EHU co-hosts International Journalism Forump

EHU co-hosts International Journalism Forum

An international group of journalists, media professionals, scholars, politicians, and political analysts discussed the topic “Challenges and Responsibilities in Contemporary Journalism” at an international forum hosted by the European Humanities University and the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the 25th anniversary of the restoration of Lithuanian independence. We present some of the remarks below.

Prof. Anatoli Mikhailov, president of European Humanities University

In 1942, in the middle of the Second World War, José Ortega y Gasset writes: “An entire book can be written under the title On the Responsibility and Irresponsibility of Philosophy.” Why does the author of the famous book Revolt of the Masses suddenly address an issue seemingly interesting only for purely academic discussions? He raises it, as he explains himself, in the context of a more general theme, that is, as a discourse on the responsibility of intellectuals.

Behind this formulation is a painful recognition of the fact that after the relatively stable nineteenth century, intellectuals, with their great confidence in mastering social reality through the power of their ideas, failed in the twentieth century to demonstrate their ability to prevent two of the most terrible catastrophes of human history. Echoing these reflections of Ortega y Gasset, Hannah Arendt addresses the problem of the rise of totalitarianism with a critical acknowledgment. For her, intellectuals are no less corrupt than everyone else.

Journalism is fairly new among other human professions. Its rise can be attributed to the middle of the nineteenth century. However, and particularly in recent decades with the spread of the internet, journalism has been transformed into one of the most powerful instruments for influencing the human mind and human behavior. It can become, simultaneously, an instrument used for ideological manipulation, distortion of facts, and even self-promotion for the journalists themselves. Well-known is its ability to create a separate reality that too often tends to replace reality itself.

How to utilize the vast opportunities of this profession for a responsible reflection of the reality we live in?

I am from a country called Belarus. We all, including intellectuals and journalists, share the responsibility for the illusions dominating in this country since the beginning of 1990s. Even the European Humanities University, which was established to promote the integration of Belarus into Europe and was brutally closed because of this by the authorities, should recognize a much greater responsibility for what is going on in Belarus. We are all now paying a high price for our unjustified belief in inevitable progress of society without our greater personal ability to respond to the challenges of our time! Let us hope that this conference will not be another opportunity just to talk about responsibility but also an opportunity to act in a responsible way.

Linas Linkevičius, minister of foreign affairs of Lithuania

  • Unity is very important. And I really don’t agree with those who say it’s not important. Definitely, it is our strength, our power. But the unity to do nothing—it’s not for us. And so far our actions have been really partial; so far these actions have not been enough. Maybe it’s not very popular to talk about this, but when somebody says, “let’s be careful, let’s not do something, let’s not state something, because it will be provocative…” a lot of examples of when we were reluctant to act clearly and to make clear statements occurred in 2008 after the war in Georgia and, as a consequence, we have an occupation of parts of Georgia and no apology, no excuse…
  • We say we have a red line. OK. But that red line was crossed so many times by every weapon, by rocket-launchers, and so what? Again we say that if something will happen, then we will act. And these somethings were so many, so many before. We cannot live with that, you know… it’s really not normal. We are taught to say the right things—peaceful solution, diplomatic solution. Some say convincing, and I agree with that but, at the same time, when we are not counting on Ukrainians to defend their country, which is their duty and sphere... we are contributing to the solution posed by the Russians themselves. That is, to solve the issue, the problem more quickly, the Ukrainian army must be destroyed and only then will we have peace.  Are we going to celebrate that kind of peace? I am not sure. Is it really a truth or a way to go?

Matt Armstrong, governor of the Broadcasting Board of Governors

Context is not propaganda. Context is a history. Lazy journalism means presenting without a context.

Yevgeny Kiselyov, Russian journalist, currently working in Ukraine

  • It’s not about journalism. It’s about perception. Politics is about perception. The problem of the West in general is that they continue to perceive Russia as it was 10–15 years ago. They continue to perceive Mr. Putin as the Mr. Putin whom they used to deal with in the beginning of his first presidency. They continue to misunderstand the fact that the world has changed, and it will probably never be the same again. They continue to quote the Russian foreign minister as a responsible politician who would never lie looking straight into your eyes. Call it lazy or ignorant media or media that is incapable of adjusting itself to the changing world.
  • The burning issue today is the Russian language channels broadcasting in the Baltic states and not only in the Baltic states. In my hotel room in Vilnius, I switch on my TV, and I find the channels Russia 1, Russia 24, and Channel 1. Three different tools for governmental propaganda, tools for brainwashing people in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and even Germany. In Germany, there are over 3 million Russian-speaking people. Let’s remember other countries, like the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, and Israel. Shall we do something about the distribution of propaganda channels according to the legislation of European countries? What we are lacking here is a political will. The governments of European countries should pay a bit of attention to this issue.

Jan Macháček, Czech journalist and analyst for the newspaper Lidove noviny

  • Money is escaping from print media but not making it into electronic media. Money goes to big companies such as Google and search engines, etc. So a lot of people think that the future of serious journalism will be that Google will support some serious content through powerful foundations. If media is in crisis (judging by the quality of media, I have to say it is)—how much can people expect from commercial media? Not much. To strengthen public media, we must invest into public media, because saying it is in a crisis might sound naïve, but I don’t see any other way. Media should be declared as a strategic part of the economy.
  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty should start broadcasting again in the countries it has left, because the situation is now different.

Samuel Rachlin, former Moscow correspondent for Danish TV channels, former foreign affairs and financial columnist for Danish media

  • We are watching a historic shift in the geopolitical situation and in European security. Many leaders sleep behind the wheel; many Western leaders sleepwalked into the Ukrainian crisis.
  • Propaganda is something Russians are very familiar with and have cultivated for centuries. There is a Russian word for it: vranjo. One Russian professor studied and taught Russian history and literature for many years at Washington University, focusing on how Russians themselves look at vranjo and practice it: “We, Russians, lie out of necessity. We lie when it’s convenient, and we lie just to keep in shape”.
  • In journalism, 80% of success is just showing up. And Russia Today always shows up.
  • Propaganda requires two premises: power (oxygen) and funding (fuel).
  • Propaganda is war by other means.

Kjell Dragnes, foreign affairs analyst and editor for Norwegian media

  • We heard a lot today about different ways of dealing with these issues. You should have a new press law, or you should have counter-propaganda. Ban radio or TV stations… I think that is wrong. I agree that truth will always prevail… A lie has short legs; it can run like hell but it can’t go far.
  • What can governments do? They can issue facts. Facts are important. What else can we do? Educate people, educate young and old journalists how to use the new tools that we have. Traditional media can use social media in a new way. Use language – some local residents noticed  “they were not from here, because they said ‘G’ in a different way. In the south of Russia and in Ukraine they say ‘H’ instead of ‘G.’” If it is a lie, say it is a lie. Stop publishing falsifications if you know they are falsifications.
  • Counter-propaganda is counter-productive.

Charles Krause, expert in international media and strategic communications

  • Propaganda only works if there is a grain of truth in it.
  • Lithuania is doing a brilliant job in trying to educate journalists.
  • Everybody knows why Nemtsov was killed. He was killed because he was about to reveal important information regarding Russian involvement in Ukraine.

David Satter, consultant at National Endowment for Democracy, evaluation of Russian programs

In a healthy information society, Russia Today is not a threat… The goal of Russia Today is not to impress Russian opinion, but to raise doubts about everything.

 

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Co-financed by:European Commission