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Europe's media vs. Europe's Muslims?
Friday, 01 October 2010 18:53
Ohrid, Macedonia: The European Council invited European journalists, religious representatives, experts and NGO's to discuss this hotly debated issue.
(EMU) – Not only Europe's Muslims now ask themselves how one should deal with the predominantly negative – as studies have proved - reporting in times when digital boundaries have been dissolved and there is a simultaneous focus on the conventional market for commercial media. Adherents of other religions also regard the ongoing development of anti-religious coverage in the commercial mass media as questionable; in particular, when the freedom of expression and press freedom guaranteed by the appropriate European conventions begin to clash significantly with their liberties.
To shed more light on this ongoing conflict, the Council of Europe, as part of its exchange program, extended an invitation to the above mentioned people to come to the Macedonian town of Ohrid. Under the auspices of the Macedonian Foreign Minister Miloshki and the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Mevlüt Cavusoglu, European lawyers, journalists, representatives of NGOs and religious representatives debated for two days on viable alternatives to a problem that all participants recognized as real.
The president of the PACE made clear in his opening statement that Europe is experiencing a turbulent transformation in which 'the media is of strategic importance'. The media would only be able to respond positively if it were aware of its responsibility in the process. This however is more and more difficult for the media in times of a continuing focus on the marketplace as well as an ever increasing rate of overlapping ownership.
He went on to emphasize the vulnerability of the approach chosen by the Council of Europe of relying exclusively on voluntary, non-mandatory standards for professional journalists. This was limited, according to Sulaiman Wilms, who represented the EMU Foundation Media Department, to "ideal and ultimately metaphysical concepts”. Peter Wille, chairman of the advisory committee for Human Rights (GR-H) in the Council of Europe, found himself compelled to accept this when he explained that the Council of Europe only disposed of "soft power" for the enforcement of its detailed standards for the media, and their enforcement in its member states.
Fundamental contributions to the conference plenary made it clear that the political as well as the legal path -which in recent years has repeatedly been taken by Muslims- was 'not a viable way to strengthen the media rights of religious communities or individuals' in order to counter anti-religious campaigns in the mass media or the internet.
Many participants agreed with the assessment of the small number of Muslim representatives present, according to which a major part of the unfair and unprofessional media reporting today was directed against Muslims living in Europe. Unlike the established churches they still do not have comparable institutions for the formation of interface-points with the media at their disposal, nor do they maintain similar professional media or agencies - like the Italian "Ossevatore Romano" or the German Catholic News Agency (KNA).
Vincent Berger, Legal Adviser of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)at the Council of Europe, the highest European judicial body, demonstrated in his presentation of the appropriate case in law that its decisions (Articles 9 and 10) left little room for uncertainty. Only in one case had the judges confirmed a national restriction of freedom of expression. In the vast majority of all decisions, the Court 'acknowledged the precedence of free speech'.
Another significant limitation of the normative approach of Europe could be understood from the keynote speech of London-based Mark Thompson of the local Open Society Institute. According to Thompson its approach 'disregards the reality of media operation'. The proposed Council of Europe standards regarding professional journalism are not only virtually unknown – a fact confirmed by those present -, but there also existed no real opportunities for their implementation.
To a certain degree the alleged conflict between freedom of expression and religious freedom had ignored the European reality. A dangerous limiting of freedom of the press proceeded from the increasing monopolisation of the commercial media market and not from the unforeseeable consequences of the internet. Europe's media are subject, as the Briton so boldly expressed, to a continuous process of 'stupification'.
A repeated accusation against the religious communities was that they reacted 'in too sensitive a manner'. Sulaiman Wilms demonstrated on the basis of studies from Germany that the unfair reporting could have negative and irreparable consequences for the affected Muslim communities and individuals. Even if there were 'later refutations or corrections' irreparable damage to the concerned persons could on occasion be done.
In view of the constructive atmosphere at the plenary, Wilms welcomed this exchange of experience and expressed his view that the Muslims need to participate more at a European level in such discussions - but this was 'not a viable substitute for the setting up of sustainable and professional Muslim media.' 'No one can remove from the Muslims the task of representing their own views', said Sulaiman Wilms.