European Citizens’ Initiative for Media Pluralism: the State of the European Union and Hungary –
international conference organised by the Hungarian Europe Society.
Budapest, 27 September 2013, Friday
Venue: Hotel Benczúr, 1068 Budapest, Benczúr utca 35., Hungary
9.30 Welcome and introduction
István Hegedűs (Chairman, Hungarian Europe Society)
9.40-10.15 Keynote Speech
Kerstin Lundgren (Member of the Swedish Parliament, Member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe): Democracy-building in Europe – Indicators to Look For and Lessons to Learn From
10.15-11.00 Session One: European Citizens’ Initiatives: With or Against the European Institutions and European Political Actors?
Moderator: István Hegedűs (Chairman, Hungarian Europe Society)
Richard Rose (Director, Centre for the Study of Public Policy, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow): Representing Europeans: Too Much or Too Little Democracy?
Zoe Lefkofridi (Max Weber Fellow, European University Institute, Florence): The State of Democracy in Europe: Problems of Euroscepticism and Populism
11.00-11.30 Coffee Break
11.30-13.00 Session Two: Media and Democracy in a Changing European Political Environment
Moderator: Péter Nizák (Hungary Project Director, Open Society Initiative for Europe)
Claudia K. Huber (Senior Researcher und Project Developer, Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft, Berlin): European Democracy, Parties, Political Communication
William Horsley (Journalist, United Kingdom chairman, Association of European Journalists): The Autonomy of the Media Sphere: the Case of Britain
Svetlomira Gyurova (Foreign Desk Editor, Capital Weekly, Sofia): Parallels between the Situation of the Media in Bulgaria and Turkey
Sofia Vasilopoulou (Lecturer, University of York, Department of Politics, Heslington): Euroscepticism in Greece
15.00-16.30 Session Three: European Citizens’ Initiative for Media Pluralism – Political, Legal and Economic Aspects of Media Freedom on European Level
Moderator: Erik Uszkiewicz (Researcher, Standards Media Monitor)
Lorenzo Marsili (Executive Director, European Alternatives, Rome): The Political Landscape of the European Citizens’ Initiative for Media Pluralism
Giovanni Melogli (Correspondent to the European Institutions, Alliance Internationale de Journalistes, Brussels): European Citizens’ Initiative on Media Pluralism: Legal Considerations
Elda Brogi (Research Assistant, Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, Florence): EU Instruments to Foster Media Pluralism and Media Freedom
Giovanni Gangemi (Research Assistant, Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, Florence): Economic Aspects of Media Pluralism and Media Freedom in the European Union
16.30-18.00 Session Four – Roundtable Discussion: European Citizens’ Initiative for Media Pluralism in Hungary
Moderator: Máté Szalai (President, Association of Liberal Youth)
Participants: Judit Bayer (Hungarian Europe Society), Bea Bodrogi (CivilMedia), József Martin (Association of European Journalists), Péter Molnár (One Million for the Freedom of Press in Hungary), Sándor Orbán (South East European Network for Professionalization of Media), Gábor Polyák (Standards Media Monitor), Mátyás Vince (Association of Hungarian Journalists)
Györgyi Kocsis (Vice chair-woman, Hungarian Europe Society)
The one-day-long event, held on 27 September in the conference room of Hotel Benczúr in Budapest, was connected with the European Citizens’ Initiative for Media Pluralism. The conference discussed the topical questions of political representation and democratic legitimacy in the EU, the state of democracy in Europe, and the relevant European issues of media and democracy. It dealt with the political and legal background of the all-European and the Hungarian campaign supporting the European Citizens’ Initiative for Media Pluralism, and assessed the state of democracy, media freedom and pluralism in Hungary in the context of the European institutional decision-making processes and the upcoming European Parliament elections.
Simultaneous translation between English and Hungarian was available throughout the whole conference. After the speeches, the floor was open for debate, thereby permitting fruitful discussions that involved numerous participants. There were altogether 80 attendees, mostly representing various segments of the academic and civil societies.
István Hegedűs, the Chairman of the Hungarian Europe Society, welcomed the guests and highlighted in his opening remarks the importance of the European Citizens’ Initiative for Media Pluralism with particular regard to the current distortions in the Hungarian media system and the lack of appropriate checks and balances in the whole constitutional regime, especially in the context of the forthcoming national and EP elections next year.
The conference keynote speaker was Kerstin Lundgren, Swedish Member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, who was the rapporteur of the report on the rule of law in Hungary discussed in the Parliamentary Assembly. She explained the relevant indicators and lessons connected with the democracy-building process in Europe. She also elaborated on the findings of the said report on Hungary and the concerns about the negative tendencies regarding the constitutional regime, nevertheless expressing hope for a more robust democracy based on the appropriate system of checks and balances.
The first session, moderated by Mr. Hegedűs, focused on the relation between the European Citizens’ Initiatives, the European institutions and European political actors. In this context, Prof. Richard Rose, Director of the Centre for the Study of Public Policy, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, explained the current problems concerning political representation and democratic legitimacy in the EU, as the latter now needs more popular commitment to carry out its biggest policies, but there seems to be a lack of such commitment. The next panellist, Zoe Lefkofridi, a Max Weber Fellow from the European University Institute, Florence, gave interesting insight into the state of democracy in Europe by discussing the current trends and questions related to Euroscepticism and populism; nevertheless, against this background, she concluded that European Citizens’ Initiatives could be an effective tool to engage citizens and motivate them to shape the European agenda.
The second session of the conference was moderated by Péter Nizák, Hungary Project Director at the Open Society Initiative for Europe, and examined the interactions of media and democracy in a changing European political environment. In this respect, Claudia K. Huber, Senior Researcher and Project Developer at the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft, Berlin, presented her research findings on political communication in the EU by examining the similarities how “Brussels” is reflected in the national media of the Member States. The following speakers discussed the media’s role in various countries of relevance: William Horsley, the United Kingdom chairman of the Association of European Journalists, explained the current state of media autonomy in the UK opposing any oppressive legislative measure which uses the excuse of forcing the press to be more ethical. The following panellist, Svetlomira Gyurova, the Foreign Desk Editor at the Capital Weekly, Sofia, highlighted the current, rather alarming and quite similar, situation of the media in Bulgaria and Turkey, based on the unhealthy interlinks between politics, media and business, where the media agenda is set by its owners, who seem to be heavily influenced by financial and political interests as well. At the end of the session, Sofia Vasilopoulou, Lecturer at the Department of Politics of the University of York, Heslington, discussed Euroscepticism in Greece, explaining that its soft version was not established, but rather triggered, by the recent financial crisis that also radicalised the mainstream politics. As a possible solution, she highlighted the need for fostering civil society and changes in education.
The third conference session, moderated by Erik Uszkiewicz, Researcher at the Standards Media Monitor, Hungary, dealt with different aspects of media freedom at European level in the context of the European Citizens’ Initiative for Media Pluralism. As a founder and spokesperson for this Initiative, Lorenzo Marsili, the Executive Director of the European Alternatives, Rome, set the political context, making the case for solving the problems at EU level by a progressive media reform. Furthermore, Giovanni Melogli, the Correspondent to the European Institutions at the Alliance Internationale de Journalistes, Brussels, explained the legal considerations of this Initiative calling for a Directive containing, among others, legislation to avoid concentration of media ownership and political control of national supervisory bodies. Two further expert speakers, both Research Assistants at the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, Florence, participated in the session: Elda Brogi elaborated on the existing EU instruments that may foster media pluralism and media freedom, while Giovanni Gangemi explained the economic aspects of these issues, thereby complementing the big picture on the European landscape.
The last session concentrated on the European Citizens’ Initiative for Media Pluralism in Hungary. The coalition of eight Hungarian civil organisations – the Hungarian Europe Society (HES) represented by Judit Bayer, Milla (One Million for the Freedom of the Press in Hungary) represented by Péter Molnár, the Standards Media Monitor represented by Gábor Polyák, the South East European Network for Professionalization of Media (SEENPM) represented by Sándor Orbán, the Hungarian branch of the Association of European Journalists represented by József Martin, the Association of Liberal Youth represented by Máté Szalai, the CivilMedia represented by Bea Bodrogi, and the National Association of Hungarian Journalists represented by Mátyás Vince – leading the Hungarian campaign, presented their case at a round table discussion, explaining the high stakes in the context of the recent developments concerning the media and democracy in Hungary.
In her closing speech, Györgyi Kocsis, the Vice Chairwoman of the Hungarian Europe Society, drew the conclusions from the successful conference by highlighting the importance of the European Initiative for Media Pluralism, which provides a unique platform for promoting such an important cause at EU level; and further to the journalists and media experts, could also involve the public.
The conference was coorganised in cooperation with Friedrich Naumann Foundation.