SPEECH published on 17 May 2018

United We Stand Strong

It’s an honour to speak to you today, here in Pravets, during Bulgaria’s first presidency of the Council of the European Union. It also happens to be my first visit to the region since taking on this role as Director General of the European Broadcasting Union. So, as far as transformative, rewarding new undertakings are concerned, I’d say I’m in fine company.  I hope it makes clear the EBU’s strong commitment and continued partnership with the public service media organisations in this wonderful region.

When taking on the EU presidency, every country brings its unique perspective to the table. And it’s clear that Bulgaria’s proud history, of co-existence between communities, of binding together those from different backgrounds, has shaped its priorities. Most evidently, we see this in Bulgaria’s decision to make EU enlargement in the Western Balkans an important issue of its Presidency. I very much admire this spirit of openness and ambition, borne of geopolitics and history, and enshrined in the Bulgarian motto ‘United We Stand Strong’. It’s a sentiment I strongly believe also applies to the EBU.

Today we will hear about the successful initiatives you’re working on that might support this aim, and wider media priorities, in the Western Balkans - whether that’s helping to protect media from political interference, or sourcing the funding needed for independent reforms. I hope also to learn more about how the EBU can better understand your needs. How we might support you and share our core values - universality, diversity, independence, accountability, innovation and excellence - as we strive to live up to them in all we do.

Thank you to our friends at Bulgaria National Radio, who the EBU has worked with for many years now, for providing this chance to come together to discuss our shared commitment to public service media in South East Europe. And thank you to my colleague Radka Betcheva for all the work she has done with you all over many years.

It’s this common goal and the unique perspective each of you brings, which strengthens and enriches our union – and I’d like to focus on this today. Because now more than ever, we’re at a pivotal moment for media – here, in wider Europe and across the globe. Digital change, more akin to a revolution, causing disruption on a scale we’ve never faced before and complicated further by environmental factors that are less new, but no less important. Of course, that brings with it some real challenges.

I’ll start with impartial, accurate, trusted news.  A key pillar of every modern democracy. A vital tool in challenging government, sharing and reinforcing European norms and standards, and upholding freedom of expression. 

I've worked as a journalist, producer, editor and media manager for thirty years and, I believe, it's no exaggeration to say that the threat to press freedom is greater now than at any time in the last three decades

We have all seen the latest figures of the World Press Freedom Index from Reporters without Borders and they are worrying. They show a rising trend of politicians openly attacking the media – not just in authoritarian states but also in democracies right here in Europe.

And news is not our only challenge.  There are many more.

There’s often less money than there used to be;

There are growing political movements that may not recognise the value of public service media;

There are rapidly changing viewing habits to contend with, especially among young audiences;

There’s increased competition for audiences’ attention, as the popularity and power of media streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon continue to rise, along with their huge content budgets. 

And tech giants like Facebook and Twitter remain largely unregulated as they dominate a relatively young, global social media landscape.  

While it’s our duty to be alive to those challenges, it’s just as important to recognise and play to our strengths at a time that offers vast opportunity too.

To clarify and reaffirm our commitment to the audiences we serve;

To understand the power and value of content that only public service media would create.

To proclaim loudly that we are by far the biggest investors in European content at 18b euros a year.

To take advantage of the trust that goes hand in hand with independent public service news and make others aware that we are the most trusted sources of news, particularly on radio.

To work together, harness our expertise, and capitalise on our shared commitment to common ideals.

The EBU is here to support you in all of your efforts.

  • Support you with With World-class content from news to music and sports – I hope you enjoyed this weekend’s Eurovision Song Contest as much as I did.  My congratulations to all of those who made it through to the final – and to Albania and Bulgaria who achieved very good scores – even though both finished ahead of Ireland!
  • We are also here to support you through lobbying and representation both at a national and international level;
  • And we are here to provide expertise in everything from technology & innovation to legal advice and audience research.

But most importantly we are a conduit by which broadcasters from throughout Europe can come together to share experiences and learn from each other.  And we are very proud to work alongside you where we can.

  • BNR’s Radio Journalism Academy is going from strength to strength, transforming talented young journalists into skilled trainers too.  It’s a great example of how our partnership has helped meet a specific regional need, empowering BNR to be more self-sufficient in training. And empowering the public it serves by sustaining its own independent, impartial journalism.
  • Albania’s new editorial principles and strategy for RTSH - its vision, technology, and management of channels – show what is possible with hard work and perseverance.  And how progress can be made when nations have a critical mass of professionals who understand editorial standards and want to implement them;
  • And I am delighted that we’re working with many of you on a technical assistance project to support media reforms in this region, in which 1.5m Euros will be invested for the benefit of Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia,

Investigative journalism in the regions also continues to make progress, bringing previously unseen issues of corruption, the abuse of power; financial controversy and environmental disaster out of the shadows and into the light. 

And, let’s not forget, this progress is made in the face of threats to some of those working on the front line. 

I know everyone here joins the Prime Minister of Montenegro, and indeed the EBU, in the strong condemnation of the shooting of Olivera Lakić, an investigative journalist with the Vijesti newspaper - and in welcoming the criminal investigation into this shooting, opened by the state authorities. 

Such an attack – any attacks on journalists - are attacks on fundamental freedoms and democracy.

There are many more ways to draw on the expertise and support of the EBU and all Members, whether that be in learning; lobbying; innovating; creating.    

We remain committed to speaking out on such issues and representing your interests at the highest levels of authority – all of us being here together today sends the message that we continue to stand together to reaffirm the vital role public service media plays in this region.

It also allows me say publicly that we remain committed to supporting you when we can be of help - you may be aware that our Partnership Programme is available to support Members and also for events like this which it has supported.

Just like you, the EBU is going through a period of change.

My priorities are to forge closer relations with our member organizations, to improve our communication with you and our response to your needs.

That is why we have restructured the organisation and set up a new member relations directorate.

That’s also why we are conducting a review of our member services in consultation with you to find out how we can support you better.

We want to improve our core services, which is why we have agreed a new white paper for the News Exchange that involves more investment and a roadmap for the future.

It’s also why we are pressing ahead in other areas - with the new Sports Strategy for instance or looking at ways we can expand the genres and improve our successful Music Exchange.

We want to help you transform your organizations, which is why we have new initiatives like digital transformation.

We need to be heard internationally which is why we have restructured our legal and policy area and are strengthening the already strong teams in Brussels and Geneva.

These and many other changes will be part of our new strategy that we are working on with Members and will publish at the end of the year.

25 years ago we took a bold step, merging InterVision and Eurovision because we understood the power of Public Service Media in Europe that speaks with one voice, and that we are stronger united.

I believe that spirit of co operation and solidarity is more needed now than ever. Just look at what’s happening in the world.

I honestly believe that the uniqueness of public service media, our national and European content, our journalism, our innovation, our range of content across all genres and platforms and most of all our values are genuinely more important now than ever.

We need to make sure our voice is heard.

We want to see you thrive and change to meet the challenges of the future.

We are open to changing ourselves to secure the future of public service media.

Most importantly we want to work with you to make sure this happens.

Enjoy the conference.

Thank you.