print this page

LJCC Holds Seminars with Journalists


The London Jewish Cultural Centre conducted three seminars bringing together journalists and news organizations from around Europe with key stakeholders in the United Kingdom.

The concept of a series of three seminars was to examine the nature of racial prejudice in Central and Eastern Europe and the role of the media in addressing it.  The methodology was to bring together journalists from a number of European countries and media representatives, politicians, academics and others from the UK to debate specific issues, including antisemitism, Holocaust denial, anti-Roma attitudes, media regulation and political partisanship of journalists and news organizations.  In other words, this was peer-to-peer working.

Amongst the seminar speakers in London were a former Foreign Office minister, the former editor of the Independent newspaper, Simon Kelner, the columnist, Jonathan Freedland and filmmakers Rex Bloomstein and Nick Fraser. At the third seminar in Budapest, there was a presentation by an MEP and by leading Hungarian academics.  All three seminars were organised with the LJCC by the journalist, broadcaster and academic, Professor Jon Silverman of the University of Bedfordshire.

The context of the seminars was that journalists and the media are both opinion formers and opinion reflectors – what role can or should they play in combating historical and modern forms of antisemitism and racism?

The first two seminars were both held at the London Jewish Cultural Centre, in London and the third seminar was held at the British Embassy in Budapest, at the invitation of the Ambassador.

Journalists from different political positions joined in discussions with one another.  All participants expressed a desire to do something similar again, especially those from Hungary, Ukraine and Slovakia.

The seminar provided an opportunity for the participants to reflect on their own practice, the nature of bias, and how they went about collecting information and preparing articles.

For many, the type of discussions that they had at the seminar was a new experience. They were not used to discussing practices of reporting with others or analysing the language or style they used or were asked to use.

The role and influence of social media is an important influence in all the countries involved. Increasing numbers of the journalists were news gathering and disseminating news through social media, especially Facebook and Twitter.

Many of the journalists expressed the view that the seminar afforded a rare (sometimes, unique) opportunity to discuss the attitudes and pressures of their own news rooms away from those environments.  The journalists openly discussed bias and political pressures in the media environment including their own.

Many participants believed that the history of their own country had affected attitudes to presenting news and the stereotypes that they used to convey issues. They did not necessarily think it was the role of their media organisation to change those views. However, on a personal level, most of the participants claimed to be uncomfortable using stereotypes and expressed a desire to avoid them in their own work.

In all the seminars, discussions around regulation, codes of conduct and professionalism were extremely important. There was a belief that the role of a journalist should carry with it universal principles that the amateur reporter (so-called “citizen journalist”) would not necessarily understand.

Many of the participants felt that recent political events in their own countries had affected or altered the way news about political figures and policies were reported.   All participants stated that they would not be able to get a politician to agree to an interview unless the politician felt that the interviewer would not challenge them.

Issues around fairness, bias and balance were discussed with great interest but those from a broadcast background said that there was not a code of ethics to guide them such as the one adhered to by the BBC and ITV in the UK. And importantly, nor was there a “public space,” such as exists in the UK, where opposing political and ideological ideas could be discussed without extreme rancour, frequently bordering on defamation.

In targeting potential participants, LJCC worked with the network of IHRA countries, representatives and delegates of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine.

Individual journalists were targeted through the assistance of press attachés at embassies, UK Foreign & Commonwealth desk officers, London Jewish Cultural Centre resources and knowledge of Eastern Europe, BBC Field offices and University of Bedfordshire networks. 

This project was made possible through the funding by the IHRA, The Foreign & Commonwealth Office and HIRS’s credible and independent endorsement.