The European Union should establish a type of ‘Marshall plan’ to support the sustainability of the bloc’s media sector, experts and MEPs said during an event organised by Fondation EURACTIV on Tuesday (25 June).
Speakers at the event, which took place at the European Parliament in Brussels, highlighted the current plight of the EU’s media, which faces several “existential risks,” including threats emanating from disinformation, the lack of a viable policy framework, and the need for funding.
Ann Mettler, head of the Commission’s think tank, the European Political Strategy Centre, deplored the past 13 consecutive years of decline in democracy in the world. She said that “only 13% of the world enjoys a free press”, linking media freedom with democratic decline.
“When media freedom declines, there are problems with the rule of law, problems with accountability,” Mettler said.
She also said that nothing can be taken for granted. “Initiatives have been taken, but given the assault on our democracies, these aren’t sufficient.”
“It is not about subsidies”, she added, “It is about media innovation”.
Outgoing MEP Nadja Hirsch, who opened the event, emphasized the need to keep citizens informed. “A strong democracy can only thrive through an informed population, having access to a healthy, free media sector”, she said.
Roman Imielski, international editor at Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza, emphasised the importance of supporting the media sector financially. “The EU subsidises agriculture, why doesn’t it subsidise the media and help innovative and investigative journalism?”
He called for the creation of a special EU fund to support media.
“I’m talking about a billion euros, to help fund interesting projects in the media.”
Ricardo Gutierrez from the European Federation of Journalists expanded on the calls for media support, stressing that “the media sector needs a Marshall Plan.”
These subsidies would be part of an effort to adapt media to the new challenges of the digital age, such as fake news and authoritarian regimes that censor the press and social media.
“Power is played out today in the media and the media today is digital”, said Erika Widegren, chief executive at Reimagine Europe.
She was joined by Patrick Leusch, head of European affairs at Deutsche Welle, who said that “the battle for Democracy will take place in the digital world”. He added there’s a need for a better European view of the Internet, with European values implemented in the digital world.
On the subject of social media, Imielski said that “we are the niche, Facebook is a giant. The EU should force Facebook to share revenues with media outlets.”
In addition to the idea of a Marshall plan for Europe’s media sector, panellists at Tuesday’s event also floated the idea of establishing a vice presidency for democracy in the European Commission.
“Media and democracy should be among the top 10 priorities for the new mandate,” said Christophe Leclercq, the founder of EURACTIV. “The vice-president system has worked reasonably well in the last mandate in other areas.”
The vice-president would coordinate multiple Commissioners and serve as an “umbrella for three things – media policy, platform co-regulation and more traditional activities such as fact-checking and media literacy,” he added.
Such a position, Leclercq said, would help to ensure that things are done faster and more efficiently, as “things were too slow during the last mandate”.
[Edited by Samuel Stolton]