September 20, 2012
“Freedom of Media is for us … I mean, it is a sacred principle. It is a problem of values. Let’s have no doubts about it.” stated the President of the Commission in respect of the controversial Hungarian Media Law adopted in 2010. And now, on the occasion of the 15th EU-China Summit on 20 September 2012, we were informed that there would be no Press conference at all.
(Photo: World map of press freedom © Knight Foundation)
Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi?
I certainly wouldn’t be upset if I received clear, concise and fair arguments. But all what we got is evasion of the real issue. Since there was no clear announcement we had to read between the lines. We were informed that the summit would take place in the Palais d’Egmont, a Belgian stately home which has – unfortunately – only limited access for journalists. (EU summits are normally held in the EU Council building and open to any EU-accredited reporter to come and ask questions.)
In addition to that, instead of clear communication, the two sides – officially – blamed each other.
(…) For its part, the European Commission blamed China for the press gag. The EU spokeperson said: “We held a number of meetings with our Chinese partners on this … but it was not possible to agree conditions that would have enabled the press conference that we would have liked to take place.” (…) Chinese EU embassy spokesman Wang Xining told EUobserver:
“Whenever there is something that does not conform to European habits and the commission is asked by press about it, it always blames China. I’m very disappointed about this.”
To make it clear: we are talking about an international federation of powerful states and the most populous emerging power of the world. And the joke is that it is not a joke.
This was not the first time when such an incidence happened: the Commission had received similar critics when they did not find time for a press conference on the occasion of José Manuel Barroso’s meeting with Chinese vice premier Li Keqiang in Brussels in early May 2012.
In every culture, the respect of guests and courtesy is important, I admit that. But at the same time, any guest should accept the receiving country’s habit and respect its legislation either – including the fundamental rights the media freedom is absolutely part of. Thus, if an EU delegation visited China, it should not expect an open, free and fair press conference. Fair enough. Nonetheless, what if a Chinese delegation visited Europe? Since this is the case now, why the EU shall accept such a degrading situation? What if the next visitor from country X demanded to skip the press conference? And if Member State Y asked for the same? I simply cannot follow this logic.
If the EU has a certain level of standard and a high EU official met with the representative of another country which has another level of standard: shall we always compromise our values and downgrade our claims in order to have a consensus? What will we abandon then the next time? Our climate goals? Let’s have only a 11% emission limit for 2020 to have a globally binding legal instrument which is acceptable for everyone? Or the public health? Shall we then lighten the strict EU regulation on dangerous chemicals (REACH) to allow competitive non-EU companies to come to Europe? This is really the pathway we want to follow?
I would like to mention another element: on the day of the Summit, while working in my office, I realised a massive demonstration on the streets of Brussels in support of Tibet. Such a demonstration could took place but this is not the case everywhere in Europe. May I refer to the visit of the Chinese Prime Minister in Hungary in June 2011 where through administrative and legal tools, any attempt to make such a demonstration had been prevented. Do we really want to see this happen in the next time?
I remain at your disposal.
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Related earlier updates:Zoltán Massay-Kosubek