Emerging media policies for EU 2019-24

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this dossier reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Healthy democracies depend on a healthy media sector,” Digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel told a recent EURACTIV eventYet, the media sector consistently faces multiple challenges, notably technological and financial, and requires a coordinated response and support from EU legislation to ensure its sustainability in the long term.

This dossier looks at what remains to be done for the media sector and explores some proposals for how to make it healthy and sustainable.

Here are some key questions that still need to be addressed:

  • Is the EU pulling its full weight, beyond countering disinformation?
  • What more needs to be done to ensure quality debates and to support democracy?
  • What can the EU do for the media sector sustainability and independence?
  • How should the media ecosystem evolve?
  • How to anchor this as a top-10 priority for the next legislature and Commission?

By bringing together key recommendations, this LinksDossier offers an overview on the above issues in order to help the European Institutions shape a coherent and successful strategy for the media sector during the next EU mandate, 2019-2024.

These issues are inseparable from the digital transformation of the media sector. European institutions and their representatives should continue to work alongside the media sector through all these transformations, making “democracy in a digital world: sound platforms and independent media” a top priority for the next  EU mandate.

Background

As the current EU mandate starts phasing out, legacy ideas are now being proposed to safeguard the integrity of the media sector. Such plans have recently been the subject of a series of policy events held at the EURACTIV offices:

  • On January 23, Fondation EURACTIV co-organised with the Green/EFA group an interactive conference as part of its Europe’s Media Lab series, asking “Can the EU do more for a healthy media sector?” Read EURACTIV's article and AEJ’s article on this event and watch Mariya Gabriel’s speech.
  • On January 24, Christophe Leclercq, Chair of Fondation EURACTIV, addressed Re-imagine Europa's conference on "Democracy in a Digital Society - Trust, evidence and public discourse in a changing media environment" in Berlin. The outcomes of the discussion shaped the “Roadmap for a New Model of the Digital Information Ecosystem” for the coming 5 years. Watch the video of the conference.

Issues

Current achievements and challenges to the media sector in Europe

Today the European media sector is faced with multiple challenges, notably:

  • Technological challenges originating from new digital platforms, social media, translation tools, widespread disinformation, unregulated content, decline of traditional financing mechanisms, etc.

Technology is both a blessing and a curse for the media sector: augmented reality, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and who knows what other new disruptive breakthroughs lie around the corner. (Stephen Boucher, Managing Director of Fondation EURACTIV)

The most outstanding example of European democracy at high risk from political interference with the media is Hungary, followed by Poland. A similar risk also exists in many other EU countries as more and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy's essential underpinnings, but as an adversary. ( Julie Majerczak, Director of Brussels Office, Reporters Sans Frontières)

  • National media concentration happens all over Europe and there are several market drivers behind this trend:

A special problem in Central Europe is the growing role of oligarch as owners, who have close ties to political actors. At the same time, several European professional investors leave these markets. In the case of Hungary Funke Gruppe, for instance, ProSiebenSat1, Metro International SA, Sanoma and Deutsche Telekom sold their media investments. (Urbán Ágnes, Mérték)

  • Cross border investment and cooperated is limited, not enhancing pan-European competition and content diversity. EURACTIV's Founder Christophe Leclerc says: "Around the time of the 2004 EU enlargement, there was a lot of Western investment in central Europe. Media were often the most independent and the most respected. Cross-border activity actually helps diversity."

 

Positions

What more needs to be done?

Despite such progress, the media sector still needs editorial and financial independence to execute its roles in supporting democratic debates:

We need EU financial support for independent quality media to survive. Without press freedom, there is no democracy in the Member States, and without democracy, there is no EU.  (MEP Benedek Jávor)

Freedom of expression and information is indeed a fundamental right protected by Art. 11 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. As such, there is now an urgent need to act and there are several ways the EU can help:

  • by developing a comprehensive media policy with clear goals to achieve over the next 5 years of legislature;
  • by making sure that competition between media outlets is based on their quality rather than on their governmental and political connections;
  • by taking steps to protect our fundamental democratic values: freedom of expression and freedom of the press;
  • by helping develop new technologies and innovative tools to become more agile, upgrade skills, adapting to the ever-changing digital ecosystem and promoting cross-border cooperation between news media organisations;
  • by helping other players develop sustainable financial plans to ensure media stability and sustainability.

How can the EU accompany an independent and sustainable media sector?

The European Union can help the media sector by taking action in three separate yet closely linked areas: disinformation, copyright, and media policy, including budgetary measures, taken from existing funds.

 

Online Disinformation

The European Commission is keeping a regular dialogue with media stakeholders and experts in order to identify what are the key indicators to measure progress in countering online disinformation.

This should contribute to a fair and transparent online campaign for the EU elections in full respect of freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and media pluralism. To this purpose, we decided in the context of the European elections that we will monitor progress on the topic of disinformation on a monthly basis. (Digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel)

Along this axis, in 2018, the European Commission facilitated the establishment of a code of practice against disinformation, a voluntary framework that aims to quell the spread of fake news online. Signatories to the code include firms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, as well as various advertisers.

Under the code of practice, signatories are only required to self-regulate themselves and performance indicators are loosely defined, features that have provoked criticism from stakeholders, including the code of practice sounding board.

“The self-regulatory approach,” Gabriel told EURACTIV, “is a chance we’ve given to platforms to show us that they can deal with the problem of fake news. If it is necessary, regulatory measures are not excluded.”

Signatories are required to submit monthly compliance reports to the Commission, demonstrating their commitment to the code. So far, two reports have been published, both of which have been received less than favourably by the European Commission, with Commissioner King previously describing the reports as "patchy, opaque and self-selecting."

Moreover, the Horizon 2020 project MediaRoad was launched by the European Broadcasting Union, aiming to support the transformation of the European media sector by building an ecosystem for innovation involving different and diverse stakeholders:

This project identified four main trends for the media sector: platformisation, automatisation, subscription revenue models, and inclusiveness of the media; and three main challenges: promote media diversity, innovative business models, and media accessibility. (Luciano Morganti, VUB Senior Researcher. Learn more here: MediaRoad Vision Paper)

 

Copyright and Creative Industries

After two and a half years, negotiations on the EU's copyright reform have concluded and member states formally adopted the plans on Monday 15 April 2019.  From the outset, the Commission underlined their intentions to assist the sustainability of the media sector with the new measures. As Mariya Gabriel has previously said:

Our estimate is that between 2010 and 2014, total revenues of newspaper publishers decreased by more than €13 billion and digital revenues increased by only €4 billion, with a net loss of more than €9 billion. This has led to the closure or reduction of many editorial teams, especially in the case of regional and local newspapers, but also at the national level. 

Meanwhile, authors' rights groups have recognised the value of the plans. Véronique Desbrosses, Director General of GESAC, an umbrella group of European authors’ rights societies has said that the text "will enable creators to be remunerated fairly by large online platforms that today are syphoning the value of the creative sector while failing to compensate creators.”

Axel Voss, EPP MEP and Rapporteur for the Copyright Directive in the European Parliament has also praised the many benefits of the plans, which, he says, "safeguard democracy by defending a diverse media landscape, entrenches freedom of expression, and encourages start-ups and technological development."

However, there has been no shortage of criticism for the EU's copyright reform. With the major platforms standing against the plans, highlighting the concerns that the directive could reduce access to information and violate freedom of expression.

Google has threatened to pull their news service out of the EU, and a number of member states continue to oppose the rules, including Poland, who most recently said that a "censorship of the internet" may be a result of the reform.

All eyes will now be on the implementation of the copyright directive across EU member states.

 

Media Policy

The European Commission should help protect European democracy and its agents by facilitating a diversified and pluralist media environment, promoting cross-border cooperation and collaborative journalism.

As declared by President Jean-Claude Juncker as part of his 2018 State of the Union address:

Europe must always be a place where freedom of the press is sacrosanct. Too many of our journalists are intimidated, attacked, murdered. There is no democracy without a free press.

As such, the Commission has planned to develop a specific support mechanism for the news media as part of the Creative Europe Programme:

Thanks to our proposal, the budget will now increase by 30% for a total amount of €61 million, fully endorsed by the European Parliament and supported by all Member States. Moreover, the research projects financed by Horizon Europe will also contribute to the development of digital media, as part of its budget (€94 billion) will help suppressing the obstacles and reinforce the synergies between science, technology, culture and the arts to achieve sustainable innovation.

In addition, the Commission is financing the Media Pluralism Monitor and other independent tools to measure the impact and risks of the digital universe on media pluralism. (European Digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel)

However, this budget is still considered insufficient to produce structural changes in the media sector and ensure that all European citizens can access quality information.

Christophe Leclercq has underlined the urgency of the issue, as well as the importance of making it one of the top-10 priorities of the next legislature and Commission in an Open Letter to President Juncker, co-signed by 6 MEPs and 6 media experts: “Beyond fake news: Strategic options for media ahead of EU elections”.

The amount of €61 million currently allocated by the EU for media-related R&D projects is not enough. The European media sector needs greater financial support, a rapid coordinated response and a coherent European strategy for the media sector for 2019-2024.

It is an opportunity for regulation to help rebalance negotiations between platforms and media companies. Building on the current copyright directive process, one should not wait for a reopening of the e-commerce directive, but leverage existing competition policy tools. (Christophe Leclercq, Chair of Foundation EURACTIV and founder of EURACTIV media network)

Global parallel developments

A number of projects aimed at fostering a healthy and sustainable media sector were launched in 2018 and several others are in place this year. For example, BBC Media Action works to support independent media in 26 mostly fragile states with the goal of building resilience through improved regulation, fact checking and media literacy.

BBC Media Action reaches around 200 million people and carries out research in many societies with increasingly fragmented media and communication environments (e.g. Kenya, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Nepal as well as in Ukraine and the Baltic states).

Consequences for democracy, society and governance in these “fractured states” are severe, as the existence of different politics, religions or ethnicities makes relationships between communities difficult and the building of shared identity extremely challenging. (James Deane, BBC Media Action)

In addition, Reporters Sans Frontières has recently announced two initiatives to respond to the worrying deterioration of press freedom in the EU and worldwide: The international declaration on information and democracy (November 2018, supported by 12 Heads of State) and the Journalism Trust Initiative (April 2018, in collaboration with AFP, EBU and GEN).

Timely and decisive interventions regarding state advertising are also needed:

Across the EU, less-liberally minded governments have tended to withdraw advertising from independent or opposition media, and to subsidize pro-government media in an un-transparent way. Speaking at a recent EURACTIV event, MEP Benedek Jávor cited research conducted by the CMPF and the EUI, showing that this was currently a risk in "18 member states."

In this vein, prompt action is needed in all EU Member States to ensure the independence of regulators and to reinforce the transparency of media ownership, with a positive effect on media freedom and pluralism in Europe. A number of existing instruments can help:

Propaganda within national media markets should be balanced with pan-European news media broadly available in the Member States. To this end, the Euronews channel should be part of ‘must-carry’ regulation in the EU. (Urbán Ágnes, Mérték)

Timeline

To date the EU has tackled media-related issues in several ways:

January 2018: the High Level Expert Group (HLEG) on online disinformation was set up.

September 2018: the Code of practice on disinformation (a self-regulatory tool) was adopted.

September 2018: an electoral package was produced with a Commission recommendation dealing with data protection in the context of elections;

November 2018: the revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) proposed by the Commission in 2016 was adopted by the Council, hoping to create a media framework for the 21st century;

December 2018: the European Commission presented an Action Plan against disinformation, which included a Rapid Alert System to facilitate a coordinated response and promote closer collaboration between Member States and external sources of disinformation;

January 2019: the European Commission is co-funding several projects on investigative journalism and media freedom for 2019 to foster a healthy media sector, ensure quality of public space and defend journalists under threat.

January 2019: the European Commission published its initial compliance report on the code of practice against disinformation.

February 2019: the European Commission published its first monthly report into the code of practice against disinformation.

March 2019: MEPs back historic plans to overhaul copyright law.

April 2019: Copyright directive overcomes final hurdle as member states approve plans for the final time.

Further Reading

European Commission: Event “Countering online disinformation - Towards a more transparent, credible and diverse digital media ecosystem” (29 January 2019)

European Commission: High Level Expert Group (HLEG) on online disinformation (6 February 2018)

European Commission: Code of practice on disinformation (26 September 2018)

European Commission: Media Freedom Projects

European Commission: Creative Europe Programme - EACEA

BBC Media Action: Website

EURACTIV: EU needs to ‘double efforts’ in the fight against disinformation, Gabriel says (Samuel Stolton, 24 January 2019)

EURACTIV: Can the EU do more for the media sector? Speech by Mariya Gabriel (23 January 2019)

EURACTIV: Open Letter to President Juncker: “Beyond fake news: Strategic options for media ahead of EU elections” (6 December 2018)

EURACTIV: UK Report: Tax Relief and extra funding for news outlets (Samuel Stolton, 19 February 2019)

EURACTIV: Russian disinformation attempts to weaken ‘America’s commitment to Europe,’ US ambassador says (Samuel Stolton, 7 March 2019)

EURACTIV:  Up to 400 online platforms hosting terrorist content, Commission says (Samuel Stolton, 7 March 2019)

EURACTIV:  Parliament calls for EU measures to counter hostile disinformation campaigns (Alexandra Brzozowski, 14 March 2019)

EURACTIV: Commission urges platforms to take action on fake accounts before EU elections (Samuel Stolton, 20 March 2019)

EURACTIV: MEPs back historic plans to overhaul copyright law (Samuel Stolton and Alicia Prager, 26 March, 2019)

Fondation EURACTIV: Europe’s Media Lab

Fondation EURACTIV: New website

MediaRoad: Project

MediaRoad: Vision Paper

NewsGuard: Website

Re-imagine Europa: Conference on "Democracy in a Digital Society - Trust, evidence and public discourse in a changing media environment" (24 January, Berlin)

Reporters Sans Frontières (Brussels): RSF Belgium

Reporters Without Borders: EN website

Reporters Without Borders: Journalism Trust Initiative (3 April 2018)

The Association of European Journalists (AEJ): Media across the EU facing multiple challenges (by Alena Bieling, 27 January 2019)

 

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