The Commission has announced its support for developing a “European Newsroom”, gathering news agencies in Brussels to collaborate in reporting on EU affairs.
The newsroom will bring together 16 news agencies from across Europe to facilitate cross-border collaboration and promote greater access to information and EU journalism.
The initiative was announced by internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton at the second European News Media Forum, a dialogue between stakeholders in the sector, held in Brussels on Monday (29 November).
#Information is a matter of 🇪🇺 sovereignty.
We are organising Europe’s information space, and increasing citizens’ access to quality information.
— Thierry Breton (@ThierryBreton) November 29, 2021
Alexandru Giboi, secretary-general of the European Alliance of News Agencies, told EURACTIV that “verified and trustworthy information is becoming a more and more valuable commodity these days when disinformation is aggressing our societies with sometimes fatal effects”,
He added, “news agencies’ involvement in this project is a clear guarantee that the focus will be on the truth. The European Newsroom initiative can help boost quality news from Brussels to the world, and that would be a win in itself.”
As of January 2022, the project will bring 16 news agencies together in a Brussels hub for collaboration on covering EU affairs in 15 languages. The initiative began with a call for proposals to bolster the multilingual European information space and will receive €1.76 million in financing from the Commission.
The coalition will be led by Germany’s DPA and include agencies from EU countries, including Austria, Italy and Slovakia, and non-EU states such as Albania and Serbia. Major press agencies AFP and EFE will also participate.
Embattled Slovenian press agency STA will also be among the newsroom’s members. The government suspended the agency’s funding in December 2020 over its critical reporting, leading to criticism from Brussels, the resignation of its director, and a crowdfunding campaign to keep its doors open. Funding was finally restored in early November.
The programme, and the cross-border collaboration it will hinge on, will also strengthen media independence and pluralism, Jourová noted at the Forum. “I truly believe that such networks and solidarity makes it more difficult for states to interfere”, she said.
Luciano Morganti, professor at Vrije Universiteit Brussel and researcher at its Centre for Studies on Media, Innovation and Technology, told EURACTIV that the programme would be beneficial not just for the news sector but for all Europeans.
“In comparison to other important industrial or economic sectors, fostering collaboration between European media has long been neglected in the path towards European integration. This has been, in my opinion, for merely political reasons”, he added, citing the rise of populism, the questioning of fundamental rights and values, and the growing issue of disinformation as some of the consequences.
“What I hope this collaboration amongst news agencies will help all of us understand is that a lot of the policies and actions the EU has and is trying to implement concern very much the way we live and work at our local level and our well-being as citizens, fathers and mothers, workers and students, amongst other things.”
The project’s launch formed part of the Commission’s second European News Media Forum, the first installation of which was held in March this year, focusing on the safety of those working in the media when physical and verbal attacks against them are on the rise.
The first dialogue, which brought together journalists, media councils and member state regulators, contributed to the preparation of a recommendation on the safety of journalists issued by the Commission in September. The recommendation sets out a series of steps that EU countries should take to protect their media professionals better.
The recommendation and the two forums are part of a broader focus on the media sector, hit particularly hard by the pandemic. These additional challenges came when it was responding to the fresh challenges presented by the digital age, such as declining ad revenues and the rise of major online platforms.
The Commission inaugurated a Media and Audiovisual Action Plan in December, focusing on the sector’s economic viability as it moves towards pandemic recovery and broader transformation.
Among its provisions are increased funding measures and investment in programmes centring on the media’s relationship with new and emerging technologies.
Also, in December, the Commission presented its European Democracy Action Plan, a key pillar of which is strengthening media freedom.
The EU executive is set to codify this focus with a Media Freedom Act next year, establishing a bloc-wide oversight mechanism for monitoring developments in media ownership and pluralism. However, it will likely stop short of imposing financial sanctions on those found to violate its rules.
[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/ Alice Taylor]