Roundtable 1

“The future of the Western Balkan countries’ accession to the EU will depend on how the latter will cope with challenges such as the refugee crisis and BREXIT”. “The inevitable changes that the digital technology and the social media have brought  to the modern  world have been quite beneficial but carry a lot of dangers too”.

These were only a couple of the many insightful remarks that emerged from the spirited discussion during the roundtable which took place in Athens on June 15, entitled ’Towards a different media culture in the acceding countries of the Western Balkans: Investing in raising media standards and media transparency’. Organised by the CDRSEE in cooperation with  DG NEAR (European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations), this event is the first of 2 roundtables to be held in Greece aimed at raising awareness of how accession by the Western Balkan nations is beneficial to the current EU Member States.

The speakers at the event contributed a range of different angles, knowledge and experience to the discussion, which was attended by journalists, diplomats, international consultants and NGOs.

Mr Bouras, photo-journalist and documentarian, spoke about the change of the media terrain in the digital era, as well as its consequences not only for journalists and media professionals, but also for states and their abilities to control the information flow.  Former member of the European Commission and economic adviser to the Greek government, Mr Wallden, provided an analysis of the EU in connection to the progress of the acceding countries of the Western Balkans. He was followed by Mr Sebek, who examined the meaning of the European Integration both for the Western Balkan countries and the EU within a framework of media issues. The closing speaker was Mr Ordanoski who highlighted the lack of democracy in the Balkan region as well as the state control over the media.

The CDRSEE’s Executive Director Ms Kovac was the moderator of the roundtable. On noting that the event had set an extremely high standard of public discourse on the issues, she guaranteed to implement more fruitful roundtables in the Autumn, at which the enlargement procedure will be examined through the lens of economic cohesion and  social integration. 

The event provided a forum for the discussion of the complex issues of free expression, media independence and the role of unbiased news sources for citizens in the Western Balkans through the lens of the role of EU accession, at a time of change, growing extremism and polarisation in the region and in the countries around it.

Freedom of expression is one of the fundamental principles of a functioning democracy and thus for the European Union. Upholding the values of free speech, uncensored media and democratic disagreements are core ideals, yet often difficult to instill and maintain in practice. The balance between allowing for free speech and guarding against hate speech is a delicate one that established democracies struggle with and are currently having to re-think on a daily basis, in response to the rise of violent extremism and populism. 

The process of accession foresees that the candidate countries align their standards with those of the EU and in this way, allow the citizens of the acceding countries to receive diverse and unbiased political representation and build democratic and pluralistic societies. Focussing on the role of the EU accession process, the speakers shared their knowledge and experience from the worlds of journalism, civil society, academia and international governing bodies, thus providing a multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary approach to the topics from both theory and practice.