Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘AEJ’

The AEJ and “Dark Power”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 18th November, 2017

2A98F1CF-39A9-47FE-9C77-5A3CA5DEE397Soft power has become an important concept in international relations since the end of the Second World War — namely, the way states use cultural diplomacy and other forms of non-military action to spread their influence. But recently a new phenomenon has been identified: “dark power” — the way some countries, especially Russia, use broadcasting and social media, in particular, to influence or interfere in the affairs of other states. This is something that particularly concerns the three Baltic States and other former parts of the Soviet Union, such as Ukraine and Georgia. The latter two have of course also experienced military interventions by Russia, but all have seen their communications and democracy come under various forms of dark power assault, from cyber-War against Estonia to Russian bots engaging in election and referendum campaigns, including the 2016 EU Referendum in Britain and the US presidential election. No wonder both NATO and the EU are concerned and have been looking at ways of countering this hostile intervention, including running facilities in the Baltic States.

Lithuania, located between Belarus and the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, is particularly concerned and the theme naturally dominated much of the Congress of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), which has been taking place in Vilnius over the past couple of days. For many Western journalists present it was quite shocking to learn about some of the methods being used to distort the narratives of a Post-Truth world, as well of examples of harassment of journalists and broadcasters through twitter and other platforms.

54C3857F-D37D-4E0D-AD4B-3A61F398D92CBut it is not only Russians who are involved. President Trump has shown himself to be a master of the dark arts of disinformation and the dissemination of fake news. One of the strongest presentations at the AEJ Congress was from Mikko Salo of Faktabaari, Finland, who outlined the escalation of Post-Truth in the region and how this can be countered by rigorous fact-checking and counter-assertions. This is an issue of which all media professionals need to be aware, as well as students and others who are operating in a world in which language is being twisted, alternative “facts” published and negative ideologies propagated by forces hostile to the nature of open and tolerant European democratic societies.

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Adventures in the Gardens of Democracy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 20th August, 2017

coverKevin d’Arcy worked freelance for many of Fleet Street’s best-known titles, as well as doing stints at the Economist and Tatler and radio programmes and interviews for the BBC and CBC. So he has been, if not exactly at the heart of events in Britain and the wider world, at least in one of the inner circles. I first met him through the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), of which he was Executive Secretary of the British Section for many years, organising briefings from the great and good from UK and European politics and beyond. But it turned out that we were — and indeed, still are — neighbours, in the borough of Tower Hamlets, where he has put in sterling service as a Chair of School Governors and related activities. Freelancers never truly retire, of course, but now that he has a somewhat less hectic lifestyle, and has notched three exotic marriages on his belt, he has taken to writing books, the latest of which, Reflections in the Gardens of Democracy (Rajah Books, £11), is a pot pourri of journalistic memories and political musings, on everything from working with the late, great Alastair Burnet, to speculating why the EU Referendum was so imperfect in formulation, let alone in outcome. Many of the chapters are short and are rather like listening the the author reminiscing over a glass of wine on a sunny afternoon in Bow — and nothing wrong with that. His style is both slick and engaging. AEJ members and other journalistic colleagues will find many tidbits of gossip. But anyone with an interest in politics and the media should also find something to amuse, if only the roll-call of famous hacks and politicos, past and present.

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No Brexit Deal Can Beat EU Membership

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 6th September, 2016

Simon FraserYesterday afternoon in the House of Commons, the Minister for Brexit, David Davis, failed to define what Brexit means, other than Britain’s leaving the European Union. But maybe that is not surprising. For as the former Head of the Foreign Office, Sir Simon Fraser, told a packed gathering of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) UK Section that lunchtime, it would be foolish to speculate in detail what the outcome will be. As the then Prime Minister David Cameron warned in the run-up to June’s EU Referendum, Brexit is a leap in the dark. But Sir Simon was in no doubt that no Brexit deal can be as good as the situation Britain enjoys by being a member of the European Union. That is not just for economic reasons, he argued; Britain’s influence in the world is enhanced by being part of the EU.

Simon said that the new rules of the game for the British government are as follows: (1) the result of the referendum has to be accepted at face value, (2) it has to try to make Brexit work, (3) there needs to be a plan for what Brexit is, how it will happen, and when. But, he warned, “we are on a long journey to an unknown destination.” Although Theresa May appointed the triumvirate of Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox to oversee Brexit, Simon believes the Prime Minister would be unwise to cede the power of negotiation to anyone else. There will be a Cabinet Committee, chaired by Mrs May. The Ministry for Brexit should rather become a sort of Secretariat for coordination. As he saw it, there will be two clear stages in the negotiations between the UK and the other 27 member states: (1) around Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, on how to unravel the UK from EU treaties, (2) around article 218, establishing a new relationship between Britain and the EU. In the meantime, the priority should be not deciding when Article 50 will be triggered but rather on formulating a proper strategy.

The government has begun consultations with business (many of whose leaders are alarmed by the prospect of Brexit, not least in the City), but Simon said it should reach out to other interest groups too. Meanwhile, the UK will probably seek to have a sui generis relationship with the EU, as none of the models being talked about (e.g. Norway, Switzerland) fits, though Britain can learn from studying them. “Brexiteers think Brexit is all about Britain,” Simon warned, “but in many ways the EU dimension is more complex. 27 states have to agree a negotiating position. And the European Parliament has to ratify the package they come up with.” The European Commission’s Brexit task force, under Michel Barnier, is only being set up on 1 October.

Unfortunately, “the UK ran out of negotiating goodwill on freedom of movement,” Simon said. “There is no single EU member that is sympathetic to what the UK is doing. For the past 20 years, political leadership in this country has been sub-standard, so will need to have a strong civil service involved — and more civil servants will be needed to cope with the massively complex issues around new trade deals. But I do not think there is any conceivable deal that would be better economically that what we have as a member of the EU.”

In that case, I would argue, when the details of the deal are available (2019 at the earliest?) should not Parliament — or indeed the British electorate — have the opportunity to say whether they still want Brexit to go ahead?

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Germany Wants Britain in the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 5th December, 2015

Cameron EU 1At some stage between now and the end of 2017 voters in Britain will be able to have their say on whether they wish the country to remain a member of the European Union or to leave. One had hoped that by now David Cameron would have announced the date, so the referendum campaign could begin in earnest, rather than the phony war that has been stuttering along recently. But as it is highly unlikely that he will have definite responses from the UK’s EU partners to his list of four demands by the end of this month, as Downing Street had hoped, things will doubtless drift for some time longer yet. Meanwhile, the other 27 member states are hoping that Mr Cameron will be minded to recommend a vote to remain and that the referendum will indeed go that way. Despite often frankly being a pain in the arse in EU fora, Britain is too important a member to be allowed just to disappear by default and the message to London from other European capitals has been “please stay!”

McAllisterThat is particularly the case in Berlin. As David McAllister MEP, a close ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told a gathering of the UK section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), the Germans believe the EU would be poorer and weaker without a British presence and will do almost anything (but not absolutely anything) to work with the British to try to find a compromise deal. However, there are red lines, not least of which is the Conservative government’s demand that the UK should be allowed to withhold benefits from EU migrants during their first four years of residence in the country. This would not only violate the principle of non-discrimination between workers from different EU member states but would also undermine the very principle of free movement of labour that is one of the cornerstones of the European single market. It is interesting to recall that much of the work in constructing that single market was done on the watch of British Conservative European Commissioner Lord Cockfield, who must be turning in his grave to see how it is now under assault (my observation, not Herr McAllister’s).

Any restrictions on EU migrants’ conditions and rights would of course have to be reciprocal, which would potentially hit the lives of many of the more than two million Brits living in other EU member states. Those who have lived outside Britain for less than 15 years and who have registered to vote in the UK will be able to vote in the referendum, which should boost the “remain” total. But the same is not the case for EU migrants who live in the UK, with the exceptions of the Irish, Cypriots and Maltese. As the outcome of the vote could have huge ramifications for the estimated 800,000 Poles in the UK, for example, that does seem unfair — especially as all legally resident Commonwealth citizens will be able to vote, even those from “new” Commonwealth states such as Rwanda and Mozambique, which were never even part of the old British Empire!

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Richard Howitt at the AEJ

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 10th July, 2015

Richard Howitt MEPRichard Howitt is one of the most long-standing Labour members of the European Parliament, representing the East of England. As he himself pointed out at a lunchtime briefing for members of the Association of European Journalists (UK Section) at Europe House in Westminster today, that region is best known for its high percentage of UKIP supporters. Some of those can apparently be pretty thuggish; Richard Howitt was literally stoned during the Clacton by-election. However, in the Parliament his main work is on the Foreign Affairs Committee and he is enthusiastic about the (still relatively new) Commissioner for External Relations, Federica Mogherini. He is less impressed by the way that Britain’s Conservative government is handling matters European. I raised the issue of refugees from Syria, whose numbers now exceed 4 million. Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have been shouldering an unfair share of the burden of looking after them and I for one was disappointed that EU member states failed to step up to the plate when the issue of possible quotas was raised at the Riga Summit. Richard Howitt clearly understands the demographic challenges that the UK faces unless it keeps an open door to EU migrants — which is a major reason he supports Turkish membership of the Union. Domestically, he party has hardened its stance on migration and immigration, but not for the first time the Labour MEPs have proved more liberal than their national counterparts, who still nervously guard their backs.

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A Liberal Response to the Digital Revolution

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 6th June, 2015

imageimageTechnology is driving the European recovery, but if the EU is to remain globally competitive it needs to educate more of its labour force in relevant skills or allow in talent from elsewhere. A million jobs in Europe are unfilled because of a lack of people with the necessary IT skills, or so a seminar organised by the European Liberal ALDE Party in Brussels was informed yesterday. One of a series of ALDE events under the title Reclaiming Liberalism the seminar heard presentations from representatives of Microsoft (our hosts in their Brussels office), Deloitte and AT&T as well as comments from the German FDP politician Markus Loening. A useful case study of e-governance in Estonia — which I witnessed for myself on a Press trip to Tallinn a few years ago — was also included. Markus in particular focused on some of the politico-moral challenges, such as finding the balance between risks and opportunities offered by the digital revolution and it was agreed that care needs to be taken to ensure that we do not have a situation in which a privileged few gain great wealth from technological development whereas the masses remain poor, accentuating the already serious levels of inequality in the post-modern world. The sheer scale and speed of new technology development are mind-blowing, especially as we enter an era of computers and robots with cognitive abilities. While welcoming many of the new possibilities it is essential that there is a degree of regulation, as well as adequate controls over their use and misuse by governments, intelligence services and commercial companies.

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AEJ Congress Neusiedl

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th October, 2014

NeusiedlBurgenland is the least populated of all Austria’s states, a jagged sliver of land bordering Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia. As such, it was the ideal location for this year’s Congress of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), when our minds were turned to the fall of Communism in Central Europe 25 years ago. It was fascinating to hear the story of the Pan-European picnic organised on the Austrian-Hungarian border in the summer of 1969, which was one of the triggers for the reunification if the continent after four decades of Cold War. These days, there is plenty of cross-border regional cooperation between neighbouring districts. But that does not mean that everyone lives exactly the same way all across the European Union or indeed sees things the same way. It was particularly striking that some of the Hungarian participants did not share the deep concerns in Western Europe about the way that the ruling Fidesz party has drifted from liberal democracy to a degree of authoritarianism. Any complacency about Europe’s future was further shattered by an impassioned presentation from a representative from Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who spoke of the realities of War and of our need to stand up to the Russians.

The Latvian European Commissioner-designate, Valdis Dombrovskis, reminded us of the stiff economic challenges still facing the eurozone, in particular, and a Spanish delegate pointed out that there are now about 15,000 unemployed journalists in Spain. Life is certainly not getting easier for the profession, not least given the pressures of censorship and self-censorship, intimidation in countries such as Russia and the misuse of anti-terrorism laws to curb media freedom in the UK, Turkey and elsewhere.

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Press Freedom in Turkey

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th February, 2014

Yavuz BaydarWilliam HorselyLike many longstanding friends of Turkey I have been dismayed by some of the developments in recent months, several of which seem retrogressive rather than progressive. The way the Gezi Park protests were handled by the police and security forces — water cannon to the fore — was cack-handed and the fact that most of the mainstream media in Turkey –not least the TV — ignored them at first was a worrying indication of the way that self-censorship in the country is now rife. Moreover, scores of journalists have found themselves sacked, imprisoned or with the threat of prosecution hanging over them, which has resulted in Turkey now figuring way down the list of states in the world when it comes to freedom of the Press. So it was timely that this evening the Zaman newspaper group organised a meeting on Press Freedom in Turkey in the House of Commons, which I chaired. The parliamentary sponsor was Simon Hughes MP, recently appointed as Justice Minister in the UK’s Coalition Government and therefore in a position to make important representations on an international level, though as I pointed out one of the most disconcerting things about the current situation is the way that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has raised the spectre of foreign plots and conspiracies, which is a narrative that resonates with his supporters when they reject criticisms from abroad. The main speakers at tonight’s meeting were the Turkish journalist and blogger Yavuz Baydar — who was sacked from his position Ombudsman on the newspaper Sabah for political reasons — and William Horsley, formerly Europe Correspondent of the BBC, currently Chairman of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) UK Section and a key player in freedom of press issues at the Council of Europe and elsewhere. All of us were distinctly downbeat in our analysis of the current situation, which is made more complex by the fact that Mr Erdogan is under heavy scrutiny because of allegations of corruption based largely on recordings which he declares are fakes. There is a common argument that maybe he has suffered from the Ten Year Test (a la Thatcher and Blair), but as I pointed out there will be a real power vacuum in Ankara if he falls or the AKP does really badly in upcoming elections, as no opposition party seems ready and able to seize the moment. I still love Turkey, but I worry increasingly for its short-term future, as the Prime Minister and his administration become more authoritarian and ever more removed from common European values.

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Big Brother IS Watching You!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 27th January, 2014

Big BrotherGus Hosein 2It’s incredibly easy and cheap to spy on people these days — wherever they are. That was the (depressing) core message of the presentation by Gus Hosein, Executive Director of Privacy International at an Association of Europe Journalists (AEJ) UK briefing at Europe House in Westminster this lunchtime. Technology means that just as George Orwell foresaw, Big Brother can and probably does watch all of us all of the time — only Big Brother could be of a variety of nationalities (or none, in the case of multinational corporations), not just those who, elected or not, in principle have a mandate to rule over us. What is more, a very significant proportion of the equipment used in this new surveillance world is manufactured by companies based in the UK. Gus Hosein identified three main areas of concern: (1) “Upstream collection”: for example the way that Google and others have agreed to allow access to electronic traffic by the NSA (US), GCHQ (UK) et al. By tapping into fibre optic cables underseas, they can literally monitor everything we send electronically, and GCHQ-monitored material captured off the coasts of the UK and Cyprus (sic) play an important role in this. (2) “Tailored Access Operations”: effectively, black ops done from a computer terminal which can compromise networks and computers anywhere in the world, through hacking and related techniques. They can, for example, turn on or off the microphone in your mobile phone without you realising. (3) “Sabotage”: the heavy stuff, which introduces “vulnerabilities” into supposedly secure systems. So can anyone have confidence in the security of any transaction by digital means? Alas, no. So who are the “baddies” in our surveillance world? Line up the usual suspects: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Israel — but also the US and the UK. Moreover, British companies have been selling the relevant surveillance technology to regimes such as Egypt and Bahrain (as I know, having been refused entry to Bahrain last time I landed there). So should we be worried? You bet. Particularly now we are in the age of what is known in the trade as “Big Data”, whereby what might appear seemingly innocuous information about us all is stored to make predictions about us (our likely purchases, as well as our beliefs or potential actions) that even we did not realise ourselves. And did you think it was smart to have a high-tech fridge or washing machine? Think again: it could literally be monitoring you and your movements. I asked Gis Hosein about drones, about which I have been quizzed at length on Iranian TV. Do we really need to fear the sophistication of new technology there as well? By now you won’t be surprised by the answer. “Drones can be flying hacking machines,” he replied, “which is what the police and security services would be interested in, more than mere surveillance.”

Links: https://www.privacyinternational.org and http://www.aej-uk.org

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Malcolm Rifkind and the Secret Services

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 2nd November, 2013

Malcolm RifkindMI6Until the 1990s there was no parliamentary scrutiny of Britain’s intelligent services; they reported directly to the Prime Minister and in principle were answerable to him alone. That changed with the Intelligence Agencies Act pf 1994, but as Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Chairman of the Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, explained at an AEJ UK Section lunch at Europe House, until 2010 MPs could only request information from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. However, the Coalition Government changed all that; these days the agencies are required to provide information to his parliamentary committee and indeed on Thursday next week, for the first time ever, evidence presented by agents will be televised. The Committee reports to Parliament and the Chairman is elected, rather than appointed by the Prime Minister. Moreover, the operations of the security agencies, which were previously not part of the scrutiny remit now are. Only the most sensitive information with national security implications is withheld or else shared on a strictly confidential basis. In the Q&A session after Sir Malcolm’s presentation I highlighted the anger felt in Germany by revelations that the NSA in the US has been tapping Angela Merkel’s phone for the past decade and asked for an assurance that the UK’s special relationship with America in the intelligence sphere did not mean that we are in on that sort of activity with regard to our allies too. Sir Malcolm expressed surprise that the Americans would do such a thing, given the obvious likelihood of negative diplomatic fallout if, as happened, the bugging came to light, and he felt it should have been a matter for a political decision at the highest level, not an initiative of the US secret services, as seems to have been the case. He also explained the use of “selectors”, which are key words or other indicators which a computer system tracking phone calls or emails will recognise and then sound an alarm; otherwise the mas of traffic is not even read or listened to, he said. He obviously takes a dim view of the way that the Guardian newspaper has used some of the material that came to light because of the work of Edward Snowden but insisted that the intelligence work done was essential, especially in combatting terrorism. As it costs the British taxpayer £2 billion a year it had better be worthwhile.

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