Catherine Andre: Cross-border journalism has a promising future in the EU

The founder and managing editor of Western European cross-border media voxEurop speaks about the challlenges before creating a pan-European public space

Vladimir Mitev

An interview with Catherine Andre – founder and managing editor of voxEurop – a France-based cross-border media, which publishes in five of the Western European languages, about cross-border media in the EU and beyond it. Vladimir Mitev asks her about her media, about its collaboration with newsrooms throughout Europe, about challenges related to polarization and creation of EU public space, protection of journalists from SLAPP cases and potential for cross-border journalism outside of the EU.

Welcome, dear listeners of Cross-border Talks. You are now going to listen to an interesting discussion with Catherine Andre, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the French cross-border media, called voxEurop. VoxEurope has recently republished some of the articles from Cross-border Talks. And it was interesting to approach voxEurope for a number of reasons, mainly because both Cross-border Talks and VoxEurope are trying to be cross-border in the European Union. And there is a certain tendency for cross-border media, cross-border journalism to grow. It is also a tendency linked to discussions about the need for a European public space, basically a space where different citizens of different languages or cultures can be aware of what is happening in their region or in the whole of the EU. So we have various things to discuss. Mrs Andre, what is the history of your media? How did your team decide to found it? And how would you describe its mission and achievements so far?

Hello Vladimir. Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to present voxEurop and talk about our mission and all the achievements we’ve made so far and all the projects we have. 

If we start with the story, it really started at Courrier International. I don’t know if your readers are familiar with Courier International, but it’s a French weekly based in Paris, where the journalists read the press from all over the world in all languages and each week they select the best articles and reprinted them in French. It was a real newspaper. And within the Courier Internationale there was a website in 12 languages called Press Europe. 

Press Europe was actually a response to a call for tender from the European Commission. And after five years of activity, the subsidy was not renewed. Press Europe had to be closed down. So for a year it had almost disappeared and some of my colleagues at Courier International continued to try and keep it going and publish articles. It’s really a story of some journalists who had worked together at Courier International. I didn’t work for Press Europe myself. I was the editor and deputy editor of Courier Internationale and in later years Courier Europe. So we had worked together quite a lot. 

And a year after the end of Press Europe, we decided to relaunch a new website, taking some of the archives and some of the know-how, especially the capacity to translate into many languages. We co-founded, together, three to four people, actually voxEurop, which was initially an association. But in 2017, we decided to give it a cooperative form. So we became the first press cooperative in Europe, which is an interesting model, very resilient as we’ve seen so far, with a set of values that we all share and decided to share. 

So the mission that we have given ourselves is quite different from its predecessor, Press Europe, which was more oriented towards theEuropean institutions. We are really trying to inform European citizens across Europe about the major challenges of our time, challenges that transcend borders and affect all Europeans, across Europe. So at the moment we publish mainly in five languages and we hope that at some point we’ll be able to publish in more and more languages. We publish in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. All the articles are translated into those languages. In the future we’d like to be able to publish in Romanian, Polish, Czech, Portuguese and Dutch.

At the moment we are concentrating on the five languages that I just mentioned and we have decided to focus on four main issues and challenges that all Europeans are concerned about and are trying to find solutions to. The first one is climate change, the second one is politics and democracy. The third is migration and asylum. The fourth is social issues and questions of inequality. And of course, since the invasion, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we are also focusing a lot on Ukraine and the regional consequences of the war and the consequences for all European countries, actually. So we publish very regularly on Ukraine.

That is basically the story of voxEurop. In terms of achievements, I think what we’re really trying to do is to contribute to the creation of a European public sphere. By distributing articles and translating them, we enable all citizens to have the same information, of course different kinds of information, because they are published from different languages and in and by different journeys across Europe. And we also syndicate a lot of articles. So we select some articles that are published by partners across Europe and we publish them and translate them into the other four languages. We think that today we are contributing to this new kind of cross-border journalism, that we are not the only ones to do it of course, but we are participating in a number of collaborative journalism or different projects that bring together different media across Europe to work together on this from European information.

Thank you very much for this presentation. And it’s very good that you mentioned that you are also collaborating or encouraging the further spread of this tendency of cross-border journalism in the European Union, because voxEurop will be one of the coordinators of the activity of the project Pulse, which aims to form a large transnational newsroom of media from Lithuania, Czech Republic, Austria, Greece, Spain, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. 

You mentioned that voxEurop wants to publish in more languages. So this Pulse project would allow the publication of media content between different partners in 12 European languages, since voxEurop is part of it. I would like to ask you again, maybe a little bit more about the concept of this cross-border journal or pan-European public space. Why should European citizens be able to access content without language barriers? What benefits should this access bring to them, and to what extent could the cross-border media projects that you advocate lead to the creation of a pan-European public space?

, we believe that these translations allow all Europeans to have access to the same kind of information and especially information that crosses borders. So it’s both translations into many different languages and it’s also information that’s not just focused on national interests or national specific issues. Of course it does touch upon them, but it also shows that we are all dependent on each other in Europe. And this kind of project, I think, really plays an important role in democracy. That’s why we at Vox Europe believe in these kinds of projects like Pulse and others that I’ll mention later. 

Pulse is really a collaborative desk. So it’s basically a project that has allowed us to produce articles in a collaborative way across Europe with 13 different media that you just mentioned. We actually translate into all these languages and even more languages that are not specifically EU languages, but we don’t publish, we don’t have the resources at the moment to publish in all these languages. So, of course, through Pulse, we will be responsible for the translations into all the different languages. And of course those translations will be published on our platform. So it’s really one step further. 

As far as the European public is concerned, it is Blackbox Europe and other collaborative projects. I think we believe that this plays a role. This can play a very big and important role in the circulation of different kinds of information coming from all the different countries and also the different regions.

Okay. When we talk about having a common pan-European public space, maybe we should take into account that the western part of the EU and the eastern part have had different historical experiences, even though they are now in the same European Union with laws or other things that are common. There are different experiences and maybe different narratives generally between these regions. For example, we see that eastern member states like Romania and Bulgaria tend to be associated by some Western Europeans with corruption or maybe conservative attitudes to some extent towards reform and things like that. On the other hand, we also have, let’s put it in quotes, “eastern narratives” that are perhaps opposed to the European Commission’s green transition, LGBT rights and so on. Or even on Ukraine, maybe there are some differences. 

How should cross-border media deal with polarisation at the level of societies, regions or the EU as a whole, if we bear in mind that cross-border media, by definition, means that these media do not only exist in one place, do not only focus on one context from which they write or reflect on the world?

Yes, exactly. You actually said it. We should not just focus on national polarisation, because of course there is some polarisation, as you just mentioned, maybe between the Eastern European countries and the Western European countries. I think the tensions are rather political. For example, there is a rise of the extreme right-wing parties, which can be seen also beyond the Eastern European countries. You have these extreme right-wing parties all over Europe. In the wake of the European elections, I think we’re talking more and more about this phenomenon and it’s everywhere. 

As far as I can see, as a journalist based in the Western European countries, I think more broadly and I read the press from all over Europe. And I believe that this kind of cross-border journalism helps us to go beyond this kind of East and West. And I’m not saying that they don’t exist, because the history is different, but I think polarisation is really a tendency of our time throughout Europe, almost in every country, even in countries where you would have thought, like Portugal for example, that maybe the extreme parties, the extreme right-wing parties would be kept in check. That’s not the case anymore. Perhaps by taking a broader view of political forces that are trying to promote democracy, defend freedom of the press for example, or defend freedom in general, or maybe care more about migrants, we can make these extreme right parties understand that such kind of openness exists in most European countries? 

It’s difficult to be done, because in Hungary you have a government that is positioning itself against a number of issues that are regularly raised by the European Commission, as you just mentioned. That doesn’t mean that the whole country believes in it. We thought that we had probably lost Poland somehow. And with the reelection of Donald Tusk we see that history is going in a different direction again. And I think by having a broader view of what’s happening in all European countries and also having a view of the different political parties that exist we help to have a better understanding and maybe less division as there used to be between the so-called Eastern European narrative and the Western European one.. And I think Poland is a very, very good example for the reduction of this division.

Okay. You know that throughout Europe there is a growing concern about the need to protect journalists from so-called SLAPP cases. The EU has recently adopted a directive aimed at providing such protection, and it is now in the process of being transposed into the national legislation of the EU member states. I would like to ask you two questions about this. Firstly, to what extent do you think that efforts to protect journalists in the EU from major legal claims against them or their media are sufficient at the moment? And secondly, what more needs to be done so that the influence of big money on the press is not so hegemonic in society?

Yes, I think it’s an interesting agreement that the MEPs have reached. It is anti-SLAPP legislation, especially because it also applies in cross-border cases. And that’s quite interesting. And it’s a way of trying to protect journalist freedom and the media freedom. It’s probably not enough. We have a big problem in Europe at the moment with the freedom of information and the safety of journalists. As we know, the number of cases of journalists being killed in a number of countries has increased quite dramatically. And there is a need for protection of people and organizations working in all areas of fundamental rights, in the area of the environment and in another area where there’s been an increasing number of cases – that is the area related to freedom of information or the freedom and  journalists working on these very sensitive issues. So, basically, I think this is a step in the right direction in the fight against this disinformation. There has to be a place for corruption investigations, where there is a lot of intimidation and harassment of journalists. I don’t know if you need more details. But that would be my answer.

I accept what you said. I’m generally interested in how big money can be limited in its influence, because we are waking up in our capitalist societies to a reality in which perhaps some financial companies or even individuals or, if you like, legal structures have really enormous resources. And just to give an example, in Bulgaria, for example, there are parties that are known, or were parties in the last elections, that are known to be sponsored by just one person, and they were just a bit below the threshold to get into parliament. It was not because these parties really had some great proposals for solutions to social problems. They had a good score, because the people or the person who was supporting these parties were very influential financially. How could big money have limited influence on the press, given that we live in a market economy and capitalist societies?

I would answer that. Of course the best solution is probably to have more independent media. Of course the media is an economic entity. They’re quite fragile when they’re independent and it’s often a real struggle to survive. And maybe not just to depend on subsidies. But the independence of the press is one of the keys. 

In some countries, even public media can fall under control. After an election, you can have a new government, and that the government that we had in Poland, for example, for many years, had taken control of the public media. So it’s not just a question of public and private media, it’s a question of the independence of the press and having all the mechanisms to protect the media and the work of journalists. So independence is probably the key. 

And there could be mechanisms to help the independent media to be sufficient and enough in a country, not to depend only on one big public media, for example, or one private media, because it’s the same with private media. The relationship between financial capitalism and democracy has always been a problem. And of course the more financial capitalism takes over the more sensitive these issues of freedom of information are going to be. 

So there’s no easy solution to prevent media takeover. But of course the work of the judges is very important in some cases. And probably then I think the EU could play a bigger role in this protection and naming the llack of freedom and naming the risk and trying to prevent the concentration of media that can, in the end, be detrimental to the quality of information across the EU.

OK. Thank you for that. Basically, you see the European Union as a place where there is still hope in this regard, or there is still the ability to do something about it. I would like to ask you about non-EU countries in this context. 

Whave seen that in the last decade or more there has been a general decline in freedom of speech in a number of non-EU countries, for a number of reasons. But perhaps the geopolitical competition between, let’s say, the West and the periphery in the world has intensified. Maybe there have been deep states in these societies, or vested interests that have put limits on free speech, and free speech is perhaps seen as a tool that is used by enemies in some cases of these societies. So there may be different reasons, but I would like to ask you, given that we are talking about the EU and cross-border journalism, how likely is it that cross-border media, which is now gradually growing in the EU over time, will reach out through their networks to countries outside the EU, and to what extent cross-border journalism could be a kind of EU brand or EU type of journalism that could eventually be exported, or maybe at least inspire efforts for cross-border public space in other regions like Asia, Africa, South America?

Okay, maybe I will start with the countries that are not in the EU. We are of course following and thinking about, for example, Georgia and many other countries, before I talk about Asia and Africa and Latin America. I think that this cross border journalism is really an open-minded way to either compare the situations or maybe to give an overview of a path that some countries have taken and where we have been successful in preventing disinformation, for example. So we publish, for example, on voxEurop regularly on the Georgian situation. So I think if we have access to articles that are published by, for example, independent journalists, whether in EU countries or non-EU countries, it gives a more independent view of what’s going on. So it’s not just an EU phenomenon. 

Cross-border journalism is a form of journalism that can be an inspiration and can open spaces for those journalists to maybe be published if they can’t be published in their own country. It is the case of independent media that had to flee Russia, for example, or decided to leave Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. Of course, at the moment we’re all dealing with potential fake news and Russian influence. That is all over Europe. This problem is not necessarily more widespread in non-EU countries than in EU countries. Maybe the EU is better equipped to maybe fight it, but it’s everywhere. 

What I mean by that is that we have common challenges across Europe in EU countries and non-EU countries. I’m just talking about journalism because that’s what I know best. I suppose that politicians could do the same thing. If you want to defend democracy and of course defend the role of journalism by giving journalists the opportunity to publish their work – the features, the analysis and the op-eds in different languages across Europe, I think it does help. So it’s a model. 

I don’t want to say that cross-border journalism can be exported to other regions of the world because we don’t have to look at it in a neo-colonial way. I think every region has its own way, I suppose, of fighting for democracy and finding a way to support freedom and independence, including independent journalism. So I wouldn’t say that we should export a cross-border public space, but of course, the stronger the public space is, the more information can circulate. And of course, I suppose the translation that we promote helps to have access to information that you wouldn’t have access to if you only speak one language. And not everybody speaks English. Many people do more and more  in Europe, thanks to Erasmus and education. More and more people are able to read in English. But it’s always easier than to read an article in your own language. In South America you have Spanish and Portuguese. So the question of translation is probably not as acute. But cross-border journalism, I think, is a very interesting model and a promising one, I suppose. And it’s good that it’s spreading.

Okay. Let me finish with your last sentence about the phenomenon of cross-border journalism. Do you think that the media that operate across borders have variations depending on the political and social context in their countries? Or is the norm and the standard for cross-border journalism just one? Is there basically only one and only way of doing cross-border journalism, or could there be a multitude of different reincarnations of cross-border media in different contexts?

Yes, I think that’s a very difficult question you’re asking me because I don’t think there is one model and certainly not a European model that should be applied to everybody, to every region. I think national contexts can be different all over the world. That’s for sure. And there’s not just one way to do it, but I think that independence of thought and independence of research and investigation is probably something that’s quite universal. If you can’t do your work, if you can’t investigate, if you risk being put in jail… we see these problems in Russia every day, if you disagree with what the government is doing and you publish your opinion. This is perhaps a universal way of looking at democracy. 

But I think the media is a key not only to promote democracy but to prevent dictatorship or authoritarian regimes, to intervene via freedom of expression and freedom of journalism and information in general. So we can always be basically redefined. I don’t think there’s a single model, although I think we learn a lot from each other in what we do today. We are in contact with so many different media throughout Europe. For example, I wouldn’t say that all Romanian media are the same. Of course all Polish media is not the same. They are all very different. So, of course, we tend to work with the media that share the same kind of values and the same kind of goals and projects to try to contribute to a stronger European public sphere. In general, that’s one of our goals.

Photo: Catherine Andre (source: Catherine Andre)

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