New Commission pledges “improved co-operation” with media industry

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An innovation following Viviane Reding’s appointment
as ‘co-ordinator for relations with the media’ will
be the creation of a ‘one-stop-shop’ for the press as
an industry. The rise of the internet could provide a case
for EU action due to cross-border implications.

Viviane Reding, the new commissioner for audiovisual
policy and the information society in the Barroso team,
has pledged to improve co-operation with the media
industry. 

In a speech on 5 November at the Congress of the
European Newspaper Publishers’ Association (ENPA),
Reding said Commission President Barroso intends to give
the issue “even more attention” than the
outgoing Prodi team. 

Under this “new partnership”, Reding is to
be appointed “co-ordinator for relations with the
media industry”. “This is the first time that
this kind of one-stop-shop for the media industry would
be created within the Commission,” Reding said.

Her role would involve working closely with other
Commissioners (including competition, internal market and
consumer protection) to make sure that “all aspects
of the legislative proposals or EU decisions which could
affect the media are properly considered”.

But she warned that the new partnership should not be
“a one-way street”. “In my view, it also
implies thinking, for example, about ways of increasing
coverage of European issues in the media”.

Reding’s co-ordination role would involve three
aspects:

  • An 
    early warning system

    consisting of more systematic consultations between
    Commission departments and with the media industry (a
    contact point for the media sector in the new DG
    Information Society, Media and Audiovisual Policy would
    be created and correspondents in commissioners’
    cabinets with responsibility for ‘media
    affairs’ could be introduced).

  • Monitoring

    economic and social developments in the media
    sector.

  • Making 
    new proposals

    to “help the media to become more
    competitive” and make “full use of the
    opportunities offered by the single market” (VAT
    is cited as a possible issue here).

However, she emphasised that ‘soft laws’ such
as co- or self-regulatory measures would be the
Commission’s preferred instrument. As legislative
measures on media concentration fall under member
states’ responsibilities, EU competition law can only
invoked to ensure market access for new entrants, Reding
explained. “It is difficult to find a legal basis
for legislative action on media ownership at the EU
level,” Reding said.

The 
European Newspaper Publishers
Association

(ENPA) is generally "encouraged" by the
Commission's initiative to listen to issues raised by
the media. It hopes the "one-stop-shop" system
will help the Commission better understand its issues and
the role newspapers play in society, which in its views,
require a specific approach from policy-makers.

ENPA calls for the notion of 
'freedom of the press'

to be included in the Charter of Fundamental Rights but
says this freedom will only be effective if publishers
can rely on their national law in the event of
cross-border disputes. ENPA also calls on all European
initiatives concerning media concentration issues
"to take account of the specificity of the written
press". "It will be impossible to ignore them
in any liberalisation of inter-media ownership, which is
inevitable since the Information Society will be based on
convergence between the different media," ENPA
argues.

The 
European Publishers Council

(EPC) believes that a specific directive on media
pluralism is against their long term interests and the
interests of a flourishing European media industry.
According to the EPC, the media industry would be better
served by a strong and simple competition policy.

The 
International Federation of Journalists

(IFJ) fears there is an "increasing perception that
journalism is failing to carry out its watchdog role in
society because of the vested interests that drive the
media business". The IFJ says the concentration
process "has paralysed policy makers" and calls
for "concrete actions to confront the challenge of
corporate power in mass media". The IFJ
supports what it calls the "information
revolution" brought about by the internet as
"an opportunity to renew and reinvigorate the
structures of democracy, by providing easier access to
information, more efficient public services, and
increased public participation in
decision-making."

Up until now, European policy in the media sector has
focused on the audiovisual sector because of its
cross-border implications. However, this situation could
well change to involve the print sector as newspapers are
increasingly involved in cross-border activities due to
the growing success of their internet sites.

For a number of years, newspapers have suffered from
increased competition from internet news services (free
or subscription-based), free-of-charge tabloids and a
drift towards economic concentration. 

The issues of concentration and freedom of information
in particular were raised several times at EU level by
the 
European Parliament

and publishers, but the scope for action is limited as
legislative measures fall in the hands of national
governments. At the Parliament's request, the
European Institute for the Media in Düsseldorf and
Paris has recently submitted an 
in-depth report

on the situation concerning media ownership and pluralism
in the 25 EU member states.

Within the Commission, there is a history of animated
debates between commissioners and directors general in
charge of competition and media, reflecting the
importance of this sector for national politicians.

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