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Chairman's report to the 2014 Annual General Meeting

With membership numbers steady at a historically high level, a good turnout at lunchtime meetings and European matters consistently high up the UK news agenda, 2014 was a lively and successful year for the AEJ UK Section.

I am extremely grateful to Margaret as Secretary, Mike as Treasurer, David Lennon as Events Director and Celia Hampton as website editor-manager for helping to keep up the level and quality of the Section’s activities. As well as our regular professional lunches we organised (as in previous European Parliament election years) a special briefing event before the May 2014 EP elections. The surge of support for UKIP, which became the largest UK party in the European Parliament, added spice to the already saucy list of ways in which "Europe" has moved back to centre stage in British politics. Members were also notified and invited to a good number of special interest events staged by other organisations with which we have friendly links, including the Foreign Press Association, the European Movement and the Commonwealth Journalists’ Association.

I am glad that we were able to welcome a good many new and younger journalists to our meetings during the year. In the year ahead we need to put extra effort into publicising and promoting the AEJ and our events in journalism schools, press clubs and other gathering-places, as well as via email. Rick Thompson’s smart AEJ flyers and leaflets are available for that purpose. You are invited to take some of these and distribute/display them, and to go on encouraging journalists and Europe specialists to come to our meetings or join as members.

The AEJ’s international dimension: New blood came into the international AEJ with the election of Otmar Lahodynsky, a leading Austrian journalist (on profil magazine) as President and Fabrice Pozzoli-Montenay from the French Section as AEJ Special Representative for Network Development (cross-Section and online projects). David Lennon stepped down as one of the three international Vice-Presidents and I replaced him in that role, while keeping my responsibilities as AEJ Special Representative for Media Freedom.

 

 

The AEJ Congress in Austria in October marked ten years since the end of the Cold War. Members from all over Europe heard presentations from political figures directly involved with the historic exodus of thousands of East Germans from Hungary over the border to Austria in August 1989 – a seminal moment in the tide of events that led to the Fall of the Berlin Wall in November that year. A special envoy of the government of Ukraine also gave us his passionate inside view about the Russian-backed attempt to break up Ukraine. And we had an intensive debate about current attacks and threats directed at journalists in many parts of Europe, including Ukraine, Turkey and Italy. Full details are upon the website www.aej.org

Among the AEJ’s significant international activities last year were the signing of a formal agreement with the Council of Europe in December to contribute to an ambitious new "Freedom of Expression Platform". It is meant to act as an alert and rapid response mechanism to counter the rise in violence and abuse against journalists. The AEJ was among the main forces which have pushed for several years for member states to take proper responsibility for protecting independent journalism and the lives of journalists who routinely face the risk of violence or arbitrary imprisonment because of their work. This is now acknowledged as a top priority issue for media freedom and the future of European democracy.

Please see the AEJ websites for more about our public statements and active engagement in defence of press freedom and journalists’ safety. Best wishes to all for the year ahead.

William Horsley, 24 January 2015