As we have recently reported, there are a number of interesting new policy initiatives currently taking shape in Brussels. The independent report from the High Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism argued last month that the European Union can and should be more engaged with the media systems in Member States. A citizens initiative to gather support for a new directive is in the process of launching accross the EU. And while the European Commission’s various Directorates attempt to sort out whether the Union has competence in this area, a key committee of the European Parliament has now decided that it does.
On 21 February, Members of the European Parliament’s influential Civil Liberties Committee voted 47 to 6 to adopt a non-legislative resolution affirming calling for the EU to introduce annual monitoring across the Union of media freedom and media concentration. The resolution covers quite a thorough list of media freedom concerns, which are likely to get the attention of media owners and media professionals. Here is a flavour of some of the key proposals, that the Parliament is likely to debate in April. As well as monitoring media laws for Hungary-like attacks on media freedom, the committee recommends an EU role in:
- Protecting journalists from pressure from publishers or owners
- Establishing professional standards for ethical journalism
- Establishing standards for self-regulation
- Monitoring independence of heads and management bodies of public media
- Ensuring access to free and diversified media
- Working to prevent precarious working conditions for journalists and media professionals
While on some of these issues the resolution calls only for monitoring or investigating by the EC, there are two significant calls to action. On self-regulation the MEPs have clearly stated that self-regulation and codes of conduct are better than legislation, but seem to support some form of statutory underpinning similar to that suggested by Leveson. They propose that the Commission come up with a “legal instrument” to ensure “the establishment by the media sector of an independent media regulatory authority” in Member States. Additionally, they call on the Commission and Member States to intervene in cases of undue media concentration, and have made sure to state that their proposals apply to social media and other new media platforms as well as the traditional ones. The final version of the resolution has yet to be published, and it is a non-legislative resolution, but the strong positions of the MEPs seem to indicate that the issues of media freedom and pluralism will remain on the EU agenda for the near future.