Media freedom and pluralism ‘key’ to Democracy Action Plan

European Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova during a swearing-in ceremony in front of the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg, 13 January 2020. [EPA-EFE/JULIEN WARNAND]

The EU has launched a €5.1m package designed to promote media freedom and pluralism in Europe, the Commission announced on Monday (2 March). The announcement comes ahead of the presentation of the Commission’s Democracy Action Plan, which will attempt to safeguard elections from malicious interference online.

As part of the new measures, a cross-border response mechanism designed to “detect, answer and prevent violations of press and media freedom” has been launched with the view of appeasing recent challenges to the media sector in this field.

The initiative will aim to provide protection for reporters and will cover areas related to “fact-finding, advocacy, monitoring, informing the European public and awareness-raising.” For this project, an outlay of €1.4m has been granted to a consortium led by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF).

A second project receiving €1.5m in financial support will be led by the International Press Institute.

It aims to support cross-border investigative journalism in the EU, while a series of smaller initiatives will help to bolster media freedom across the EU, including a project designed to increase the mobility of young media professionals in the EU, as well as the promotion of media councils that will be involved in fostering ethical standards in media practice.

More broadly, as part of the Commission’s upcoming Democracy Action Plan, to be presented towards the end of 2020, regulation of online platforms could be in store as a means to foster a digital ecosystem that can “defend and promote democracy,” according to the EU’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová.

“We are dealing with very precise targeting based on our behaviour,” she told a Brussels conference in January. “There is a lack of transparency in how content is channelled to us [and] who owns the algorithms.”

Along these lines, Jourová noted on Monday that the ‘key objective’ of the European Democracy Action Plan is to “strengthen media freedom and pluralism.”

“Democracy cannot work without free and independent media. Journalists should be able to report without fear or favour. Today’s projects are only a start,” she added.

In this vein, media stakeholders have been calling for more of a crossover between the upcoming Digital Services Act plan – which aims to impose new rules for the operation of the online ecosystem, including establishing rules for the types of content like political advertising and potentially disinformation – and the Democracy Action Plan.

One of the leaders of the EU-funded StarsForMedia project, which aims to facilitate the exchange and training of young media professionals in Europe, Christophe Leclercq, founder of EURACTIV and the ‘think-and-do’ tank Fondation EURACTIV, said that there should be more of a crossover in both instruments.

“The media, advertising and platforms ecosystem needs to be rebalanced,” he said. “This requires close coordination between the Digital Services Act on the one hand, and the Media and the Democracy Action Plans on the other.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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