Fair competition rules and financial stability for Europe’s media sector have been identified as areas of priority in the bloc’s cultural sector as part of Germany’s EU Council presidency.
Speaking to MEPs on the European Parliament’s Culture Committee on Tuesday morning (September 1), Monika Grütters, Germany’s Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media, said the Presidency would seek to make progress on the sustainability of the media sector, safeguarding the independence of journalists as well as clamping down further on disinformation.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Grütters said, the importance of having reliable information has become more apparent, “but at the same time, we’ve seen how vulnerable our media systems are.”
Recognising the extent to which Europe’s media sector is at risk from the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis, Grütters said the German Presidency wants to help in rebalancing the market, which has become sensitive to the successes of the platform economy.
“We want to create fair competition conditions. We want financial stability for the media landscape,” she said, adding that in the online sphere, the German Presidency anticipates measures this year to further clamp down on hate speech, cyber mobbing, disinformation, and illegal content, as well as supporting freedom of opinion and quality journalism.
Democracy Action Plan & Digital Services Act
Citing the European Commission’s Democracy Action Plan and the Digital Services Act, both of which are to presented by the executive before the close of 2020, Renew MEP Irena Joveva pressed Grütters to “safeguard the freedom of opinion and media diversity, to fight hate crime and racism while preserving net neutrality and freedom online.”
She also said the German Presidency should go further than merely ‘calling for’ a democratization on the internet, as outlined in the Presidency programme, and should seek more practical measures in dealing with malicious, false and misleading information.
On the subject of disinformation and fake news, Grütters stated that the content itself should not necessarily be targeted, but rather the means by which such information proliferates across the web.
“One of the key building blocks in fighting disinformation is not so much addressing the content, but addressing the manipulative way the disinformation is disseminated,” she said. “We have to really ensure this kind of transparency and we have to ensure that we have journalism of very high quality.”
The Commission’s voluntary code of practice against disinformation was introduced in October 2018, in a bid to combat fake news ahead of the 2019 European Parliament elections. A recent study on the code, commissioned by the executive, hit out at the self-regulatory nature of the framework, suggesting that “sanctions and redress mechanisms” should be put into place to ensure compliance.
An evaluation on the efficacy of the code is to be published later this year, ahead of the unveiling of the Digital Services Act and the Democracy Action Plan.
The Democracy Action Plan will hone in on disinformation in the context of external interference and manipulation in elections. A public consultation launched earlier this year closes on 15 September and as part of the feedback period, the Commission placed particular focus on the transparency of political ads online, tackling disinformation, and protecting media freedom, independence and pluralism.
In addition, announcing a raft of new funding plans to promote media freedom and pluralism in Europe in March, the Commission’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Vera Jourova, said that the ‘key objective’ of the Democracy Action Plan is to “strengthen media freedom and pluralism.”
On Tuesday, MEPs also raised concerns over the shortfall of funds for Europe’s creative sector that could result from EU’s revised seven year budget, which Council President Charles Michel presented to EU leaders before the summer break.
As part of the new proposals, the EU’s Creative Europe programme, the funding framework that aims to support the European audiovisual, cultural and creative sector, would receive €1.5 billion.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]