Brussels Media Express – volume 2

We are happy to present the second edition of Brussels Media Express, the newsletter of the Association of European Journalists in Belgium (AEJ Belgium). 

As summer’s warmth embraces us, our pages come alive with a vibrant mix of European news and insights – from political developments to cultural highlights.

Please note our next edition is tentatively scheduled for September, where we’ll continue to keep you updated with the latest developments, new topics and exclusive content. 

During our general assembly, which took place in mid-July, a new board was elected. To all our members and beyond, thank you for your support. In the second half of 2023, we can reap the fruits of this work! Part of that will be assisting in bringing the Play of Daphne Caruana Galizia to Brussels. We are currently in contact with our partner Bozar to potentially host the event there. The AEJ Albanian section will help to organise the AEJ annual conference in the historic southern city of Vlorë on 25-29 October 2023 (Only for AEJ members). If you want to become a member, don’t hesitate to contact us here

Happy summer and happy reading!

This edition includes the following topics:

  • 2023 EU Rule of Law Report: A Closer Examination of Media Freedom
  • The Latest Development on SLAPP and EMFA
  • AEJ Belgium takes part in the ‘Foresight Seminar’ at the Maison Jean Monnet
  • The Current Debate on Education in Belgium
  • Our New “Talk of the Town” Segment

2023 EU Rule of Law Report: A Closer Examination of Media Freedom

The media freedom chapter of the European Commission’s 2023 Rule of Law report, which was published on 5 July, warns that media concentration remains a ‘high risk’ across the EU, while political independence is at medium risk. 

Five EU member states (Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Slovenia and Malta) are classified as ‘high risk,’ and four (Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, and Hungary) as ‘very high risk’ regarding media pluralism. Some EU countries have introduced legislation or improved the availability of media ownership information, while others are discussing revising rules. 

Meanwhile, the text argues that transparent rules for fair state advertising allocation and safeguards for public service media remain problematic in some countries. In Hungary, for example, the report warns that no measures have been adopted or planned to regulate state advertising allocation. In Austria, the parliament has approved measures to enhance the transparency surrounding state advertising – but the issue of fairness in its distribution still remains unaddressed.

Journalists’ safety and protection from abusive legal threats, which sometimes only aim to silence a story, are also cited as critical concerns. Some EU member states have taken measures to improve journalist safety, addressing, for example, the use of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) to harass journalists and rights defenders.

The Latest Development on SLAPP and EMFA 

With 498 votes to 33 and 105 abstentions, the European Parliament adopted its position on new rules to protect journalists and rights defenders against strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) — paving the wave to finalise the draft legislation between EU countries and MEPs.

This directive aims to combat the chilling effect of SLAPP lawsuits, which are often used to silence journalists and activists through intimidation and financial burden. However, it is important to note that the directive will not be applied retroactively. This means that the new legislation will not affect cases that have already been decided or are currently under judicial review.

Meanwhile, AEJ Belgium has joined other advocacy groups in an open letter urging MEPs in the LIBE committee to introduce a complete ban on the use of spyware against journalists under the European Media Freedom Act.

AEJ Belgium takes part in the ‘Foresight Seminar’ at the Maison Jean Monnet

The first weekend of July, members of the Association of European Journalists in Belgium attended a seminar at the ‘Maison Monnet’ organised by the Association of Jean Monnet. With the French countryside as a backdrop, the seminar’s participants were split into three groups, each tackling a different topic in relation to the EU’s enlargement policy. The AEJ’s members joined a group of participants, ranging from Pontifical University representatives to the Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies (CREAS) founder in Brussels. 

The diversity in attendants brought forth broad and, at times, opposing viewpoints. Participants were asked to send a list of questions to prepare for the debates. These were then used by the moderators and members alike as a point of reference for the overall discussion. 

One group dealt with the EU’s approach to governance. The members of this group could not immediately find common ground on the possible Ukraine’s EU membership bid. 

The Common Agricultural Policy emerged as a matter of uncertainty in this context. However, participants did find a middle ground regarding the lack of solidarity between European nations. Those who disagreed before on governmental issues mostly saw eye to eye on communal responsibility in the face of crises. 

The Current Debate on Education in Belgium

In Belgium, a lively debate about the inclusion of children from immigrant families, who sometimes have not developed sufficient Dutch language skills, has divided opinion in the education community. 

This controversial debate was further inflamed when several Belgian media outlets shared insights from education expert Dirk Van Damme, who suggested placing these children in separate classes to improve the overall education level in Flanders. An article published on Het Laatste Nieuws supported this idea, but the article lacked thorough research and failed to consider existing studies that contradict the hypothesis.

Extensive research overwhelmingly supports inclusive education, where language learners are integrated into mainstream classrooms. Studies from 2017 and 2019 have demonstrated that inclusive settings have positive effects on both academic and social aspects for language learners. 

While some studies suggest the advantages of separate classes with intensive language support, the majority of scientific evidence supports inclusion. This complex subject highlights the need for a more thoughtful and less divisive discussion on the topic.

Instead of laying blame on migrants, the focus should be on finding comprehensive solutions to improve education for all children, regardless of their linguistic background. In the pursuit of better education, a balanced and evidence-based approach is essential to address the complexities of the issue.

Talk of the Town: Brussels Takes a New Step in Addressing Drug Abuse

In our new “Talk of the Town” segment, we will provide a rundown of local news in Brussels. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has fuelled crack use in Brussels, raising concerns for public safety. Metro Ribaucourt, metro Clemenceau, metro IJzer/Yser: these stations have become infamous among regular commuters. Tensions have recently escalated near the IJzer metro station when two men were attacked by a drug addict.

In response to the mounting safety problem, Brussels minister Alain Maron (Ecolo) announced plans to establish a second consumption room in Brussels, building upon the success of the existing ‘Gate’ facility that opened in the city centre last year. The idea is that these harm-reduction rooms not only prevent overdoses but also offer connections to healthcare, thus providing users with an opportunity to break free from the cycle of drug abuse.

Advocacy groups such as the Alhambra Committee, a group of residents living close to metro IJzer, have long campaigned for additional consumption rooms to tackle drug-related issues. They argue that by creating these safe havens, drug use in public spaces will be discouraged, making the city streets safer for all residents.

While Brussels might have been a bit late in adopting harm-reduction consumption rooms compared to its neighbours (the Netherlands and Germany have had them since the early 1990s), the city is now playing catch-up. The Brussels Region plans to open a multidisciplinary centre for addiction care on the banks of the canal in Molenbeek in 2026.

Discover, Learn, Grow: Five must-read articles (in case you missed them)

  • EU lawmakers push to enhance protections for journalists in media law (possible paywall)
  • The Insider journalist says she is receiving anonymous threats to her family in Russia (free)
  • Media pluralism at risk: Europe needs a stronger EMFA (free)
  • France’s Murdoch? Right-wing media swoop threatens ‘pillar of French democracy’ (free)
  • Croatia Journalists: Govt is ‘Watering Down’ Anti-SLAPP Directive (free)

Thank you for your support. 

Stay tuned for our next edition of Brussels Media Express coming soon!

AEJ Belgium

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