The European Union (EU) is putting money behind the EBU work to strengthen Public Service Media (PSM) in countries aspiring to become EU members. As part of an agreement with the EBU, the EU has pledged €500,000, with more to follow, along with extension of the commitment to countries bordering the EU to the east and south.
The agreement aims to safeguard and promote freedom of expression in the wider EU area, as well as stimulating development of democracy in would-be EU member states. In particular, it aims to encourage national broadcasters in these countries to become true public service media organizations whose news and output can be trusted and is free of government interference.
The EU’s Enlargement & Neighborhood Policy Commissioner Štefan Füle told the EBU's General Assembly that securing media freedom required continuous effort, both on the part of the EBU, and the countries concerned. He agreed that so far the EBU has been successful in pushing for reforms in some of the neighboring countries.
“We highly appreciated the work the EBU has done in Georgia and Moldova in support of reforms of broadcasting systems, in training and capacity building for journalists and media professionals,” said Füle. “We look forward to the EBU extending similar work in other countries of the eastern neighborhood, such as Armenia, where contracts are already ongoing.”
Füle emphasized the importance of the EBU taking an active role in the development of public service broadcasting in countries to the east, although he did not mention the two largest of these, Russia and China. But, the EBU cannot be faulted for effort, having controversially allowed its flagship event, the Eurovision Song Contest, to be held in Azerbaijan this year, staged late May. This was criticized primarily because of the country’s poor human rights record, but broadcast freedom was also highlighted as a concern by human rights groups.
The EBU held a workshop on media freedom in Azerbaijan at its headquarters in Geneva on May 2nd in the run up the Eurovision Song Contest, but failed to convince press freedom advocates that journalists in Azerbaijan could report freely without harassment or persecution. This was not helped by abrasive remarks made at the workshop by Ali Hasanov, head of the Department for Public and Political Issues at the Administration of the President of Azerbaijan, which referred to independent local advocacy and media-monitoring representatives as inaccurate, non-objective, and oppositionist.
But, while the results of the EBU’s bold stance on Azerbaijan, hoping to generate reform through close involvement, are still unclear, progress has definitely been made in some of the other countries in the region, sufficient to persuade the EU to provide financial support.