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.
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.
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)