the application for formal charitable status in London. Also we have now put in place a new Board of management.

The new Board will be chaired by Dorothy Byrne, the award-winning Head of News at Channel Four in the UK. Other Board members are Chris Elliott, Readers’ Editor at The Guardian; Dr. Zahera Harb, a distinguished Lebanese journalist who is now Senior Lecturer in Journalism at City University in London; Ashok Gupta, who recently helped appoint the members of the Board of IMPRESS, the new UK press regulator and who is a member of the UK Financial Reporting Council, an independent regulator responsible for corporate governance; and two members of the EJN Norwegian support group — Randi Øgrey, the Director of the Norwegian Media Businesses’ Association (MBL) and Thomas Spence, President of the Norwegian Journalists’ Union (NJ).

The EJN’s Editorial Advisory Group and Norwegian Support group remain in place and will assist and advise the new Board of the EJN as the next phase of our expansion continues.

Meanwhile, keep up to date with EJN activity on the website where you can find our report for 2014 and our updated programme of work for 2015. And don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter and follow us on Twitter (@EJNetwork). More information on all of topics set out here is available from me at [email protected].

Aidan White, EJN Director