Günther H. Oettinger
Europe has a good record when it comes to the freedom of the media. But the situation is far from perfect.
Albert Camus once said: “A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.”
If we are to protect our own precious liberties and maintain our ability to serve as a beacon for our own neighbourhood and the world, we must thus remain vigilant.
As Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, also in charge of media, I am committed to doing whatever it takes to make sure that these basic principles are respected. I am willing to engage in a dialogue and to convey the message how important media freedoms are for our democracies, while recalling that any candidate country wishing to join the EU needs to respect the highest standards of press freedom.
The independence of regulatory authorities in the audio-visual field is also a very important issue. If these watchdogs are truly independent from the governments, they can play their role the best: ensure that TV broadcasters respect all rules protecting the interest of the viewers, be it children’s protection from very violent films, a pluralistic TV landscape or limits to advertising.
The upcoming revision of the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive is an opportunity to strengthen the independence requirements for media regulators, and it is my intention to use it.
However, not every problem can be solved by legislation. The initiatives of NGOs that are active in this field are crucial for raising awareness and providing assistance to journalists. We are therefore also providing financial support to independent projects that monitor and reinforce media freedom and pluralism.
One of these projects is the Media Pluralism Monitor, an independent tool used by the European University Institute’s Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom in Florence. It shows that no EU Member State is immune to risks threatening media pluralism.
More concretely, there are risks around: revealed media concentration, lack of political independence, insufficient access to information and a lack of adequate media literacy policy.
These risks have been confirmed by a very high number of alerts that have been
received on the independent Mapping Media Freedom platform, also supported by us. More than a third of the incidents reported on this online tool refer to harassment against journalists.
Other incidents which have been registered are related to the imprisonment or detention of journalists, laying off staff, violent attacks, as well as cases when journalistic work has been censored. The five countries with the most verified reports are Turkey, Italy, Hungary, France and Croatia.
Last year, we have also funded the establishment of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), based in Leipzig, to address media freedom violations in EU member states and beyond, including providing legal support to journalists under threat.
One of my conclusions from all this is that we need more debate on the issue of media freedom. That is why I am pleased that the Commission’s First Vice President, Frans Timmermans agreed to dedicate the annual EU Colloquium of Fundamental Rights in November this year to media pluralism and democracy.