Sunday

18th Apr 2021

Opinion

Europe to make media, media to make Europe

  • Europeans need to better understand one another. (Photo: Luxembourg EU Presidency)

Europe is weak and we have been reminded of its weakness again in recent months.

While the Ukrainian crisis has shown that Europe is an option much desired for a great part of Ukrainian society, it has also revealed that this desire is not universally shared there, and that Europe is powerless when facing Russia’s aggression.

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The recent European elections have also highlighted a profound lack of interest in European politics and a strong backlash against the European Union. In some countries, turnout fell below 20percent, elsewhere voters endorsed anti-European extremists.

What should Europe do about this?

If Europe were a state, it could perhaps act on an insight of the late American political scientist Charles Tilly, that states make wars and wars make states. A European war-making machine and combat against a common enemy could give rise to pan-European solidarity and politics while dissuading Europe’s rivals.

Europe certainly needs strategic capabilities that are more developed than in the European security and defence policy, by forming a genuine strategic partnership with the United States, while enjoying a reasonable degree of necessary strategic independence.

The European Union is not a state, however. Its DNA is different – the DNA of the machinery of peace.

Europe should draw on its admirable record of using soft-power strategies. Economic development, the rule of law, human rights, media and education may seem toothless in the short run, but they are decisive in the long run.

At the same time, Europe can make media, and media can make Europe.

Newspapers, journals, radio, television, and the internet are essential both within the EU and beyond its borders.

In the EU, the wide selection of national and local media outlets contrasts with the dearth of successful European media. There are too few transnational media that try to link two or more countries (such as the Franco-German channel Arte), too few Europe-wide media (such as EuroNews) or media that focus on EU policymaking (such as EUobserver).

European politics cannot do without European media.

They provide vital horizontal ties between the EU’s societies to complement the vertical links that exist between Brussels and the member states.

Europeans need to better understand one another. It is because of the lack of horizontal ties of mutual understanding that the voters are not interested in the European elections or that they cast ballots only to protest.

To remedy this, we need to take stock of all transnational, Europe-wide and EU-focused media and to encourage new bottom-up initiatives which would enrich the European media landscape.

The new European Commission can help by contributing to the seed capital and by guaranteeing its independent and public nature. But the effort cannot do without an active support of the member states, regional initiatives and civil society.

Media activities outside the EU are equally important.

The Ukrainian crisis has proved how effective the Kremlin’s propaganda can be in reaching out to Russian-speaking population beyond Russia’s borders. Several hundred journalists have recently been decorated by President Vladimir Putin for their contribution to the success of Russia’s land-grab of Crimea.

Europe cannot and should not do the same. It should not counter any propaganda by pitching its own one-sided, chauvinistic message.

However, we should do more to promote media freedom and cultivate the skills that are essential for good journalism.

Together with its partners, the Czech Republic has been supporting eastern European media for many years - one current project contributes to public television in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

In Europe currently there are several large projects in the making that aim at developing Russian-language television channels that would offer a European perspective and that would be available to Russian-speaking populations in the Baltic countries and beyond.

All these projects, large and small, would benefit from European co-ordination.

Free media should become a standard part of EU external action, contributing to the battle for hearts and minds beyond the EU borders.

The writer is the Czech Republic’s first deputy minister of foreign affairs

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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The European Commission has held its first in a round of consultation meetings about the future of the European media industry. But despite requests from journalists to join the discussion, they were kept out.

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In response to the crisis of journalism in Europe, journalists' unions from across the continent are to launch a campaign to press the EU to encourage member states to strengthen the sector. If governments can fund theatre and art galleries to protect cultural pluralism, they say, they can fund journalism to protect information pluralism as well.

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