Maja Sever is honest about the challenges that journalists will face in their work, Source: Maja Sever

Maja Sever: Journalism is a pillar of democracy

Maja Sever: Journalism is a pillar of democracy

An interview with the president of the European Federation of Journalists

Maja Sever has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Zagreb, however, her professional experience started even earlier in the early-1990s when she covered reports from the frontlines during the Croatian War of Independence. She has developed a profile as a political and social journalist, having worked as the editor of Hrvatska uživo daily magazine. In 2019, she was elected as the president of the Trade Union of Croatian Journalists, and currently, she is also the president of the European Federation of Journalists.

How and when did you start your journalistic career?

I started as a journalism student at the University of Zagreb, and I worked part-time on the 3rd Program of Croatian Television, mainly programs for children and young people. Then the (Croatian Independence) war started, and all programs except the news were shut down. I applied for the news program and they sent me to report from Sisak, on the front line. As a war reporter until the end of the war, I also did ordinary journalism work for a daily news program in Zagreb, and I stayed in the informative political program until today.

As a president of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), what are you trying to improve or change? What are the biggest challenges for European journalists?

Unfortunately, the biggest challenge today is the safety of journalists. Although media environments, audience demands, and work technology are changing extremely quickly (we can’t see how artificial intelligence will affect journalism yet), cases such as the war in Ukraine and increased attacks on front-line journalists – show that safety is our priority.

EFJ is an organization that systematically works on many levels. As far as safety is concerned, we have a big Safety4Journalists project in which we train and educate members, develop a system of efficient assistance, and soon we will make guidelines for members at the national level.

We try to share already acquired knowledge and good experiences, such as the security project in the Netherlands, and across Europe and help our colleagues to strengthen the protection systems in their countries. But at the same time, we work intensively on several projects to help local media, protect against SLAPP lawsuits, and work on strategic documents such as the European Media Freedom Act.

Why is journalism important to democracy? Can we have a democracy without it?

Journalism is a pillar of democracy, the public good, and the people's right to know. No, we cannot have democracy without journalism, because if citizens are informed by algorithms, by experts in social networks who know how to amplify and manage algorithms, or by social media, then the truth will not be prevented from reaching those who have the right to it.

Journalism serves citizens and the public interest and thus defends democracy. These settings are very simple, and that is why it is important to defend professional quality journalism and ensure conditions for journalists to work freely. This does not suit politicians and other powerful people, but we know what and who journalism serves.

Can social media replace traditional mass media?

Social media is a tool, not a content producer. So far, we have marketed classic journalistic content through traditional mass media, but today's audience, which consists of citizens who want information, is partly on social networks. It is up to us to use them as a platform to address the audience.

How would you describe the present and the future of public broadcasters across Europe? Can we say that they promote universal human values?

I truly believe in the importance of public broadcasters. Stable funding and political independence are also emphasized in the EMFA, and we support these requirements along with additional ones - how to ensure them. In times of changes in the settings of media systems, public broadcasters should be the backbone of professional journalism and media that promise human values in general. We have to find a way to ensure that and I believe that a strong public broadcaster is very important for strengthening journalism.

What topics are fertile ground for fake news and disinformation campaigns?

For example, during the pandemic, there were conspiracy theories and accusations related to the epidemic. I would also add intimidation with the presentation of migrants as a threat to the "traditional" way of life.

We hear and read a lot about the damaging effects of disinformation and fake news. How should we fight against them?

By strengthening the position of journalists and editorial staff. Journalists know that they have to check the facts, and editorial staff need to provide constant education in new tools for fact-checking and provide the conditions and resources so that journalists have time and resources to do all the necessary actions before publishing the text.

Speed, clickability, and superficiality are also enemies of fact-checking; faith needs to be restored, and then the resources and labour rights of journalists should be strengthened so that the fight against disinformation is part of someone's daily work.

How do journalists cope with propaganda and disinformation in the context of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine? Does the EFJ organize training courses or workshops for its members to inform them how to recognize disinformation?

Yes, we either organize them or refer members to the possibility of applying for further education. The journalistic community at the European level is well-connected; technology allows us to share information and calls, and we do this regularly.

What is your advice to young people across Europe who are thinking about becoming journalists?

Go ahead. Journalism is the best job in the world. I have been working for over thirty years and I still go to work joyfully. It will become harder and harder to do because we live in crazy times, but being a journalist is a great thing.

This article is part of Read Twice – an EU-funded project, coordinated by Euro Advance Association that targets young people and aims to counter disinformation and fake news by enhancing their skills to assess critically information, identify vicious and harmful media content and distinguish between facts and opinions, thus improving their media literacy competences.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union nor of TheMayor.EU



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