Commission mulls ‘innovative financial solutions’ to back EU media sector

The European Commission is mulling over plans to introduce ‘new and innovative financial solutions’ to support the sustainability of the EU’s media sector amid the current health crisis.

Speaking in front of MEPs in the Parliament’s Culture Committee on Monday afternoon (4 May), Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton and Innovation Commissioner Mariya Gabriel shed light on how the Commission will look to support the ailing EU media industry, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak on the continent.

Breton said he would seek to work with MEPs to “test new and innovative financial solutions to support the media sector, especially at the local and regional level,” drawing approval from MEPs, including ECR’s Dace Melbārde, who also highlighted the work done by technology giants to support the bloc’s media sector in the absence of any current EU help.

“It doesn’t feel right that media has to rely on US tech platforms and other international organisations that are launching emergency support and saving the European independent media and investigative journalists during this crisis,” she said.

“I believe that the EU has to step up as well, so I am happy to hear that Commissioner Breton has been seeking financial solutions in this regard.”

Horizon 2020 plans

For her part, the EU’s research and innovation chief, Mariya Gabriel, highlighted new measures to be put forward as part of the EU’s long term research and innovation fund, Horizon 2020.

“In the framework of Horizon 2020, we had a call for research projects on the European media landscape. The deadline came up in March and the results will be forthcoming very shortly,” Gabriel said.

“There is a nine million euro contribution for that, and probably more funds will be needed, so there is to be a new call for this project in June 2020, in just a month and a half.”

“So while there is going to be a project for media in the post-COVID-19 context, it’s very important we spread the word about this new initiative in June 2020,” she said.

Digital Services Act

Meanwhile, Breton also noted that the upcoming Digital Services Act, which represents the Commission’s bid to regulate the online ecosystem, should be implemented to create a more level-playing field between the platforms and traditional media outlets.

He said the executive would hope to abide by currently commitments to the legislative programme, aiming to present the Digital Services Act before the end of 2020, despite a recent leak of the Commission’s working programme, which had suggested that the plans could be postponed until early 2021.

“What’s coming up here is a new relationship with these platforms who are growing in awareness of their responsibilities, their accountability and their duty,” Breton said on Monday with regards to the Digital Services Act.

In mid-April, Culture Committee Chair EPP MEP Sabine Verheyen wrote to Commissioners Breton and Gabriel, asking the executive to examine “the potential scope for an emergency EU fund to support the media and press sector.”

“We would like the Commission to explore the potential for an emergency fund to support the media and press sector, potentially drawing on funds that cannot be spent under other programmes owing to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter said.

Media Action Plan

Elsewhere on Monday, MEPs pressed the Commission on what other areas could be made the most out of in order to ensure that the bloc’ media industries manage to stay afloat.

Melbārde pressed the executive on the status of the Commission’s Audiovisual and Media Action Plan, which Breton said in a recent letter would focus on the “competitiveness and the wealth pluralism of the audio-visual sector and the media.”

On Monday, Breton was clear that the action plan is an “absolute priority” and would be presented before the close of the year.

Copyright Directive

In terms of other instruments at the Commission’s disposal, talk of the highly divisive Copyright Directive reemerged as an important topic.

Breton noted that implementation of Article 17 of the directive is “essential.” The Article, dubbed the ‘neighbouring rights’ clause, gives press publishers the right to request remuneration for the reposting of their content online.

France is so far the only country to have succeeded in obtaining the right for publishers to negotiate with Google over payments for the reposting over article links, and, on the other side of the coin, some countries in the EU haven’t even put forward a legislative proposal for the Copyright directive as yet, including Spain, Poland, Finland and Sweden.

Member states have until 7 June 2021 to transpose those provisions into national legislation.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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