Status: 20.06.2022 08:00
A joint office is currently being set up in Brussels for various European news agencies to inform about EU issues. Nevertheless, some partners seem problematic GDR media magazine ZAPP reported.
The European Commission is setting up a “European Newsroom” in Brussels: from 1 July, journalists from 16 European news agencies are required to report from a joint office in the Belgian agency Belga. At the head is the German news agency (dpa), which is merging with other large agencies such as the French AFP, the Italian ANSA or the Spanish EFE.
Part of the money, around € 1.76 million, comes from the Public Relations Commission’s budget, which provides funding for the Euronews channel, for example. To this end, the participating agencies and their correspondents are to compile a twice-weekly report summary to offer a “pan-European perspective on EU policy”. According to EU Commissioner responsible Thierry Breton, this will “improve citizens’ access to quality information”.
Summaries of the reports shall be delivered to the Commission and published on a separate website. According to the dpa, the content includes brief excerpts from agency reports on EU topics, which are published late and with a reference to the relevant agency service.
The EU Commission is increasingly involved in media policy
The EU has long taken action against misinformation and fake news. The new Digital Services Act (DSA) provides for stricter oversight of online platforms and greater consumer protection. Internet companies should have a duty to act more quickly and better against hate speech, misinformation and counterfeit products.
At the beginning of the Russian attack on Ukraine, Russian foreign broadcasters RT and Sputnik were closed in the EU, and the EU commission placed the media Rossiya RTR / RTR Planeta, Rossiya 24 / Russia 24 and TV Center International on the sanctions list. in early June.
The fact that the Commission uses large agencies for the EU news portal is not surprising at first: almost all major media portals use their reporting and those who do not have their own correspondents or reporters in Brussels are often dependent solely on them. As a result, the news situation on EU topics is mostly dominated by agency reports. This dominance is further strengthened by the EU’s own portal with the pan-European participation of the relevant agencies.
Doubtful Serbian partner
The problem, however, is that, according to various experts, there are serious doubts about the independence and journalistic quality of some of the agencies involved: This is particularly evident in the example of the Serbian agency Tanjug. The former official Yugoslav press agency has since been privatized, but Tachno, which owns it, maintains close ties with the government of President Aleksandar Vučić.
His government has been criticized for restricting press freedom for years. In the global press freedom rankings according to “Reporters Without Borders”, the country has fallen to 93rd place and is currently 79th out of 180 countries. Serbian journalists have repeatedly complained that the state discredits, hinders and threatens them.
On the other hand, the pro-government media receive generous subsidies, criticizing “Reporters Without Borders”. Tanjug claims mainly in favor of the ruling party, says Serbian journalist Marija Vučić from the Raskrikavanje fact-finding portal: “There are hardly any critical articles”, but instead there are “apparently false reports”.
Spreading the wrong quote Loop
Tanjug, for example, circulated an alleged quote from Kiev Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko. At the end of May, Tanjug said he compared the war in Ukraine with the war of the Albanian population in Kosovo against the “Serbian occupiers”. Such comparisons provoke outrage in Serbia because the independence of the former Serbian part of Kosovo is still not widely accepted. The quote spread accordingly in the Serbian media. Finally, Serbian Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin also condemned the statement.
But the quote is fictitious: Vitali Kličko distanced himself in a post on Facebook and denied that he would ever make such a statement. Raskrikavanje’s fact-finding revealed that the Albanian portal from which Tanjug originally took the report had no fingerprint and the article had no author. It is not entirely clear where the quote should come from.
Given that Tanjug is known in Serbia for dubious news and blatant partisanship in favor of the government, Serbian journalists’ associations have criticized its inclusion in the European Newsroom and publicly protested against the European Commission’s allocation of funds. On request from ZAPP and tagesschau.de A Commission spokesman simply replied: “Tanjug, like all other agencies involved, will honor its commitments within the European Newsroom.”
Journalistic standards guaranteed?
Dpa spokesman Jens Petersen refers on request to the European Newsroom editorial charter, which requires factual and independent reporting. These commitments stem from a financing agreement with the EU Commission, in which GDR-media magazine ZAPP within the research cooperation with netzpolitik.org. The documents come from a request for freedom of information addressed to the EU Commission.
An EU Commission spokesman emphasized that it was stipulated that participants could act “independently of any instruction, coercion or mandate from any EU institution or Member State”. “Journalists are completely free in their decisions and do not receive any political instructions for their daily work,” the spokesman said. Petersen, sees “no possibility to influence the reporting of the participating agencies”.
But this is not enough for experts such as media rights expert Flutura Kusari from the European Center for Freedom of the Press and Media in Leipzig: state news agencies such as Tanjug from Serbia or ATA from Albania are run by their governments and are not independent: she does not deserve support from EU funds, “she said.
The EU risks distributing money to intelligence organizations that are considered “government courtship” in the region. This “will seriously damage the EU’s image in the Balkans and give these agencies a European platform they do not deserve”.