Media release

Eastern Partnership Media Conference in Riga agrees on support for free and independent media

Photo: EU2015.LV
20 May 2015

On 19-20 May, Riga hosted the 1st Eastern Partnership (EaP) Media Conference, which is one of events taking place in the lead-up to the Fourth Eastern Partnership Summit. The conference brought together over 400 participants.

The media community represented at the event includes journalists, media professionals, experts, managers, policymakers, media advocacy groups, NGOs dealing with media issues, representatives from think tanks and agencies that regulate the media, as well as academics and politicians from the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine – and the European Union (EU) institutions and Member States.  

The Speaker of the Saeima, Ināra Mūrniece, emphasised in her opening statement that media freedom plays a decisive role in the preservation and advancement of the Eastern Partnership’s shared values, goals and ideals. Independent media ensure balanced and credible information; otherwise society can fall victim to misleading propaganda and false information. The lack of independent media undermines democratic values, good governance and political responsibility. The Speaker of the Saeima also emphasised that, given the new challenges confronting media freedom, this conference has even greater importance as a forum at which to talk over problems and seek the best solutions. Ināra Mūrniece hoped that the Eastern Partnership Media Conference would become a tradition.

The conference, organised by the Latvian Presidency of the EU Council in cooperation with the European Commission, the European External Action Service and the Media Sub-Group of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, featured a discussion on challenges in the area of media freedom, good ways of fostering media integrity and improving the media environment in the region. The media conference analysed the media environment in the EaP countries, including issues regarding the legal, regulatory and political environment and the integrity of the media. The experts also discussed problems and risks related to the media’s susceptibility to outside influence, and the role of the media in ensuring the free flow of unbiased information even under difficult conditions. A special focus was placed on propaganda pressure that could be reduced by diversifying sources of information. At the conclusion of the conference, the participants also considered further ways of responding to media challenges, assessed EU assistance in the EaP region and discussed ways of increasing EU action to improve the overall media environment in partner countries and media resilience.

In conclusion, the Foreign Ministry’s Undersecretary of State, Political Director Eduards Stiprais, emphasised that independent, free and objective media are an integral element in pursuing the common goals of the Eastern Partnership. The EU and the EaP countries should work hand in hand not only to deal with problems and risks that could lead to the general public being subjected to disinformation and the deliberate dissemination of misleading information, but also to consider how to extend EU financial support in order to achieve the goals relating to media freedom. Eduards Stiprais also indicated some possible steps that the EU could take already at this point: greater attention to the position of the media in the region, specialised training for journalists and the establishment of a unified network of journalists. It was important to ensure the transfer of experience and to provide support for professional organisations of journalists, but one of the most important steps would also be to promote dialogue between the media and government authorities in all countries across the region.

Johannes Hahn, the European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, also delivered a speech at the conference. The Commissioner emphasised the significant role of the media in a democratic society and reiterated the EU's continued support for media freedom and human rights in the region. Commissioner Hahn highlighted the main challenges to media freedom – the shortage of funding, limited access to objective, independent and high-quality information, and the unprecedented spread of disinformation. Johannes Hahn reiterated the need for closer cooperation with partner countries and higher quality support by the EU for the media in the EaP region. The Commissioner reminded those present that governments have the primary responsibility for creating an environment conducive to the functioning of independent media in which the exchange of differing opinions is not under threat and there is access to objective information. The conference had demonstrated the role of the media in raising awareness among the general public about the benefits of closer cooperation between the EU and the EaP countries.  Commissioner Hahn also stressed that countries with free media are democratic and stronger countries.

Special guests at the conference included Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dr. Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, the former President of Latvia and President of the Club de Madrid,Dace Melbārde, the Latvian Minister for Culture,Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, and Christian Danielsson, Director-General of the European Commission Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR).

Ivars Lasis
Press Secretary