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Sanssouci Colloquium
Media Prize
Youth Media Workshop
Offshoot Workshop
Background Paper
Working Sessions

The 2008 M100 Sanssouci Colloquium continued its mission to build bridges between the European media and their colleagues in other parts of the world. In 2007 the Colloquium invited media from the Middle East. This year the focus was on the media in Eurasia – Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asian republics. The decision was taken before the conflict had broken out in Georgia. Naturally in the light of this event, the conference acquired a highly topical character and reflected the tensions that have developed in its aftermath. Russia assumed a central role in the discussions: has it re-emerged as an imperial power seeking redress for lost territory, or is it a humiliated beast whose trust in the West has been betrayed? Less attention was paid to China’s role and the concerns of Central Asian republics; but it was clear that media links with the further reaches of Eurasia, where journalism is still a young profession and largely controlled by governments, deserve to be pursued further by the Sanssouci Colloquium.

Working Sessions
Participants included journalists and media executives from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, and several Central Asian Republics. The exchanges reflected concern that a new Great Game with high stakes is being played out in Eurasia involving Russia, China, the US and Europe whose outcome is unpredictable. Journalists, both those subject to government control and censorship and also the free media in democratic societies, where policies can be questioned without inhibition, are to some extent caught up as opinion formers in the current troubling phase of East-West relations. The Colloquium discussions illustrated that at times of conflict or high tension, media loyalty to the nation often wins over objectivity while awareness of the interests and sensitivities of foreign countries diminishes. Participants delivered conflicting interpretations of the Russia-Georgia conflict. The internet can by-pass national media and participants questioned whether the time will come when the internet and not the national media will dictate how world affairs are described and interpreted. But the conflict in Georgia has served to highlight a deeply worrying question: whether the internet is predominantly acting as a source of information, or is being used by parties to a conflict to spread hatred and suspicion. The Colloquium heard how the BBC reluctantly suspended broadcasts of internet messages about the crisis in Georgia after it was overwhelmed by what was seen as an orchestrated campaign of hatred against the West’s involvement. This experience could well lead to the conclusion that sport may be the only subject where there is a lingua franca that ignores cultural and political barriers, and where the media can find common cause and report without inhibition and prejudgment.

Plenary Sessions
As an prelude to the Plenary Session John Lloyd, chairman of the Working Sessions, summed up his impressions of the exchanges. The conflict in Georgia had lent immediacy to the discussions. “The debates between the journalists were sharper, franker and more urgent than at the previous meetings of the M100 Colloquium. We were not just discussing theories of what might or might not happen, but were talking about current events in the region.”
John Lloyd listed political themes that emerged:
The new Great Game in central Asia with Russia, China and the United States as the main players
The shift of power from the West to the East.
The view of several participants, including Russians, that Russia poses a threat because it is bent on asserting its claim to great power status, is seeking redress for the loss of former Soviet territory
The opposite view that Russia has in some sense been cheated by the West which failed to fulfill the promise of building a common European house. As NATO approaches Russia’s borders, Russia sees itself surrounded by NATO and feels that its trust has been betrayed.
Thus two contrary interpretations of Russia’s policies were discussed: either it is acting as an imperial power or as a humiliated power.
John Lloyd said that this was the backdrop for the media themes on the conference agenda. Participants clashed over the way the media had interpreted the conflict in Georgia, had rallied to support their governments and were used for propaganda purposes. “Journalists became combatants.”
The internet and its impact on the dissemination of information was among the broader issues to which John Lloyd referred. It has opened a new era of openness. It produces a vast flow of information, some of it deliberately misleading, and by-passes national media and the ability of governments to dictate what people are able to know. But in Russia so far only a minority of 25 – 30 per cent of the population uses the internet.
Self-censorship remains a major factor in Eurasia. John Lloyd noted that there are some independent papers and channels in Russia and elsewhere in the East. But the Colloquium was told that that the old mentality remains. The way of doing journalism has changed, methods have changed, but the mentality remains one of caution with the media fearful of taking issue with power. If this is true of Russia, it is even more so the case in central Asia.
The media in the East and West have some things in common. The media everywhere are having to confront a common phenomenon: a falling-off of audiences and readers. We also heard that on both sides, we work with stereotypes. Yet it is not the same to work in societies where freedom of expression is protected and in ones where it is not.
“We have agreed that in the East as well as the West reporting has to be at the core of journalism; and that reporting is tantamount to the discovery, the revelation of facts. There can be no compromise on that, no competing principles.” That raised the question of what happens when the media cannot tell the truth and when comment based on facts are censored.
A further issue was whether achievement of a free press and free politics in Eurasia is a matter of time only? Do we make too many assumptions?
There are no ready answers “But like the previous M100 conferences, this meeting has demonstrated the value of bringing together journalists and helping to understand each other better.”

The media need to pay much more attention to national culture and history in their reporting of contemporary events. This was a recurring theme throughout the day’s discussions and one of its main conclusions.