In his farewell speech as president of API-IPA, Tom Weingärtner deplored the decreasing news value of the European Commission's daily journalists briefing and an unwillingness to provide real answers.
"The news value of daily briefings has plummeted compared to the previous commission when it had already reached an all time low," Weingärtner told API's general assembly.
The general assembly saw the election of Katalin Halmai as new API president. Theresa Küchler and Dafydd ab Iago were elected as association vice-president.
On a positive note Weingärtner noted increased API membership, up some 15% since the end of 2017. And the outgoing president pointed to generally good relations with EU institutions as well as rotating EU presidencies which has allowed several technical and practical issues to be settled. These include opposing a €50 fee for security checks for journalists intending to cover European Councils.
"We urged journalists not to pay the Belgian security check invoice. In the end, the government dropped the fee - also thanks to the quick intervention of outgoing API vice-president Kris and other Belgian colleagues," said Weingärtner. API is calling on Belgium's federal parliament to speedily approve necessary changes to the corresponding law.
In terms of the European Commission, Weingärtner noted that many spokespeople continue to do an excellent job of answer journalists' questions as well as possible. "There is more background information than in the past and more technical briefings, albeit sometimes of different quality," he said. And he also pointed to the greater presence of EU commissioners in the Commission's press room
"But I see a disconcerting disregard for journalists and unwillingness to really answer questions that are not on the commission's own agenda. There's no news value to briefings if even the top commission spokespeople are unwilling or unable to give real answers to problems facing the Europeans we're reporting for," said Weingärtner. He warned that the Commission appears eager to drop the daily briefing when possible, notably during European Councils and Tuesdays during the European Parliament's Strasbourg week.
"We should be able to put questions in person to the commission on a daily basis and get real answers. But this is impossible if the will is lacking on the other side," said Weingärtner.
More generally, he deplored the ever more difficult situation of European journalists, notably evidenced during his API presidency by the murder of ten colleagues at Charlie Hebdo, Maltese colleague Daphne Caruana Galizia as well as Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend in Slovakia.
Weingärtner called for API to work with those fighting to protect an open climate for the press.