MEPs call for stronger support for the media sector

The resolution designed to support the media sector following the hit it has taken during the COVID-19 pandemic and bolster funding more generally. [Shutterstock / Kaspars Grinvalds]

A resolution to support the EU’s media sector in the “Digital Decade”, including better protecting media freedom and safeguarding independence has passed by a large majority in the European Parliament.

The resolution, “Europe’s Media in the Digital Decade: an Action Plan to Support Recovery and Transformation”, sets out provisions to support the media sector following the hit it has taken during the COVID-19 pandemic and bolster funding in an increasingly digitalised setting.

The initiative urges more robust and sustained funding of the media sector and safeguards to protect media freedom and independence. It also addresses the growing presence of online platforms and their impact on the media ecosystem, emphasising the need for measures to “ensure a level playing field”. 

Wout van Wijk, Executive Director of News Media Europe (NME), told EURACTIV that the resolution “recognises the importance of the news media sector for a healthy democratic society and the need to promote the sector.” 

MEPs noted that the pandemic has hit Europe’s media hard, with declines in revenue causing a strain on a sector already struggling to adapt to the digital transition.

According to the European Parliament, early estimates put the loss of advertising revenues experienced by the news media during the pandemic at between 20% and 80%. The EU’s audiovisual sector has also suffered substantial losses, with cinemas experiencing a drop of 70% in box office revenues during 2020 alongside an increase in production costs. 

The resolution focuses significantly on the funding of the media, both in its recovery from the crisis and moving forward in adapting to the digital world. 

While the report welcomes the Commission’s NEWS initiative, which bundles a series of media-focused programmes, Dace Melbārde, the MEP leading on the file, said at a plenary presentation on Tuesday (19 October) that “the funding available, given the long list of problems to be solved urgently, is insufficient.” 

As a result, one of the key calls made in the text is for the establishment of a permanent EU news media fund alongside, particularly at the national level, more targeted financial channels and tax policies designed to ensure a level playing field within the sector. 

“The European Union is uniquely placed to support the sector’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the digitisation of news, the protection of journalists and a fairer online market for content”, said van Wijk of NME. 

“The resolution rightly points at various funding streams at European level to beef up the sustainability of the sector, and to ensure high-quality journalism available to all European citizens,” he added. 

The report also focuses on “ensuring a level playing field”, safeguarding media outlets from political interference and concentration, and facilitating fair competition with online platforms, particularly when it comes to securing declining advertising revenue.

Alongside the Commission’s proposed Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act, which similarly both address the growing power of tech giants, several other media-related initiatives have been announced at the EU level in recent months. 

Jourová calls for cross-border media cooperation

“No journalist should die or be harmed for doing their job,” European Commission Vice-President for values and transparency Věra Jourová has said, as the EU prepared to centre the safety of journalists at an upcoming European News Media Forum in November.

These include the opening of a consultation on abusive lawsuits used to silence journalists and an upcoming European News Media Forum, a media stakeholder dialogue set to occur for the second time in November. The Commission will also launch a Media Freedom Act next year, which it says will put in place an EU-wide mechanism for keeping track of media ownership and pluralism. 

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“This is truly a crucial moment to strengthen the EU’s media and audiovisual sector”, Melbārde said upon the adoption of the resolution. “The media ecosystem was fragile even before the pandemic, but the crisis has reinforced the existing challenges it faces, as well as created new ones. Audiences are increasingly shifting to digital platforms, and the income from these is disproportionally flowing to the global players.”  

“At the same time, the COVID-19 crisis has amplified the role of quality journalism; an absence of professional and swift reporting during times of pandemic can cost lives.”

[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/ Alice Taylor]

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