Media freedom and pluralism in several EU countries is degrading, according to a European Parliament report, which focussed on France and six other countries. EURACTIV France reports.
Already under strain from political and commercial interests, the freedom of the EU’s media is being further undermined by cultural and financial impoverishment.
As a result, they are finding it more and more difficult to stick to their role as independent observers, according to the “comparative analysis of media freedom and pluralism in the EU Member States” published by the European Parliament’s committee on civil liberties (LIBE).
Media and politics closely linked in France
The last 20 years have seen sweeping change in the media landscape, with the rise and proliferation of online platforms and social media, and the decline of the printed press. These changes have brought the issues of ownership and pluralism to centre stage.
According to the report, French telecommunications companies are exercising increasing influence over the country’s media sector, as they seek to control both the publishing platforms and the content that appears on them.
The link between politics and the media in France is strong. Most French media sources are owned by companies that are linked to the state through the public markets. For example, Bouygues, which owns TF1, is involved in public construction contracts. And Dassault, the owner of Le Figaro, is a major player in the French arms industry.
Some of these economic actors have direct links to positions of political power. Serge Dassault, for example, is a right-wing member of parliament in France, although he has never been part of the government. Other relations between media figures and politics are less direct, like the friendship between Nicolas Sarkozy and Martin Bouygues and Arnaud Lagardère.
Media dependency on big business can pose problems of conflicts of interest. It would be difficult, for example, for Le Figaro to provide objective coverage of Dassault’s sales of military aircraft.
Media freedom and pluralism are expressly included in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and is essential for democracy and the freedom of expression. A deficit in just one country can have repercussions for the whole of the EU, the report said. If citizens are not able to make an informed decision when electing their representatives in the European Parliament, all the EU institutions, and the decisions they take, are the poorer for it.
For the purposes of this study, the concept of pluralism covers several criteria: diverse shareholders, independence from political and economic pressure, observation of journalistic ethics and professional quality, financial stability, cultural and political diversity of content, geographical diversity and independence from regulatory authorities. None of the member states studied fulfilled all the criteria.
There is no direct correlation between diversified ownership and pluralism on the media market. But rich international owners are sometimes able to resist political pressure and provide diverse content, while financially weaker media split the market between them and seek the support of the political establishment or industry, the report said.