MEPs and media stakeholders are petitioning for new EU rules on media concentration. Lack of specific competence on the issue has so far prevented the EU from taking action.
MEPs, academics and journalists attending a Parliament seminar on 7 April have repeated calls for specific EU media rules and have warned against the risks posed by industry concentration for media pluralism in Europe.
Anticipating a provision foreseen under the EU Constitution, the seminar concluded with the launch of a one-million signature campaign for a European law on the media.
“Our ambition is to build a broad European coalition for pluralism in the media that simply cannot be ignored by the European Commission, member states and media owners,” said conference chairman Harlem Désir MEP (PES, France).
According to preliminary research cited by the socialist group, the rate of mergers and concentrations in the media sector is faster than for the rest of the economy.
But the EU still lacks a clear legal base to regulate on the issue, which is still governed by national law.
DG Information Society and Media spokesperson Martin Selmayr told EURACTIV the Commission would be allowed to regulate only from an internal market perspective and if cross-border implications can be established.
But he added that so far, the Commission is not aware that such circumstances exist. Commissioner Reding is discussing the issue “from a variety of angles” with the member states and with fellow colleagues from a fundamental human rights perspective. But for the Commission to intervene on a fundamental human rights basis, there would need to be a serious violation of the Treaty’s article 7, a provision which can be drawn on only under extreme circumstances.
However, Selmayr points out that the EU merger regulation – a central competence of the Commission – does provide member states with the possibility to block deals in order to protect media pluralism.
In article 21 paragraph four, the regulation provides that member states “may take appropriate measures to protect legitimate interests”. “Plurality of the media” is specifically mentioned as belonging to this category, along with public security and prudential rules in the banking sector.
But according to Brussels media lawyer Wilco Van Weert at Bird & Bird, the clause has been used only once since it was put in place in 1989. The case dates back to 1994 when the British government intervened in a case involving Spanish and Italian publishers trying to buy stakes in the Mirror Group.