23rd Oct 2016

MEPs kill EU 'blogger registry' that never was

  • The status of bloggers as reporters is unclear (Photo: European Commission)

Calls for Europe to initiate a process clarifying the legal status of bloggers - a discourse many across Europe had erroneously believed was in fact EU legislation that would have seen a European 'registry of bloggers' - died on the floor of the European Parliament on Thursday (25 September).

MEPs passed a resolution with 307 votes to 262 calling on the European Commission and member states to safeguard pluralism amongst newspapers, television programmes, radio and on the internet in an era of ever-concentrating media ownership.

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The resolution also called for "an open discussion on all issues relating to the status of weblogs" - much softer language regarding blogs than had earlier appeared in the report on which the resolution was based.

Estonian centre-left MEP Marianne Mikko - the report's author - had wanted to call for full clarification of the legal status of webblog authors, disclosure of bloggers' interests and the voluntary labelling of blogs, all of which had been supported by MEPs across the political spectrum at the committee level.

MEPs had been worried that the legal situation of bloggers regarding source protection is unclear, as was where liability should be assigned in the event of lawsuits. The Euro-deputies had thus recommended that blogs and their authors be taken out of this legal limbo.

Such language however produced a firestorm of reaction in Sweden when the report emerged in the Swedish media in June.

At the time, the Swedish government had recently narrowly passed legislation that gave officials the power to open all emails and listen to any telephone conversation in the country, and Ms Mikko's proposals around blogs seemed to be of a similar nature to the government's surveillance bill.

Commentators across the political spectrum confused the report, which has no legal weight, with binding legislation, and claimed it would have produced a "blogger registry." One Swedish politician condemned it as "another example of Big Brother snooping into people's daily lives."

"I've been subject to a lot of attacks from bloggers all over Europe," Ms Mikko told reporters after the passage of the resolution. "I've been called Mao Tse-Tung, Lukashenko, Ceauscescu - it's not very pleasant."

"I understand and yet I don't understand the reaction of bloggers," she said. "Nobody is interested in regulating the internet ... But I understand how a sensitivity was touched. I'm sorry that's the playground we're dealing with at the moment."

She pointed out that while print and online journalists in various jurisdictions are restricted by slander and libel legislation, the status of bloggers as reporters is unclear.

"Are bloggers equally trusted [as journalists]? I'm getting a little bit concerned."

"All you journalists know how powerful the web is," she said, speaking to reporters at a press conference. "But do all bloggers think the same? The web is a weapon in your hands. You can kill someone with your words."

Media concentration

The brou-ha-ha over the supposed blogger registry has overshadowed the main elements of the resolution, which focuses on corporate concentration of the media.

While there has been a proliferation of new commercial outlets in recent years around the world - particularly within broadcasting and on the internet - a slew of mergers have sharply narrowed the number of companies in the media business to the point where the majority of outlets are owned by just a few major conglomerates, such as Bertelsmann, Vivendi, News Corp, Viacom and Time Warner.

Media critics worry that these conglomerates lean toward a single centre-right political perspective, crowding out other views.

Further, to prevent owners, shareholders or governments from interfering with editorial content, MEPs called for the creation of editorial charters.

The resolution also encourages the disclosure of ownership of all media outlets. In a veiled reference to Italy, it says that within Europe, competition law and media law should be interlinked to avoid conflicts between media ownership concentration and political power.

In Italy, media watchdogs are concerned that Silvio Berlusconi is not only prime minister and ultimately the boss of the public broadcasters, but is also the owner of much of the country's private media outlets.

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