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Safeguarding Media Pluralism in the EU

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Neelie Kroes …

Neelie Kroes
Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital
Agenda

Published in: News & Politics

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  • 1. EUROPEAN COMMISSIONNeelie KroesVice-President of the European Commission responsible for the DigitalAgendaSafeguarding Media Pluralism in the EU"United in Diversity" Pan-European Forum on Media Pluralism & NewMedia, European ParliamentBrussels, 27 June 2012 SPEECH/12/504
  • 2. As we stand in the Parliament, Europes democratic chamber, its a good time toremember what it is to be European. And to reflect on what Europe does best.Many see Europe as an economic union, a single market to boost trade.But for me its more than that: its a place where we come together and deliver for ourcitizens.And thats about more than economic growth.Here in Europe were an organised "melting pot". We have many cultures and histories:and we have for each others cultures awareness, curiosity, and respect.That is how we find unity in diversity: that is something to be proud of.Delivering for our citizens also means safeguarding freedom.Including the freedom of speech: the right to express yourself, to dissent, and to holdthe powerful to account.Outside Europe, not far from our doorstep even, we can see what it means to lose thattolerance and respect, or to be deprived of those rights.We rightly condemn when those freedoms are curtailed or quashed, from bloggersarrested in Syria, to journalists imprisoned in Azerbaijan.But, on the international stage, we can do more than just make strongly-wordedstatements.We should not just say: but show. We should show to the rest of the world what vibrantsociety prospers under these positive principles: liberty, tolerance, democracy.Then we can not just offer those gifts to our own people: but we can light a beacon ofhope to all oppressed peoples; and be the worlds wellspring of freedom.That needs a strong media sector. It is a free media, with professional and qualityjournalists, who often best inform electorates, challenge authority, and broadcastminority voices.Thus a free media exercises a fundamental right — aids our mutual culturalunderstanding – and improves how people are governed.Those principles offer an opportunity for our future.And they are worth fighting for.When they are threatened within the EUs own borders – as they have been in Hungary– we should indeed protect and defend them.There are two points Id like to make today.The first point is that a strong media sector exists within an economy, and must takeaccount of economic realities. As for so many things, pluralism cannot be guaranteed inisolation, but flourishes or withers according to the environment.As with so many sectors, the Internet is radically changing that environment.Transforming the economics, transforming value chains, transforming the role ofeveryone from journalist to paperboy.This digital revolution creates great opportunities for pluralism: but also some risks. Onthe one hand, it opens up a platform for every blogger , every Internet user, everycitizen, to make their voice heard. 2
  • 3. On the other, it may make it harder to invest in long-term, investigative journalism — asconsumers increasingly expect immediate content and access at low cost, or none at all.One thing is certain: we need to adapt. Carrying on and hoping digital realities go awayis no solution. Such an approach would close down new online opportunities; it woulddamage the sectors competitiveness; and, yes, it would ultimately damage mediapluralism.Today I received the first part of the report of the Media Futures Forum chaired byChristian van Thillo. That Forum includes those from across the sector value chain. Andtheir report is thorough and welcome.In spite of different perspectives, they recognise very clearly that — in a digital age —the media sector needs to change, or lose out. Ill be studying it very closely: I hopeothers will too.But already I can tell you Im convinced about many of the solutions they propose.Yes, we need more innovation; yes, we need more fast broadband.And yes, we need the rules and mentality to try out new business models; models withthe scale needed for pan-European success.Because, in a tough global market, these technologies can give a much-needed boost tothe media sector. And in fact to almost every other sector, too.To get that boost, we need the right laws, we need the right technology, and we needthe right mindsets and business models.For example, look at e-books: still today I cant transfer my own e-books from onedevice to another; still today its hard to buy an e-book from another EU country. Andthere are yet greater issues in the audiovisual world.Yesterday we got together those active in the ebook market, and they agreed on acommon declaration on these issues. This is a great result –and one example of the kindof change to mentality we need.Like I say, one cannot ignore the economics when considering media pluralism. But insome cases, a free media faces challenges that go well beyond economics. And thosesituations can pose more explicit threats to liberty and democracy. I have alreadyreferred to the case of Hungary.So that leads to my second question. Its well to talk of the importance of freedom andpluralism: but how, in detail, should we safeguard them?Looking beyond the economics – what policy tools, what legal powers, what moral rightsand responsibilities do we need?And that is indeed complex.Some say that governments should keep their hands off the media, full stop.I have some sympathy. But in some cases, positive government action can aid mediapluralism. For example, sometimes governments can ensure that ownership is not tooconcentrated, through competition policy.And sometimes, indeed, I find that people do expect public authorities to act. Indeedrecent threats to media freedom showed up a very strong general expectation that theCommission can act. But, as it stands, the legal framework wont let us meet thatexpectation. One or other needs to adjust.This is a key question. I want to resolve it. 3
  • 4. Currently the EU does not have the legal competence to act in this area as part of itsnormal business. In practice, our role involves naming and shaming countries ad hoc, asissues arise.Year after year I return to this Parliament to deal with a different, often serious, case, ina different Member State. I am quite willing to continue to exercise that politicalpressure on Member States that risk violating our common values. But theres merit in amore principled way forward.On the other hand, I dont want to rush to regulation. In some cases regulation cansupport freedom. But if our aim is to separate the media from governments orparliaments, then the risk is that regulation does exactly the opposite.In recent cases, NGOs, journalists and Members of Parliament complained that we didnot have sufficient power or that we did not intervene enough in this area. Well, theywould be the first to complain if we ended up with too much power, or intervened toomuch. And rightly so.So I have asked for advice. The report by the Media Futures Forum is the first step.I am also looking forward to the advice of the High-Level Group on Media Freedom andPluralism, led by Vaire Vike-Freiberga. To the ongoing work of Centre for Media Pluralismand Freedom in Florence. And, of course, to the debate on media freedom standards inthis Parliament.But they alone wont solve the problem. More generally I want a principled debate. Iwant all those involved – Member States, the European Parliament, NGOs, journalistsand others – to contribute frankly about these issues.Todays conference is an important step to start this debate.Does more need to be done to safeguard media freedom and pluralism? Who should doit? And what are the best tools to use?Some believe that the media market in Europe is too local, too fragmented, for the EU tohave a role.Others believe that, as the EU is grounded in common values like freedom of speech, itshould also protect those values. If this latter is the conclusion of our debate, Im readyto play my part.But in any case I want to decide a way forward before the end of my mandate.The issue of how to safeguard media freedom and pluralism is complex: it will involvereflection and hard choices: and its too important to treat simplistically.But to those who say its too complex, too risky, too much of a headache to even thinkabout, I could not disagree more. This is about democracy, it is about freedom, it isabout Europe.No cost is too high to secure those aims. No level of commitment too extravagant toensure the beacon of a free and prosperous European media: one that continues toshine in the twenty-first century. 4