Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister, Minister for Communications and the Media; Credit: Jazmin Campbell

Earlier today, Tuesday 14 January, members of the Luxembourgish press gathered at the National Museum of History and Art (MNHA) in Luxembourg-ville for the traditional New Year Press Reception, held by Prime Minister, Minister of State and Minister for Communications and the Media, Xavier Bettel.

On this occasion, Ines Kurschat, President of the Press Council, gave a speech addressing diversity of opinion and the media, transparency and accountability, public service broadcasting and media reflexion. Ms Kurschat began by reflecting on the Charlie Hebdo attack which occurred five years ago. She described the incident as "an attack on the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press [which] shocked us all" and which made it seem like these "rights are not necessarily guaranteed in Europe".

Ines Kurschat went on to discuss the role of a diverse media in "an open democracy", especially regarding transparency and informing the public. Such a role requires certain "rights and resources" in order for media outlets to survive, especially "in a country as small as Luxembourg" and in the context of digitalisation. In this context, she recalled the Minister for Communications and the Media's plans to reform media support. Ms Kurschat added that such a reform implied "greater responsibility for the Press Council", and thus a transformation of its internal structure.

Turning to the topic of transparency and accountability, Ines Kurschat referred to the transparency law as "a first step for greater transparency at the level of the state" but that work remained to be done. She added that citizens remained unaware of their right to information. 

Concerning public service broadcasting, Ms Kurschat used the example of Radio 100,7 and the need for an open debate on the subject. She maintained that "Luxembourg has still not resolved the structural issue of a demographic deficit", before adding that inclusion efforts needed to extend to media policy.

Ines Kurschat concluded that a free press went hand in hand with an open democracy, adding that journalists and editors should always strive to be ethical in their work and be careful not to spread fake news in the social media era. She also confirmed that the Press Council hopes to modernise and expand its training offer for journalists. 

In his speech, Xavier Bettel, attending in his role as Prime Minister and Communications Minister for the seventh year, also reflected on the Charlie Hebdo attack, lamenting that "an entire newspaper was killed" in what was "an attack on journalists, [...] an attack on the values that we stand for as a society". He added that the incident showed the world that extremism does not have any limits. 

Discussing the work of journalists, Xavier Bettel similarly lamented that these professionals continue to "fear for their security, their life, their freedom" in their work in the service of democracy. He added: "The job of a journalist isn't getting any easier [nor] less dangerous". In this context, the Prime Minister emphasised the need to continue to defend journalists despite difference of opinion.

Discussing the press reform, planned for Spring, Xavier Bettel maintained that changes were needed in order for the media to continue to offer a "high quality press", although he recalled that it remained the responsibility of professional journalists to offer quality content. Consequently, the reform is considered "fundamental" in supporting a more independent and flexible media. He also expressed the belief that there should be an open debate in the next months (preferably in the first quarter of 2020) on public broadcasting services, such as the governance of 100,7.

Luxembourg's Prime Minister and Communications Minister concluded by touching on the topic of digitalisation and fake news. He highlighted the need to clarify "the difference between truth and lies, between information and manipulation", adding that such efforts should begin with young people in schools, as well as other sections of society.

Xavier Bettel expressed content with the constructive work accomplished together with the Luxembourgish press over the past year and looked forward to continued dialogue in the coming months on the best way forward.