EUdSSR: Control of "Media Freedom and Pluralism"

The Report of the High Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism

Professor Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga (Chair) Professor Herta Däubler-Gmelin
Ben Hammersley
Professor Luís Miguel Poiares Pessoa Maduro

Summary of Key Findings and Recommendations

This report presents the findings and recommendations of the High Level Group (HLG) on Media Pluralism and Freedom, chaired by Professor Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga with Professor Herta Däubler- Gmelin, Professor Luís Miguel Poiares Pessoa Maduro and Ben Hammersley. The remit of the Group was to provide a set of recommendations for the respect, the protection, the support and the promotion of pluralism and freedom of the media in Europe.

The HLG recognises that a free and pluralistic media is crucial for European democracy. But there are currently a number of challenges which can potentially restrict journalistic freedom or reduce pluralism, whether through political influence, undue commercial pressures, the changing media landscape with new business models, or the rise of the new media. At the same time, the misconduct of some journalists, which has recently come to light, also has the potential to undermine the sector’s credibility and, as a consequence, long term viability.

The HLG acknowledges that the main responsibility for maintaining media freedom and pluralism lies with the Member States. However, the European Union also has an important role to play. Beyond cross-border issues which arise in the Single Market, including competition policy issues, the EU also has a role in upholding the fundamental rights of EU citizens.

In addition, as argued in this report, the EU must also act in this area when necessary to uphold the rights of freedom of movement and to protect the democratic sphere necessary for the functioning of EU democracy, in case this might be threatened by restrictions on media freedom and pluralism in one of the member states.

In addition, the EU must act in those areas where common rules in the Single Market may be necessary to prevent distortions in the functioning of the media arising from divergent Member State laws and impacting on media freedom and pluralism.

Recommendation: The EU should be considered competent to act to protect media freedom and pluralism at State level in order to guarantee the substance of the rights granted by the Treaties to EU citizens, in particular the rights of free movement and to representative democracy. The link between media freedom and pluralism and EU democracy, in particular, justifies a more extensive competence of the EU with respect to these fundamental rights than to others enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Recommendation: For improving the functioning of the Single Market, further harmonisation of EU legislation would be of great benefit. Currently, the existence of divergences between national rules can lead to distortions in the framework of cross-border media activities, especially in the online world. It would be particularly important to adopt minimum harmonisation rules covering cross-border media activities on areas such as libel laws or data protection.


Recommendation: European and national competition authorities should take into account the specific value of media pluralism in the enforcement of competition rules. They should also take into account the increasing merging of different channels of communication and media access in the definition of the relevant markets. In addition, the High Level Group calls upon the European and national competition authorities to monitor with particular attention, under competition policy, new developments in the online access to information. The dominant position held by some network access providers or internet information providers should not be allowed to restrict media freedom and pluralism. An open and non-discriminatory access to information by all citizens must be protected in the online sphere, if necessary by making use of competition law and/or enforcing a principle of network and net neutrality.

Recommendation: National competition authorities need to make (or commission) pro-active regular assessments of individual countries’ media environments and markets, highlighting potential threats to pluralism. At the EU level, there should be pro-active market assessment under competition policy in the form of a sectoral inquiry.

Within the EU, more must be done to ensure that citizens can critically engage with media. In addition, there is a need to develop a more engaged public debate at EU level.

Recommendation: Media literacy should be taught in schools starting at high-school level. The role media plays in a functioning democracy should be critically assessed as part of national curricula, integrated either with civics or social studies.

Recommendation: EU political actors have a special responsibility and capacity in triggering European news coverage. The Presidents of the EU institutions should regularly organise interviews with a panel composed of national media from across the EU. This format would have the advantage of not only increasing national coverage of EU affairs but also making that coverage more pluralist, since the interviews to be broadcast or printed in the different Member States would include questions from journalists from other Member States.

The EU should not only act to protect media freedom and pluralism within its own Member States but also beyond its borders, in particular where the EU has clear responsibilities such as with regards to trade and enlargement.

Recommendation: Media freedom and pluralism should play a prominent role in the assessment of accession countries. A free and pluralist media environment must be a pre-condition for EU membership.

Recommendation: The EU should raise the issue of journalistic freedom in all international fora where human rights and democracy are discussed, including as part of trade/partnership agreements and in the context of provision of aid.

To be able to fulfil a more pro-active role, the EU needs to be able to access up-to-date information on the state of media freedom and pluralism in the Member States (monitoring), as well as developing a deeper knowledge of this rapidly-changing sector.


Recommendation: To reinforce European values of freedom and pluralism, the EU should designate, in the work programme and funding of the European fundamental rights agency, a monitoring role of national-level freedom and pluralism of the media. The agency would then issue regular reports about any risks to the freedom and pluralism of the media in any part of the EU. The European Parliament could then discuss the contents of these reports and adopt resolutions or make suggestions for measures to be taken.

Recommendation: As an alternative to the mechanism suggested in the previous Recommendation, the EU could establish an independent monitoring centre, ideally as part of academia, which would be partially funded by the EU but would be fully independent in its activities.

Recommendation: To evaluate the manner in which media consumption patterns are changing, as well as their social impact, comprehensive longitudinal studies are needed at the EU level. More broadly, the EU should provide sustainable funding for academic research and studies on the changing media environment, in order to provide a solid academic basis for policy initiatives in this field.

The rise of new technologies and of new business models, along with accelerating changes to journalism as a profession, require on-going adaptations to the regulatory framework. Such adaptations, in turn, must be based on effective monitoring of the changing media environment, if any new interventions are to produce the desired effect.

Recommendation: Any new regulatory frameworks must be brought into line with the new reality of a fluid media environment, covering all types of journalistic activities, regardless of the transmission medium.

Recommendation: Journalist and media organisations should adapt their codes of conduct and journalistic standards to the challenges posed by a rapidly changing media environment. In particular, they should clearly address questions of source verification and fact checking, as well as transparently regulating their relationship with external sources of news.

In view of the increasing role of the internet as a source of information, the end-users of such services need to be informed about the application of any filtering, selecting or hierarchical ordering of the information they receive. In addition, they should have the right to object to the automatic application of such filtering algorithms, should they so choose.

Recommendation: In order to give complete transparency as to how individualised a service is, services that provide heavily personalised search results or newsfeeds should provide the possibility for the user to turn off such personalisation, temporarily for an individual query, or permanently, until further notice.

Recommendation: Channels or mechanisms through which media are delivered to the end user should be entirely neutral in their handling of this content. In the case of digital networks, Net Neutrality and the end-to-end principle should be enshrined within EU law.


Given the pressure of new business models and the competition of new technologies for spreading information, there is a growing need to provide more, and better focused, support for the creation of content (rather than just its distribution) and high quality journalism.

Public non-profit media have a special role to play in maintaining pluralism and democratic values. There may be a debate, however, about the right balance between privately-owned and public service or state-supported media, especially about the proportion of resources allotted to public service broadcasting, or the extent of state support for other media.

Recommendation: There should be streamlining and coordination of support and funding for quality journalism, as already exists in several EU countries. Europe-wide awards should be made available for talented journalists and those having made significant breakthroughs. An additional study should be commissioned on possible new forms of funding for quality and investigative journalism, including making use of new technologies such as crowdfunding.

Recommendation: Any public funding should only be available for media organisations which publish a code of conduct easily accessible to the public (including on their site).

Recommendation: Any public funding to media organisations should be given on the basis of non-discriminatory, objective and transparent criteria which are made known in advance to all media.

Recommendation: In order to build up cadres of professional journalists competent to operate in a rapidly changing media landscape, or to offer them the possibility to do investigative journalism, journalistic fellowships should be offered to both entry-level and and mid-career candidates who could take leave from their media organisations. Universities and research centres should set up positions for journalists in residence under such fellowships to be funded by the EU. The selection of the journalists would be done by the academic and scientific institutions themselves. The fellowships would be particularly valuable for investigative journalism, or for training journalists to mediate between complex subjects such as science, technology, finance or medicine and the wider public.

Recommendation: The provision of funding for cross-border European media networks (including such items as translation costs, travel and coordination costs) should be an essential component of European media policy. Support for journalists specialised in cross-border topics should be included in such funding.

Recommendation: Attention is called to national journalism schools and university professors for the possibility of applying to the Jean Monnet programme to support curricula and teaching on coverage of European issues. The Commission should be especially pro-active in informing journalism schools of this possibility and consider this area one of the priorities in the selection procedure under such a programme.

Recommendation: There should be a provision of state funding for media which are essential for pluralism (including geographical, linguistic, cultural and political pluralism), but are not commercially viable. The state should intervene whenever there is a market failure leading to the under-provision of pluralism, which should be considered as a key public good.


Clearly, recent events have highlighted that in a number of countries there is a need to develop the overall framework in which the media operates, with regard to media councils or regulators. In addition, media organisations themselves must show clearly how self-regulation is applied in their organisation.

Recommendation: To ensure that all media organisations follow clearly identifiable codes of conduct and editorial lines, and apply the principles of editorial independence, it should be mandatory for them to make them publicly available, including by publication on their website.

Recommendation: All EU countries should have independent media councils with a politically and culturally balanced and socially diverse membership. Nominations to them should be transparent, with built-in checks and balances. Such bodies would have competences to investigate complaints, much like a media ombudsman, but would also check that media organisations have published a code of conduct and have revealed ownership details, declarations of conflicts of interest, etc. Media councils should have real enforcement powers, such as the imposition of fines, orders for printed or broadcast apologies, or removal of journalistic status. The national media councils should follow a set of European-wide standards and be monitored by the Commission to ensure that they comply with European values.

Recommendation: A network of national audio-visual regulatory authorities should be created, on the model of the one created by the electronic communications framework. It would help in sharing common good practices and set quality standards. All regulators should be independent, with appointments being made in a transparent manner, with all appropriate checks and balances.

Recommendation: Any public ownership of the media should be subject to strict rules prohibiting governmental interference, guaranteeing internal pluralism and placed under the supervision of an independent body representing all stakeholders.

Media freedom requires a robust framework for protecting journalistic freedom in all Member States, which represents a special case of the general right to freedom of expression.

Recommendation: All EU countries should have enshrined in their legislation the principle of protection of journalistic sources, restrictions to this principle only being acceptable on the basis of a court order, compatible with the constitution of that country.

Recommendation: Access to public sources and events should depend on objective, non- discriminatory and transparent criteria. This ought to be notably the case with regard to press conferences, with electronic means used to broaden out these events to a wider audience where practically possible.

Since rights carry responsibilities, journalists have the professional obligation to provide accurate information and must always be responsible and accountable for their output.


Recommendation: Member States should ensure that appropriate instruments are put in place for identifying those responsible for harming others through the media, even in the online space. Any internet user-data collection necessary for this purpose, however, should be kept confidential and made available only by a court order.

Recommendation: Compulsory damages following court cases should include an apology and retraction of accusations printed with equal positioning and size of the original defamation, or presented in the same time slot in the case of radio or TV programmes. In addition to this and to a legally-imposed right of reply, it should become accepted as responsible practice among news media to also publish retractions and corrections of wrong and unverified information on the simple request of citizens providing justifications to the contrary. Any such retractions and corrections should be published with the same relevance as the original coverage when the correction of the potential harm done by such false information so justifies. Any public funding should be conditional on the inclusion of such provisions in the code of conduct of the media organisation.

The HLG believes that the EU can, and should, have a bigger role in supporting media freedom and pluralism in the EU and beyond. The recommendations in this report should be understood as an encouragement to develop the overall EU framework, ensuring that high quality media can continue to contribute to European democracy across the EU.