The risk-bearing nature of journalists’ work continues to be laid bare for all to see. The world witnessed the brazen murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul last October, and still we decry the prolonged imprisonment of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in Myanmar, writes Daniel Bruce, chief executive in Europe for Internews.
In response, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured) has declared 2019 to be a year of diplomatic and practical action on press freedom and journalism safety. The UK government’s push to convene ideas and find new solutions is a refreshing move- take human rights lawyer Amal Clooney’s appointment as Special Envoy on Media Freedom just last week.
The enormity of the challenge, however, cannot be understated. In my view, it comes not a moment too soon and is worthy of greater public concern.
The need to equip the world’s journalists with tools to perform to the best of their ability – to do so safely and in the knowledge that crimes against press freedom will not be met with impunity – is massive and growing.
While the British Foreign Office has long supported a mix of discrete projects to strengthen the media space around the world, this is the first time in recent memory the issue has become such an explicit focus.
Khashoggi is among 80 recorded deaths of journalists in the line of duty last year. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are among more than 400 journalists being held in prison or held hostage worldwide, as a result of their work. These figures are up and the worst for years. And yet they are but the tip of a terrifying iceberg.
It’s disturbingly easy to pick a country at random and find troubling evidence of these trends. In Serbia for example, the Independent Journalists’ Association reports that 2018 witnessed double the number of harassment and intimidation cases against journalists compared with two years ago.
Worldwide, Internews provided training and support to upwards of 10,000 journalists in more than 60 countries last year. Yet still, this is but a larger chunk of the same iceberg of urgent need.
Back in 2014, through the efforts of then Foreign Secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie, the Foreign Office quite rightly mobilized international alarm at the horrors of sexual violence in war zones. This increased profile struck a powerful chord with the general public; the fundamental qualities of humanity causing profound concern at the cumulative horrors of conflict.
In 2019, as civic space rapidly shrinks in too many places, we should be equally horrified at the consequences for journalists and journalism; the negative impact this has on the ability of society to function properly; the grim fate of the murdered, the missing and the imprisoned and fellow human beings persecuted for seeking and reporting the truth.
The last decade has created a perfect storm that threatens the survival of free and independent media. As global internet giants gobble up the world’s advertising budgets by the billions, the staple revenue stream for non-state backed media has vanished, with much independent journalism the casualty of an economic collapse. Propaganda and misinformation are quick to fill this information vacuum.
Online, investigative journalism has opened new avenues of reporting in repressive environments, yet the digital revolution has brought additional dangers for journalists as well. They are confronted with a cyber security minefield where their data, their content, and their contacts are all vulnerable to hacking and surveillance by those wishing to silence the truth. Hundreds of journalists, especially freelancers, tell us that better digital security is one of their greatest needs.
The high profile cases of Jamal Khashoggi, Wa Lone, Kyaw Soe Oo and many more underscore the importance of Jeremy Hunt’s continued campaign. This truly is the issue of our time. It remains vital to call out the most egregious violations of journalists’ rights – and to increase the diplomatic costs for their perpetrators. But a successful campaign must be even broader and display greater ambition.
It will need equal attention, at the very least, to the commercial and digital threats to a free and effective media. It needs the public at large to care about the fate of journalists and journalism. Yet, public and diplomatic outrage at abuses of press freedom also has limitations; we need an on-going effort to make media stronger, everywhere, to prevent those abuses in the first place. Taken together, these challenges need sustained attention, at scale, over a period of years. It requires greater collaboration between like-minded nations, and commitments of international support that will outlive any government of the day.
With each missed opportunity, each media outlet’s lost battle for economic survival, each wrongly jailed journalist, every life lost – another little bit of the truth dies with them. Much as the past decade has brought acute disruption and peril to the global journalism community, so the coming decade should be characterized by a concerted effort to stem the tide.
If the international community fails in this mission, we will creep ever closer towards a global, Orwellian truth-deprived dystopia. Let’s not wait until we get there before we start to care.
Last chance to register for EAPM EU Presidency Conference
Hello, health colleagues, and welcome to the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update – we are looking forward very much to the 9th EU Presidency Conference, under the auspices of the Portuguese EU Presidency, which takes place online on Monday, 8 March from 9-16h CET – the aim of the game is all about establishing a health policy framework across the EU, writes EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan.
EU Presidency Conference
The EAPM conference will feature a wide range of keynote speakers from across the EU, including Christine Chomienne, vice chairwoman of the Mission Board Cancer at the European Commission and professor of Cellular Biology at the Université deParis, France, MEP Pernille Weiss, and Daria Julkowska, co-ordinator of the European Joint Programme on Rare Diseases.
In terms of the themes undertaken by the conference, these will include propelling health care through an effective governance framework, and update on the Europe Beating Cancer Plan, and the role of biomarkers and advanced molecular diagnostics.
Health-care systems are not always ready to respond to the opportunities. The disruptive nature of personalised care challenges traditional patterns of thinking. Practices, presumptions and even prejudices that date from before the millennium resist a 21st century approach to healthcare.
The conference will be seeking to move towards establishing a policy framework, in order to realize the potential of personalised health care, and not only in Europe: Europe’s engagement in global research and scientific enterprise can benefit the population of the entire planet.
As far as the conference is concerned, it is absolutely clear that it is necessary to formulate a personalised healthcare-centred strategy involving decision makers and regulators in the arena of public health, to enable the EU and member states to contribute to integrating personalised medicine into clinical practicewhile enabling much-greater access for patients.
For the opening session, which is entitled propelling health care through an effective governance framework, at the start of the 2020s, wide-ranging changes are under way in European society and governance, with a new European Commission, a freshly-elected European Parliament, and a growing conviction among Europe’s policymakers that people must be at the centre of any successful and sustainable strategy. The ambition of new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is a Europe that ‘must lead the transition to a healthy planet and a new digital world’. And Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides acknowledges that “European citizens expect the peace of mind that comes with access to health care… and protection against epidemics and diseases.”
The second session deals with the EU’s Beating Cancer Plan, and the conference will examine the new technologies, research and innovation that the Cancer Plan is taking as a starting point, in terms of setting out a new EU approach to cancer prevention, treatment and care.
Europe's Beating Cancer Plan will be supported by actions spanning across policy areas from employment, education, social policy and equality, through marketing, agriculture, energy, the environment and climate, to transport, cohesion policy, and taxation. A total of €4 billion is being earmarked for actions addressing cancer, including from the EU4Health programme, Horizon Europe and the Digital Europe programme. Expectations have been heightened by European strategists’ attachment to three key ingredients for courageous transformation: incentives, innovation, and investment. These reflect the pre-conditions for boosting health care into higher levels of efficiency, where the value of personalised medicine approaches can be fully appreciated and make its full contribution to Europe’s citizens.
This discussion of personalised health-care depicts a Europe where many chances for improvement are not yet fully being taken up. But this is not merely a catalogue of deficiencies. The variations and inefficiencies it presents are an argument for triggering radical rethinking, and for making the most of personalised health care. It highlights the endorsement of incentives, innovation, and investment by a new breed of Europe’s leaders. And it focuses on the ambitions that would support the development of personalised health care, diagnostics and medicines.
Everyone - from newborn babies to the elderly, from sufferers from chronic disease to acute cancer patients, and from health ministries to funding agencies - stands to gain. The price is nothing more than a shift in policy. The prize – in terms of value to the economy and to lives - is priceless.
As far as the role of biomarkers and advanced molecular diagnostics is concerned, the conference will also deal with this important subject in a latter session - today, biomarkers have immense scientific and potential clinical value in the diagnostic testing pipeline. They span the broad diagnostic sector from the genome to the phenome over various ‘-ome’ levels and have been used since the earliest days of the application of molecular biology. A biomarker signature is capable of revealing specific biological traits or measurable physiological changes, according to a disease status, physiological or pathological condition, or after drug application.
An understanding of biomarkers ties in to the existing new understanding of epidemiology, precision medicine, and pharmacogenomics, the deployment of technologies such as genomics, single cell sequencing, microbiome analysis and transcriptomics, and the opportunities arising from bioinformatics and digital innovations, which can be transformative for individual patients.
As novel gene-based diagnostics proliferate, they will be increasingly important to drug development, approval and later in clinical practice. There are numerous promising singular biomarkers or more complex multiple biomarker signatures available, the most important of which are currently used for assessing drug development, patient stratification or measuring the efficacy of treatment in therapeutic medicine. Clearly there is a translation problem to transfer the results from molecular diagnostics research to drug development and finally clinical practice. In future, biomarkers and their interaction on various levels will increase the molecular and cellular knowledge of disease and drug mechanisms.
Von der Leyen proposes EU-wide health passport
The European Commission will present legislation for a digital health pass before the end of March. The announcement follows a virtual meeting between EU leaders last week, where Greece and Austria urged other states to adopt vaccination passports in order to restart travel and tourism. However, others remain on the fence due to concerns over vaccine efficacy and discrimination. Following the discussion of vaccines and travel restrictions by EU leaders during the European Council video conference, the bloc is taking further steps to reintroduce travel across the continent. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet that legislation is being prepared for a ‘Digital Green Pass’. This will serve to provide proof of vaccination, test-results for “those who couldn’t get vaccine yet”, or information on COVID-19 recovery.
Von der Leyen, who has been the Commission’s president since December 2019, said that the digital pass was needed to facilitate Europeans’ lives. The proposal, she said, will be finalized and presented before the end of March.
That is everything for this week from EAPM – remember, registration is still open for the EU Presidency conference but only until the end of today (5 March) – 150 people have already signed up, click here to register and join them, and click here for the agenda. To those who will attend, EAPM looks forward very much to joining them on 8 March – stay safe and well, and have an excellent weekend.
EU ready to take further steps if China amends Hong Kong's electoral laws
In response to an announcement by the National People's Congress in China that it would deliberate on amending the electoral system of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the European External Action Service issued a statement saying: "If enacted, such reform would have potentially far-reaching negative consequences for democratic principles and democratically elected-representatives in Hong Kong. It would also run counter to previous electoral reforms in Hong Kong and renege on the commitments enshrined in Articles 45 and 68 of the Basic Law to introduce universal suffrage in the elections of the Chief Executive and Legislative Council.
"The EU calls on the authorities in Beijing to carefully consider the political and economic implications of any decision to reform the electoral system of Hong Kong that would undermine fundamental freedoms, political pluralism and democratic principles. As agreed by EU Foreign Ministers, the EU stands ready to take additional steps in response to any further serious deterioration of political freedoms and human rights in Hong Kong, which would be against China’s domestic and international obligations."
A decision can be expected by 11 March.
Fishing firms could go bust over Brexit, MPs told
British fishing businesses could go bust or move to Europe because of post-Brexit trading disruption, industry figures have warned, writes the BBC.
MPs were told paperwork due to new border controls had proved a "massive problem" and should be moved online.
They also heard extra costs had made it "impossible" for some firms to trade profitably.
Ministers have promised action on disruption, and £23 million for affected firms.
The UK government has also set up a taskforce aiming to resolve problems faced by the industry in Scotland.
The Commons environment committee heard funding could have to continue, and be widened further, to help the sector weather Brexit-related problems.
- Eat British fish campaign needed - Johnson
- EU shellfish import ban indefinite, industry told
- What does the deal mean for fishing?
Outside the EU's single market, British fish exports to Europe are now subject to new customs and veterinary checks which have caused problems at the border.
Martyn Youell, a manager at south-west England fishing company Waterdance, told MPs the industry was facing more than just "teething problems".
"Whilst some things have settled down, some obvious issues, we feel that we remain with at least 80% of the trading difficulties that have been encountered," he said.
"There are some extreme forces operating on the supply chain, and we probably will see some forced consolidation or business failure."
"The exporters we deal with are seriously considering relocating part of their processing business to the EU because of the difficulties we face".
He said the "largely paper-based" forms they now have to fill in had pushed up costs, and called for the UK to work with the EU in moving them online.
'Lot of anger'
Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland, said the problems could lead to smaller firms in particular stopping trading with Europe in the medium term.
She said the annual costs of the new paperwork, between £250,000 and £500,000 per year, were too much for them to sustain.
But she said many "can't see where they could turn" at the moment because travel bans and the Covid pandemic have closed off other markets.
She added there was "a lot of anger" about the design of the government's £23m compensation scheme, which links funds to provable losses due to Brexit.
She said it meant many firms which had "worked through the night" to get shipments ready had not been compensated for extra costs.
Sarah Horsfall, co-chief executive at the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, also criticised the scheme, noting firms that "made massive efforts" didn't qualify.
She also called for ministers to adopt a different approach to persuade the EU to overturn a ban on British exports of some types of live shellfish.
After leaving the EU single market, these exports from all but the highest-grade fishing grounds have to be purified before they can enter the EU market.
The UK government has accused the EU of reneging on a previous commitment such exports could continue with a special certificate.
Ms Horsfall said there had been the "propensity for a bit of a misunderstanding" among either UK or EU officials about the post-Brexit rules.
She urged a "more nuanced approach" from UK ministers in resolving the matter, noting their "bullish" response "perhaps hasn't helped either".
And she said a more "flexible" regime for determining the quality of British fishing waters could provide help to the industry in the long-term.
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