Luc Caregari: Because I think there [are] some serious issues where Luxembourg is still lagging behind, like access to information. We’re still one of the very rare European countries not to have a legislation on this. I think it’s very important to understand this access to information has nothing to do with the law on transparency that was passed last year.
We’ve always been saying: ‘Yes, we’re happy to have this law but it’s not a law for journalists.’ We can’t work with delays of one month and having to go before this commission that barely exists. If you’re still refused access you have to go to court. We don’t have the time, not everyone has the same means to go to court. We don’t think this is a solution to our problems. We’ve did some intense lobbying before the elections with the press council, we teamed up.
There’s been a little success. It’s now in the governmental programme. Now we have to keep up the pressure to make sure it happens because it’s really a necessity.
It might be true it’s getting worse. It might also be true it’s getting more visible right now because journalism has evolved in the last 10-15 years. It’s evolved into something more critical. It’s become far more professional and this is a consequence of it. It’s an issue we also have to address. With the union we are working on it for the moment, to provide also judicial assistance. It’s a medium-term project to provide judicial assistance, not only to members but to every journalist who feels gagged by a company. I won’t say that we will pay your lawyers. We don’t automatically pay the lawyer. That would require a lot of means.
The idea is also to issue information material about your rights in the case you have an issue with a company or institution that wants to suppress critical reporting.
Traditional media funding models which rely on advertising sales play a part in this. The Luxembourg state also subsidises media. In 2018, it gave €7.08m to print publications and €1.08m in online subsidies. Where do you stand on subsidies?
Without subsidies, media plurality wouldn’t exist. A newspaper like Woxx wouldn’t exist without subsidies. Let’s be clear about that.
What’s happened to the subsidy reform?
The idea was that [prime minister and media minister] Xavier Bettel wanted something before the elections in October  so he did something very quickly. I’ve talked to him and he’s about to reform his reform. He’s been very clear that he doesn’t want a reform where any of the existing press titles disappear. They are looking at very different models.
What are the key controversial parts for you when it comes to press subsidies?
I think for the moment there’s a certain amount of money which is stocked every year and that’s the cake that has to be distributed. I think the cake should be bigger and it should be more fairly distributed to every media out there. It should be helping the platforms that are only online without forgetting something very important, that the old media also needs help: financial and maybe knowledge help to transition from paper to online.
Let’s be clear, in 50 years there won’t be much paper left. So, it’s important that everyone prepares for it. That would be the best scenario, where everyone gets a fairer share. For the moment it’s the two big houses that get the very big parts: Editpress and St Paul. And the others get the crumbs of the cookie.
The current criteria for media to receive online subsidies are two articles per day for two full-time journalists. But, it doesn’t specify what kind of articles. How could this be clearer?
I think this should be included in the new law and maybe you shouldn’t make a difference between paper and online any more. Maybe, just subsidise per journalist not what they write. That’s going to be very complicated.
There are other issues, like the press card commission of the press council [which decides who receives a press card]. In this model the commission will have far more power. Don’t forget they do this for free, and when your decision can decide over workplaces. That’s something I would like to see revised too.
There are some 556 accredited journalists in Luxembourg working for over 20 different media in varying sizes. It’s great to have so much media, but are we spreading ourselves too thinly to be able to work on important things like investigations?
I wouldn’t mind seeing people team up to do bigger research. We’ve said it in the past, people could do it on an international level, look at the Panama Papers or something like that. As far as I know I’m the only one who worked with the ICIJ [International Consortium of Investigative Journalists]. I worked on the Panama Papers too.
Do you think we need to beef up training in Luxembourg and make it more fit for the challenges journalists face today?
Absolutely. But the press council and all the people who work there except the secretary are volunteers. It’s very difficult. We sometimes did conferences. Inside ALJP, if there’s a training [course] that European or international federations offer members, we go there or send someone to have that training. We try to pass over that knowledge we should do more about that, that’s clear. I think it would help a lot of journalists to share knowledge about how investigations work, how to use the register of commerce, your rights. To know who to talk to. And, of course, something very important, how to treat your sources.
Journalists have a huge responsibility and when faced with the armies of press teams at multinationals in Luxembourg, it’s a very particular environment. Do you think we’re in a journalism crisis right now?
I don’t like the term ‘crisis’, it can mean anything. I think it has become more visible now that’s there’s a difference of force between investigative power of journalism in Luxembourg and the financial place.
I think for years some colleagues working for the economic pages that are more specialised have maybe become too close to the communication aspect of these houses. That’s the problem in a small country like Luxembourg. It’s not only for economics, but the distance between you and the subject you’re covering is very small.
I think we see now more clearly where we stand as journalists before all this international finance place stuff that’s going on. I think we need also to be very honest to ourselves about this and I think that would be a first step forwards, to be clear about it. And to say we’re very small and they are very big, maybe teaming up could be a solution to be more into investigations and not have to wait until I don’t know, Mediapart or The Guardian says, ‘that’s Luxembourg’, and all the Luxembourg media stands there like an idiot saying, ‘We didn’t see this coming.’
What about the government’s relationship to the media?
They communicate a lot but they are not giving out very much information. There’s so much communication, we’re drowning in communication since 2013, and the new coalition. We’re being drowned in communication. But to pick out information from there takes a lot of energy because mostly they communicate for everything and nothing
They’re trying to enforce a kind of storytelling. They want their stories out. It’s our job to contradict the story if we know better. If the story is true, why not say the story is true. It doesn’t hurt my pride to say they are right. But you always have to question their storytelling.
Do we need to raise awareness among the public about what to expect from media and what is misinformation?
I’m also a member of the executive board of the press council and we’ve been working on that for years now. It’s getting better. We’re working with the ministry of education. We’ve the ‘prix du jeune journaliste’, young journalist prize, which has become a staple.
Luc Caregari was born in 1979 and grew up in Esch-sur-Alzette. He achieved a bachelor's and master's in French literature at the Sorbonne and a professional masters in Franco-Germany journalism, also at the Sorbonne. Before joining Woxx in 2005, he did an internship with German left-wing daily "Taz". He was the first president of the ALJP, which formed out of a merger of three existing unions. He has served since November 2017. He has published two books in Luxembourg.