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The 2nd Eastern Partnership Media Conference took place on 13 September, with 350 participants gathered in Kyiv to discuss concrete steps aimed at strengthening independent media in the EU’s Eastern Partner countries.
The event was organised by the European Commission together with the European External Action Service and with the support of the Government of Ukraine.
Independent journalists from Eastern Partnership countries outlined their main challenges, from insufficient funding to physical dangers, lack of media management experience, poor technical resources, and sometimes hostile authorities.
“Moldova is a heaven for investigative reporting, we have all the topics in the world,” Alina Radu, the director of Moldova’s investigative weekly Ziarul de Garda, told the conference. “But it is also hell for investigative reporters because we have all the problems in the world, too.”
Like many other media professionals in attendance, Radu said financial support from the European Union and other donors was instrumental to the survival of free, independent media in the region.
Much of the debate revolved around how to diversify sources of funding and achieve economic sustainability.
A major stumbling bloc for independent media outlets in Eastern Partnership countries is the weak local advertising market.
“Businessmen are also pressured not to place ads with organisations publishing material that runs counter to the government’s interests,” Daniel Ioannesyan, from Armenia’s Union of Informed Citizens, explained. “For such organisations, advertising revenues are not enough to cover even a fraction of the editorial expenses.”
The European Union has allocated some 30 million euros to media initiatives in Eastern Partnership countries over the past decade, 14 million of which are being spent on ongoing projects.
EU representatives used the conference to pledge continued support to a pluralistic media landscape in the EU’s neighbourhood.
In a video message, Johannes Hahn, the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, said the conference showed the “engagement of the EU with Eastern Partnership countries on the issues of plurality and the independence of media.”
He noted that independent media outlets were key to conveying European values to partners in the east.
Katarina Mathernova, the European Commission’s Deputy Director General, said Eastern Partnership countries were “an area we are very keenly aware that we need to invest in.”
Independent media, she added, are “the best way to keep citizens informed and governments accountable.”
Both Hahn and Mathernova also voiced concern about the tide of fake news in Eastern Partnership countries but also in EU member states.
Silvio Gonzato, Director of General Affairs and Strategic Communications at the European External Action Service, said fighting disinformation was a “joint responsibility” and called for deeper coordination between ministries and within the EU on the issue.
The 2nd Eastern Partnership Media Conference was held in preparation for the 5th Eastern Partnership Summit, which will take place in Brussels in November 2017. The practical findings and recommendations of the conference will provide a basis for further discussions at the Summit.