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
Professor Luís Miguel Poiares Pessoa Maduro
Summary of Key Findings andRecommendations
This report presents the findings and recommendations of the High Level Group (HLG) on MediaPluralism 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 theGroup was to provide a set of recommendations for the respect, the protection, the support andthe 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 thereare currently a number of challenges which can potentially restrict journalistic freedom or reducepluralism, whether through political influence, undue commercial pressures, the changing medialandscape with new business models, or the rise of the new media. At the same time, themisconduct of some journalists, which has recently come to light, also has the potential toundermine the sector’s credibility and, as a consequence, long term viability.
The HLG acknowledges that the main responsibility for maintaining media freedom and pluralismlies 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 upholdthe rights of freedom of movement and to protect the democratic sphere necessary for thefunctioning of EU democracy, in case this might be threatened by restrictions on media freedomand pluralism in one of the member states.
In addition, the EU must act in those areas where common rules in the Single Market may benecessary to prevent distortions in the functioning of the media arising from divergent MemberState laws and impacting on media freedom and pluralism.
Recommendation: The EU should be considered competent to act to protect media freedom andpluralism at State level in order to guarantee the substance of the rights granted by the Treatiesto EU citizens, in particular the rights of free movement and to representative democracy. Thelink between media freedom and pluralism and EU democracy, in particular, justifies a moreextensive competence of the EU with respect to these fundamental rights than to othersenshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Recommendation: For improving the functioning of the Single Market, further harmonisation ofEU legislation would be of great benefit. Currently, the existence of divergences betweennational rules can lead to distortions in the framework of cross-border media activities, especiallyin the online world. It would be particularly important to adopt minimum harmonisation rulescovering cross-border media activities on areas such as libel laws or data protection.
Recommendation: European and national competition authorities should take into account thespecific value of media pluralism in the enforcement of competition rules. They should also takeinto account the increasing merging of different channels of communication and media access inthe definition of the relevant markets. In addition, the High Level Group calls upon the Europeanand national competition authorities to monitor with particular attention, under competitionpolicy, new developments in the online access to information. The dominant position held bysome network access providers or internet information providers should not be allowed torestrict media freedom and pluralism. An open and non-discriminatory access to information byall citizens must be protected in the online sphere, if necessary by making use of competition lawand/or enforcing a principle of network and net neutrality.
Recommendation: National competition authorities need to make (or commission) pro-activeregular assessments of individual countries’ media environments and markets, highlightingpotential threats to pluralism. At the EU level, there should be pro-active market assessmentunder 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. Inaddition, 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. Therole media plays in a functioning democracy should be critically assessed as part of nationalcurricula, integrated either with civics or social studies.
Recommendation: EU political actors have a special responsibility and capacity in triggeringEuropean news coverage. The Presidents of the EU institutions should regularly organiseinterviews with a panel composed of national media from across the EU. This format would havethe advantage of not only increasing national coverage of EU affairs but also making thatcoverage more pluralist, since the interviews to be broadcast or printed in the different MemberStates 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 Statesbut also beyond its borders, in particular where the EU has clear responsibilities such as withregards to trade and enlargement.
Recommendation: Media freedom and pluralism should play a prominent role in the assessmentof accession countries. A free and pluralist media environment must be a pre-condition for EUmembership.
Recommendation: The EU should raise the issue of journalistic freedom in all international forawhere human rights and democracy are discussed, including as part of trade/partnershipagreements 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-dateinformation on the state of media freedom and pluralism in the Member States (monitoring), aswell as developing a deeper knowledge of this rapidly-changing sector.
Recommendation: To reinforce European values of freedom and pluralism, the EU shoulddesignate, in the work programme and funding of the European fundamental rights agency, amonitoring role of national-level freedom and pluralism of the media. The agency would thenissue regular reports about any risks to the freedom and pluralism of the media in any part of theEU. The European Parliament could then discuss the contents of these reports and adoptresolutions or make suggestions for measures to be taken.
Recommendation: As an alternative to the mechanism suggested in the previousRecommendation, the EU could establish an independent monitoring centre, ideally as part ofacademia, which would be partially funded by the EU but would be fully independent in itsactivities.
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 onthe changing media environment, in order to provide a solid academic basis for policy initiativesin this field.
The rise of new technologies and of new business models, along with accelerating changes tojournalism as a profession, require on-going adaptations to the regulatory framework. Suchadaptations, in turn, must be based on effective monitoring of the changing media environment, ifany new interventions are to produce the desired effect.
Recommendation: Any new regulatory frameworks must be brought into line with the newreality of a fluid media environment, covering all types of journalistic activities, regardless of thetransmission medium.
Recommendation: Journalist and media organisations should adapt their codes of conduct andjournalistic standards to the challenges posed by a rapidly changing media environment. Inparticular, they should clearly address questions of source verification and fact checking, as wellas 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 suchservices need to be informed about the application of any filtering, selecting or hierarchicalordering of the information they receive. In addition, they should have the right to object to theautomatic 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 thepossibility for the user to turn off such personalisation, temporarily for an individual query, orpermanently, until further notice.
Recommendation: Channels or mechanisms through which media are delivered to the end usershould be entirely neutral in their handling of this content. In the case of digital networks, NetNeutrality 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 forspreading information, there is a growing need to provide more, and better focused, support forthe 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 publicservice or state-supported media, especially about the proportion of resources allotted to publicservice broadcasting, or the extent of state support for other media.
Recommendation: There should be streamlining and coordination of support and funding forquality journalism, as already exists in several EU countries. Europe-wide awards should be madeavailable for talented journalists and those having made significant breakthroughs. An additionalstudy should be commissioned on possible new forms of funding for quality and investigativejournalism, including making use of new technologies such as crowdfunding.
Recommendation: Any public funding should only be available for media organisations whichpublish 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 ofnon-discriminatory, objective and transparent criteria which are made known in advance to allmedia.
Recommendation: In order to build up cadres of professional journalists competent to operate ina rapidly changing media landscape, or to offer them the possibility to do investigativejournalism, journalistic fellowships should be offered to both entry-level and and mid-careercandidates who could take leave from their media organisations. Universities and researchcentres should set up positions for journalists in residence under such fellowships to be fundedby the EU. The selection of the journalists would be done by the academic and scientificinstitutions themselves. The fellowships would be particularly valuable for investigativejournalism, 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 (includingsuch items as translation costs, travel and coordination costs) should be an essential componentof European media policy. Support for journalists specialised in cross-border topics should beincluded in such funding.
Recommendation: Attention is called to national journalism schools and university professors forthe possibility of applying to the Jean Monnet programme to support curricula and teaching oncoverage of European issues. The Commission should be especially pro-active in informingjournalism schools of this possibility and consider this area one of the priorities in the selectionprocedure under such a programme.
Recommendation: There should be a provision of state funding for media which are essential forpluralism (including geographical, linguistic, cultural and political pluralism), but are notcommercially viable. The state should intervene whenever there is a market failure leading to theunder-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 developthe overall framework in which the media operates, with regard to media councils or regulators. Inaddition, media organisations themselves must show clearly how self-regulation is applied in theirorganisation.
Recommendation: To ensure that all media organisations follow clearly identifiable codes ofconduct and editorial lines, and apply the principles of editorial independence, it should bemandatory 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 andculturally balanced and socially diverse membership. Nominations to them should betransparent, with built-in checks and balances. Such bodies would have competences toinvestigate complaints, much like a media ombudsman, but would also check that mediaorganisations 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 ofjournalistic status. The national media councils should follow a set of European-wide standardsand 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 insharing common good practices and set quality standards. All regulators should be independent,with appointments being made in a transparent manner, with all appropriate checks andbalances.
Recommendation: Any public ownership of the media should be subject to strict rules prohibitinggovernmental interference, guaranteeing internal pluralism and placed under the supervision ofan independent body representing all stakeholders.
Media freedom requires a robust framework for protecting journalistic freedom in all MemberStates, 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 ofprotection of journalistic sources, restrictions to this principle only being acceptable on the basisof 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 pressconferences, with electronic means used to broaden out these events to a wider audience wherepractically possible.
Since rights carry responsibilities, journalists have the professional obligation to provide accurateinformation and must always be responsible and accountable for their output.
Recommendation: Member States should ensure that appropriate instruments are put in placefor 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 keptconfidential and made available only by a court order.
Recommendation: Compulsory damages following court cases should include an apology andretraction of accusations printed with equal positioning and size of the original defamation, orpresented in the same time slot in the case of radio or TV programmes. In addition to this and toa legally-imposed right of reply, it should become accepted as responsible practice among newsmedia to also publish retractions and corrections of wrong and unverified information on thesimple request of citizens providing justifications to the contrary. Any such retractions andcorrections should be published with the same relevance as the original coverage when thecorrection of the potential harm done by such false information so justifies. Any public fundingshould be conditional on the inclusion of such provisions in the code of conduct of the mediaorganisation.
The HLG believes that the EU can, and should, have a bigger role in supporting media freedom andpluralism in the EU and beyond. The recommendations in this report should be understood as anencouragement to develop the overall EU framework, ensuring that high quality media cancontinue to contribute to European democracy across the EU.