8th Aug 2022

Pursuit of profit hurting the media, say MEPs

The pursuit of profit is putting the historic role of the press as the watchdog of democracy at stake, MEPs from all political parties have warned.

Measures to protect editorial independence and quality of content are desperately needed in order to prevent interference from owners, shareholders or governments, says a report adopted Tuesday in the European Parliament's culture committee.

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  • Unrestricted ownership concentration is a threat to democracy, say MEPs (Photo: EUobserver)

"The cases of unrestricted ownership concentration or of scarce content pluralism in the media are endangering cultural diversity and freedom of expression not only within national markets but also at European level," said Socialist committee chair Katarina Batzeli.

Passing 33 votes to one, with no abstentions, the report had the support of all parties. Liberal MEP Marielle de Sarnez said in the wake of the vote that Europe needed to pay attention to "the risk to independence posed by the existence of media groups owned by large companies."

Drafted by Estonian centre-left MEP Marianne Mikko, the report has as its main recommendation that the European Commission and EU member states apply competition law to the media to ensure media pluralism.

"The report is about the safeguarding of democracy," said Ms Mikko. "There needs to be a way to assure pluralism of media channels and assure the balance between quantity and quality in the media market.

"Unfortunately that's not the case in EU 27 [member states], " she said.

Another key recommendation of the report is the creation of 'editorial charters' to be applied in the same way in all member states to ensure a clear separation between the editorial and business side of media outlets.

Such charters would also lay out principles that would aim to prevent interference by governments. A number of Italian MEPs – Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi owns large parts of the media - were particularly concerned about such phenomena.

Additionally, the MEPs called for the creation of independent media ombudsmen in the member states to monitor the status of the freedom, pluralism and independence of the media.

The euro-deputies also want full disclosure of ownership of all media outlets to achieve greater transparency regarding the aims and background of broadcasters and publishers.

Fees for user-generated content

The report, which has no legal weight but offers political guidance to Europe's executive institutions, also calls for the establishment of fees for user-generated content and a clarification of the legal status of weblogs.

In order that existing professional producers of content such as photographers or journalists not be undersold by freely delivered but poorly produced content, the report recommends the payment of fees for use-generated content. In this way, producers or publishers would choose which content to purchase – professional or amateur – not based on which was cheapest, but which was of the highest quality.

The committee found that the increased use of the users own videos and photos on the internet does not always respect the privacy of citizens and public figures, and they believe that legal means need to be provided in order protect those concerns.

MEPs were also worried that the legal situation of bloggers regarding source protection is unclear, as where liability should be assigned in the event of lawsuits, and recommended that blogs and their authors be taken out of this legal limbo.

In addition, the deputies want to see a disclosure of interests and the voluntary labelling of weblogs and the establishment of a right to reply to those felt unjustly portrayed in a blog.

The report's first reading in the plenary of the parliament is expected next month.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has launched an independent study on indicators of media pluralism in member states. It has said it will issue a communication on the subject later this year, to be followed by a public consultation on the topic.

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