As early as 2010, Media Foundation of Sparkasse Leipzig began to develop the project of an European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) at the suggestion of Hans-Ulrich Jörges, the initiator of the European Charter for Press Freedom and former member of Stern editorial board. The Foundation was instrumental in accompanying and supporting the founding of the Centre and was the project sponsor until 2017. In the following year, Media Foundation "released" the ECPMF into independence in the legal form of a European cooperative (SCE).
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom
by Dr Lutz Kinkel, Managing Director of ECPMF
There are sentences that touch me, that won't let me go - and that, with a few words, illuminate the value of our work. Murat Bay, one of our "Journalists-in-Residence" 2019, said some recently. Bay comes from Turkey, he has been working as a photo reporter for ten years, focusing on street protests and uprisings, on violence and war; he was in Gezi Park, in the Kurdish areas, he keeps his eyes on what the Erdogan regime wants to hide: the cracks in the system. When he describes his work in Turkey, he says it is "hell" because journalists are subjected to massive reprisals. And it is "heaven" because the topics are lying on the street.
Murat Bay also faces threats in Turkey. In 2019, he stayed in Leipzig for half a year, provided with an apartment, health insurance and a scholarship. All of this is covered by our "Journalists-in-Residence" programme, with which we can help - at least temporarily - persecuted media workers. This help can literally be life-saving, because a desperate person regains strength and hope for the first time. Because he feels again that there is life beyond persecution. So Murat Bay said these sentences that make me think and, yes, also shame me: "Perhaps for the first time in my life I am consciously aware of spring, the changes, the awakening of nature, the different colours and flowers. In my country everything is grey, it's full of houses and apartments. It's so good to see it all. After staying here for three months I can feel the change in my soul and body. When I go home again - then with a clear head."
The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), of which I am the managing director, was set up to enforce the European Charter for Press Freedom. Hans-Ulrich Jörges, then a member of the Stern editorial boeard, initiated the charter in 2009, and 48 editors-in-chief and senior editors from 19 countries signed it. The European Commission received and welcomed the document. The charter with its ten articles - you can find the full text at pressfreedom.eu - describes the basic political consensus of democratic states. Much of this sounds self-evident, for example that governments should not exercise censorship. But these freedoms cannot be taken for granted, they have to be defended again and again. Not only in Turkey, but also in Poland, Hungary, Macedonia, Serbia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and many other countries. In fact, there are more and more governments that are at the throat of press freedom. Ever since former US President Donald Trump declared journalists "enemies of the people," populists of all stripes have felt justified in publicly denigrating and suppressing the free press. This shakes one of the pillars of democracy.
The ECPMF is based in Leipzig, the city of the Peaceful Revolution in 1989. This is the right place for a Press Freedom Centre. At the time, tens of thousands rose up against the East German dictatorship. Leipzig was called "hero city"; the term "Leipziger Freiheit" ("Leipzig Freedom") is still used today for city marketing. Luckily there were and still are companies here that are committed to this heritage. Without the generous start-up financing and project development by Media Foundation of Sparkasse Leipzig, the ECPMF would not have survived the first few years.
The founding process was politically supported by the then President of the EU Parliament Martin Schulz, his deputy Alexander Graf Lambsdorff and Elmar Brok, at the time head of the EU Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. In addition, Jörges and the then ECPMF director won a number of well-known journalists for the board and supervisory board. Two years later, in January 2017, the founding phase was formally completed: the ECPMF has been a European cooperative (SCE) since then. The law company CMS Hasche Sigle kindly accompanied the process pro bono. Members of the cooperative are individuals and organizations, in day-to-day work the ECPMF cooperates with important partners from the media freedom community such as the International Press Institute (IPI), the European Union of Journalists EFJ or the Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT) in Trento , Italy. The ECPMF has taken over the mappingmediafreedom.eu platform from Index on Censorship in London, a unique system that documents violations of press freedom throughout Europe. "Monitoring" is the technical term for this - and monitoring is important because the ECPMF can control its activities with the help of this alarm system.
Roughly speaking, the work of the center is divided into two parts: communication and practical help. The "Journalists-in-Residence" programme is part of practical help. "Legal aid" as well. The ECPMF provides advice and, in some cases, money to journalists who are being tried in their home countries on flimsy grounds. Our legal advisor managed to raise 50,000 euros from the Dutch organization Free Press Unlimited. The money went to the family of murdered Maltese investigative journalist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia. Because there are still more than 30 (!) defamation lawsuits against Daphne from the political and economic elite. And anyone who believed that these lawsuits would be over after her death is mistaken: her family will be taken into custody. Unfortunately, such procedures are not uncommon in Europe; they are politically discussed under the term SLAPP (strategic litigation agains public participation).
These are just a few aspects of our daily work. As the press freedom situation in Europe is getting worse, not better, our desks are getting fuller and fuller. Let's tackle it.
Further information: www.ecpmf.eu