The EU’s Digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel has upped the ante in the fight against fake news, saying on Wednesday (23 January) that “new technologies are advancing extremely rapidly” and that as a result, the EU needs to “double its efforts.”
Speaking at an event organised by Fondation EURACTIV, Gabriel also revealed that the European Commission has already received the first reports on the code of practice against disinformation, which reveal how efficiently signatories to the code have been complying with the measures.
The code is a voluntary framework that aims to stamp out the spread of fake news online. Signatories to the code include firms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter.
The results are due to be published publicly during an event on 29 January.
“I really hope that next week during our conference, we will receive some encouraging news,” Gabriel said.
The Bulgarian Commissioner, who was delivering the keynote speech at the event on the future of the EU media sector, also said the Commission would not hold back from regulatory measures in the field of disinformation, should they be required.
Under the code of practice, signatories are only required to self-regulate themselves, a feature of the plans that has provoked criticism from stakeholders.
“The self-regulatory approach,” Gabriel said, “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 will not be excluded.”
Wednesday’s event brought together high-level officials from across the EU institutions, as well as rights campaigners and academics, who sought to delve into the ways in which the EU can do more to promote a healthy media sector.
Green MEP Jávor Benedek highlighted the problems related to the freedom of the press in EU member states and brought to attention the worrying issue of political pressure on the media.
“Political pressure and self-censorship exist in many member states,” he said. “My own country, Hungary, is the best example of this.”
Critics of Hungary’s media landscape have suggested that media plurality has been stifled after Prime Minister Viktor Orban approved a deal in late 2018 that will see hundreds of pro-government media groups take part in an umbrella organisation, the Central European Press and Media Foundation (CEPMF),
Benedek also noted the financial challenges faced by media organisations, saying the EU needs to do more to ensure that quality and reliable reporting is supported financially.
“We need a completely new approach from the EU in dealing with the media. Media needs editorial and financial independence.”
“Without media freedom, there is no democracy.”
Julie Majerczak, head of the Brussels office for Reporters Without Borders, an advocacy group supporting issues related to press freedom, touched upon the growing hostility towards media professionals, encouraged by some global political leaders.
“Our democratic models are being challenged by totalitarian tendencies,” she said. “Without the freedom of the press, no fight can be heard.”
She also drew attention to a 2017 case, when the Czech President Milos Zeman was photographed holding a mock assault rifle inscribed with the words ‘for journalists.’
“Na tom samopalu je vypálený nápis ´Na novináře’. Můžete se začít postupně stahovat dozadu, protože neumím střílet.” pic.twitter.com/26nneyciAY
— Michal Kubal (@MichalKubal) October 20, 2017
The subject of financing pervaded discussions on Wednesday, with Gabriel conceding that more needs to be done despite the €61 million the Commission has pledged under the next Creative Europe programme. The outlay will support media freedom, media pluralism, and media literacy amid a climate in which the EU media sector has experienced a €9 billion drop in business revenue.
Christophe Leclercq, Founder of EURACTIV, noted the breadth between the two figures and suggested that tougher regulation could be levied in order to ensure appropriate remuneration for media groups.
“We need to start thinking about the future priorities of the Commission in the media sector,” he said. “These issues are important to ensure healthy and vibrant journalism.”
“Achieving democracy in the digital world is becoming an ever-important pursuit. Let’s ensure our media is independent and our platforms are accountable,” he added.
Going forward, the Commission aims to ensure that news organisations are prepared to face the many difficulties of the new media landscape, according to Gabriel.
“The digital transformation is ongoing,” she said. “The media sector must adapt to ever-changing challenges.”
“A free and plural media sector should remain a central element of our democracies.”