Journalists’ safety and media ethics identified as continued top media freedom priorities in Western Balkans at high-level conference in Vienna

OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Sebastian Kurz at the opening of the Freedom of the Media in the Western Balkans conference (OSCE/Micky Kroell)

VIENNA, 27 February 2017 – Ensuring the safety of journalists and promoting media ethics are top priorities for protecting media freedom and enhancing comprehensive security, peace and democracy across the entire OSCE region, participants at an OSCE Chairmanship conference on media freedom in the Western Balkans agreed today.

The high-level conference was opened by OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz and Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović along with Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Any attack against a journalist is an attack on society; safety of journalists is a priority issue for Austria. We continue to support ongoing efforts in the Western Balkans to tackle this issue and hope that this conference has provided a platform for all OSCE participating States to engage and share best practices,” Kurz said. “Media play a central role in shaping public opinion. In challenging times such as those we are facing today, journalists must all the more report independently and professionally.”

Participants in the conference underlined that the safety of journalists is an absolute precondition for a free and pluralistic media environment. Furthermore, the importance of ethical reporting, through effective self-regulation mechanisms, was highlighted as a tool for preventing tensions and ensuring sustainable security.

“I know most of us want good journalism – well researched, well written, fair and balanced. We want news we can use and rely upon to help us make decisions about the way we live our lives. Simple goals. But not met. Far from it,” Mijatović stated. “We must work together, build bridges, because our shared values are at stake. While defining our future, it is important to bear in mind that the role of the media is vital in generating the democratic culture. This is the final aim of our right to free speech.”

Tangible, examples of value-added activities from the Western Balkans were presented and discussed throughout the event.  Best practices from within the region were exchanged and lessons learned showcased pertinent across the entire OSCE region. Representatives of OSCE field operations illustrated how good co-operation and the sharing of best practices with local authorities, media, and civil society can lead to success stories.

“The Western Balkan countries share experiences and challenges in the area of media freedom that are of the same character, but maybe with different intensities,” Crnadak said. “We have all gone through the transition to media freedom in order to become open and free societies.”

Following this high-level conference, a list of conclusions and recommendations focusing particularly on the safety of journalists and on media ethics will be published jointly by the OSCE Chairmanship and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media.