Monday

25th Sep 2017

Opinion

EU needs a European Media Fund

  • European identity is socially constructed and requires input from all of us (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Someday the Greek crisis will be over. But this does not mean that the crisis in Europe will be over. Because this crisis is only an economic crisis on the surface: underneath, it is a serious European identity crisis.

If we want to make progress in the current crisis, we have to begin with identity and create a [European?] sense of "Yes, we can". However, this cannot easily be dictated from above or engineered by the EU institutions.

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  • At Google they would call this a ‘Moonshot Project’. (Photo: Aray Chen)

European identity is socially constructed and it requires input from all of us: policy makers, business people, scientists, civil society, artists, as well as European media.

European identity needs a public sphere in which it is possible to discuss and compare concepts and ideas, learn from each other, and, through this, find ways out of the identity crisis.

Unfortunately, we are still a long way off from a European public sphere and a European media.

Silicon Valley

The good news is that there are currently quite a few interesting ideas and initiatives around that aim to develop new media business models and, at the same time, to provide the opportunity to transcend national filter bubbles.

Because one wonderful characteristic of digital is that it ignores national boundaries in an almost playful manner, and hence it is more or less ideal for creating a transnational public sphere.

At almost exactly the same time, the big Internet giants have started their own media initiatives.

Similarly to developments in the music industry, they want to disrupt established media structures and to replace them with their own platforms, through which users will access and consume journalistic content.

Instant Articles is an initiative of Facebook, which enables the social media platform to post journalistic content of well known media houses like the BBC and Der Spiegel directly onto its user timelines, thus potentially creating access to this content for almost 1.5 billion people.

As a consequence, Facebook may now become the primary news channel for many people and traditional media companies will just be content suppliers.

Apple is preparing a similar initiative called Apple News. The subscription service is expected to be available for IOS 9 this autumn, and could be described as Spotify for news.

Google has also discovered the value of journalism. However, unlike Facebook and Apple, the company decided not to create its own news channel. Instead, Google wants to help European media companies to manage their transition into the digital age.

Its Digital News Initiative provides €150 million for projects that represent new thinking in digital journalism.

Again, this initiative is undertaken in cooperation with big media companies such as the Guardian and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

That may not be a huge investment for Google but this amount of funding could be effective if invested smartly as digital start-up-capital.

In other words, there is movement in the media market. And in addition to developing new and sustainable digital news models, these initiatives also provide an opportunity and platform on which to develop a European public sphere.

This in turn could make us better equipped for dealing with Europe’s identity crisis.

European Media Fund

But where are the Europeans? Why aren’t we doing this ourselves?

The drivers of these Journalism 4.0 initiatives all come out of the Silicon Valley.

Fair enough, one could say. But this is not just a matter of digital innovation and competing ideas. We are talking here about sensitive issues like media freedom, identity and public space, not to mention data security and data monopoly.

Instead of gambling away our future as suppliers of journalistic content to Silicon Valley platforms, we should create our own European media initiative, foster innovation through smart industrial policy coupled with best data standards, and, at the same time, provide the platforms for a much needed European public sphere.

Very concretely, the European Commission should establish a European Media Fund.

This Fund should provide financial support for new media initiatives with the explicit goal of fostering a European public sphere as an important element of a functioning European democracy.

The Fund should invest in innovative and sustainable media projects and be open to established media companies, public broadcasting, as well as to media start-ups.

The Fund’s portfolio would be broad and include high-quality journalism, educational programmes, research scholarships, and media networks. It should also deal with issues of European media and digital governance.

This European Media Fund would be far more than digital industrial policy. It would be an Airbus moment for the creation of a European public sphere.

At Google they would call this a Moonshot Project. It is exactly in this spirit that we should approach it.

Andre Wilkens is a German author and founding member of the European Council on Foreign Relations, Markus Rhomberg is chair of political communication at Zeppelin University Friedrichhafen

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