| Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy

Public Debate: MEDIADEM final European conference in Brussels, 07/02/2013

Τhe Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), the European Platform of Regulatory Authorities (EPRA) and the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) co-organised the final conference of the MEDIADEM project on ‘Media freedom and independence: Trends and challenges in Europe’. The conference took place on 7 February 2013 in Brussels. It was hosted by the Representation of the Free State of Bavaria to the European Union.

The aim of the conference was to present MEDIADEM’s research findings and to put forward succinct policy recommendations for the development of free and independent media in contemporary democratic societies in Europe. The conference gathered over 140 representatives of the broader European media policy community, the media and its professionals, and civil society associations active in the field of the media.

The conference started with the welcome address of Dr Philipp Stiel of the Representation of the Free State of Bavaria to the European Union and Dr Simon Schunz, research programme officer at DG Research and Innovation, European Commission.

The first session was devoted to MEDIADEM’s main comparative research findings. It began with a description of the project by Dr Evangelia Psychogiopoulou, research fellow at ELIAMEP and MEDIADEM’s scientific coordinator, which set the scene for the presentations and the two roundtables that followed. Dr Psychogiopoulou explained the scope of the research that was carried out, stressing MEDIADEM’s interest in the media as agents of information and debate that facilitate public discourse in a democratic society. Under this perspective, media policy, for the purposes of MEDIADEM’s research, has been understood, she explained, as the whole range of policy approaches, strategies and tools that are employed (or not employed) to shape the media in a way that promotes their role as facilitators and carriers of public discourse. The analysis has then adopted an institutional dimension, focusing on the contribution of distinct actors at different levels and through different processes on policy formulation and implementation that may benefit or act to the detriment of media freedom and independence. The concept of freedom and independence, she further noted, upon which the whole project was based, sought to cater for all the different types of pressures facing the media: pressures stemming from ownership, finance, the media’s need for access to information, legal rules and judicial practices, among others.

The second presentation was that of Professor Fabrizio Cafaggi of the European University Institute, and Dr Federica Casarosa, researcher at the European University Institute, on fundamental rights and media regulation. The presenters made an overview of the findings of the comparative report The regulatory quest for free and independent media concerning the structure of European Union (EU) competences for the protection of media freedom and independence, the constitutional foundations of regulatory alternatives, the implications of adopting an integrated notion of media as a basis for regulatory intervention, and the different forms of regulation (public and private) adopted in the 14 MEDIADEM countries. As regards the latter, Prof. Cafaggi highlighted that the boundary between public and private regulation is not neat and that there is limited regulatory coordination even at the national level. Regulatory coordination within both public and private regulation at a European level could be effective in protecting fundamental rights in media activity, he noted. Dr Federica Casarosa talked about the independence of the media regulatory authorities vis-à-vis the government in the countries covered by the project and about the increasing role of European and national courts in addressing and solving media related issues while ‘filling’ regulatory gaps.

Professor Epp Lauk of the University of Jyväskylä presented MEDIADEM’s main comparative findings in relation to journalistic autonomy and freedom of expression. She noted that today’s fast changing media environment has blurred the definition of who is a journalist, albeit a universally accepted definition has never existed. In the countries examined, she noted, a status-based (usually linked to membership in a professional association) or an activity-based definition is generally followed; only in few countries (Belgium,Croatia and Italy) the law provides for a definition of ‘professional’ journalists. She then discussed the concept of ‘journalistic autonomy’ as a central value of professional behaviour and a precondition for independent journalism, and elaborated on the factors that support or constrain this autonomy across the MEDIADEM countries. As regards external pressures coming from the sphere of politics, these occur through state involvement in the media and through the relationships established between politicians and journalists and play out differently from country to country. Economic factors and market pressures, although universal, also have a variable impact. The influence of factors stemming from journalists’ immediate environment (newsroom and news organisation, relationship with peers, everyday working routines, etc.) or from within the profession (e.g. ethical rules) on journalists’ autonomy is quite noticeable across the countries examined. Overall, she concluded, the protection of the autonomy of the individual journalist is a pan-European concern and measures that aim at balancing the competitive nature of the job market and the commercial or other interests of media organisations should be considered.

The presentation of Dr Dia Anagnostou, senior research fellow at ELIAMEP, focused on the findings of MEDIADEM’s comparative analysis on the freedom and independence of public service media (PSM). She explained that two key issues influence and shape the nature and function of PSM at present: the relationship with the state and the government of the day, and the relationship with, and pressures from the commercial media, which have intensified with the advent of online technology. In the present context of market competition, PSM are called to reassert their rationale and purpose, and generally justify their existence. She then drew attention to the effectiveness of legal and institutional provisions in guaranteeing the independence of PSM from the government and dominant political forces. These pertain to the remit of PSM, their management and supervisory control structures, and their financing. She highlighted that the independence of PSM must be understood as a contingent outcome of on-going processes of supervisory control and negotiation among a variety of public and private actors, within the constraints and safeguards of the existing governance and financial arrangements.

Dr Andrej Školkay, director of the School of Communication and Media, and Dr Juan Luis Manfredi, senior lecturer at the University of Castilla-La Mancha, presented the project’s comparative findings with respect to media freedom and independence in the new media services environment. Dr Školkay pointed out the lack of a legal definition of new media in most, if not all EU countries and at the EU level. Therefore, the research that was carried out, he explained, focused on the following new media tool: blogs, online-only news portals and the online versions of the traditional media. The analysis shows that there is an urgent institutional need to regulate the behaviour of professionals and non-professionals in the online world. In fact, due to the lack of statutory regulation, regulation comes from the individual media owners with the establishment of codes that can sometimes be particularly restrictive. On the other side, court decisions act as a form of indirect state regulation, adopting, for instance, in cases concerning freedom of speech and libel/defamation either a ‘hard approach’ to new media services (i.e. an approach similar to the one followed for the traditional media) or a ‘soft approach’ (i.e. considering that new media services do not have an equal status with traditional media, and thus have no or limited duties). Any regulatory answer for new media services, they concluded, needs to be in support of free media and independent journalism.

In the discussion following the presentation of MEDIADEM’s comparative findings, comments and issues were raised concerning the role of publicly-funded media in the new media environment, technological convergence and its effects on the regulation of PSM, the independence of PSM and regulatory authorities, the tensions between European level regulation and national competences in the field of the media, and the contribution of self-regulation and ethical codes of conduct to the promotion of professional standards in online and citizen journalism, among others.

The meeting continued with two roundtables. The first roundtable focused on the ‘role of state and non-state actors in promoting media freedom and independence’ and was chaired by Mr Peter Kramer, Brussels representative of the Association of European Journalists. Dr Rachael Craufurd Smith, senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, presented the findings of the project concerning the major constraints that affect the operation of free and independent media in the countries reviewed, and discussed the project’s policy recommendations targeting national stakeholders for addressing these constraints in practice. These are: a) supporting a co-ordinated, evidence-led, open and transparent policy development process; b) ensuring effective compliance with international guarantees of freedom of expression and information; c) mitigating inappropriate political influence on appointments to the public service media and the media regulatory bodies and on the allocation of public funds; d) up-dating regulatory rules and structures in the light of convergence; e) supporting a balance between  public service and commercial media; f) monitoring and controlling excessive media ownership; and g) developing quality journalism and supporting media literacy.

Professor Wolfgang Schultz of the Hans-Bredow Institut for Media Research emphasised the close link between regulatory independence and media freedom and discussed the connection between the recommendations advanced by MEDIADEM concerning the independence of media regulators and the indicators of regulatory independence coming out of the INDIREG study which he coordinated. He highlighted that cultural differences impact the way in which independence is demonstrated in practice and noted that transparency is important but is not a panacea for all ills. EPRA Chairman, Jean-François Furnémont, supported MEDIADEM’s recommendations about the need for more coordination between independent regulators in Europe, yet expressed doubts as to the optimum regulatory design for such cooperation. He regretted the absence of a requirement for the independence of regulatory authorities in the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive and expressed the hope that this failure will be corrected on the occasion of the next review. Mr Tobias Eberwein, scientific officer at the Erich Brost Institute for Journalism in Europe, discussed the link between MEDIADEM’s recommendations targeting media accountability and the findings of the MediaAct project. He noted that alongside traditional instruments of media accountability (such as press councils), new online accountability instruments (such as journalists’ blogs and comment’s pages) are gaining presence – yet their significance and impact on journalists’ accountability differ among countries.

The second roundtable was dedicated to the ‘role of the European Union and the Council of Europe in promoting media freedom and independence’. It was chaired by Dr Maja Cappello, EPRA vice-chair. It started with a presentation of MEDIADEM’s policy recommendations for the EU and the Council of Europe by Professor Fabrizio Cafaggi, who noted that media freedom and pluralism in the rapidly changing media environment form the object of increasing attention by the EU institutions. Blurring boundaries between markets point to the need of adopting an integrated notion of media where new and conventional media are considered as part of the same regulatory field. At the same time, regulatory fragmentation across countries should be addressed by way of coordination rather than integration. Overall, principle-based, rather than ‘command and control’ regulation, is more suitable to address the fast changing dynamics of the sector. Turning to professional regulation, Prof. Cafaggi noted that an activity-based definition of professional journalism fits better with technological progress. He argued that any regulation addressing professional journalists should be able to capture the distinctions between professional journalism, non-professional journalism, public speech, private speech etc.

Mr Björn Janson, head of Media Division of the Directorate General of Human Rights and Rule of Law of the Council of Europe, discussed the implications of the adoption of a new notion of media by the Council of Europe and the challenges the Council of Europe faces in implementing existing standards in the new media ecosystem. In this context, the issue of safeguarding pluralism and diversity in the online world as well as defining journalism will soon be addressed. He further noted that the work of the Council of Europe supports the use of soft law but the lack of implementation remains an obstacle. Dr Panayotis Voyatzis, referendaire at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), referred to the measures adopted by the ECtHR to enhance the implementation of its own judgments, in particular to the practice of pinpointing the individual and general measures that should be taken by the member states in order to implement the court’s case law. Mr William Horsley, media freedom representative of the Association of European Journalists, talked about the potential for coordination of the journalistic profession at the European level in light of the MEDIADEM proposals. He elaborated on the current assaults on the practice of journalism and the challenges facing the profession, noting that European institutions are often perceived as unresponsive to journalists’ legitimate demands for protection. In this context, he noted, more efforts should be made in closing the gap between the jurisprudence of the ECtHR concerning free speech and the protection of journalists and the implementation of its judgments. As regards the EU, he observed, some coordination of the competition and human rights competences of the EU (but not regulatory coordination) would be welcomed. The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, for instance, could be mandated to ensure that within the EU member states a proper monitoring process for the protection of human rights in media activity is established.

Ms Lorena Boix-Alonso, head of unit G.1 Converging Media and Content, DG CONNECT, European Commission, discussed MEDIADEM’s recommendations targeting the European Commission. As regards the role of the EU in the field of fundamental rights, she argued that the EU impact assessment system works quite well in promoting human rights ‘mainstreaming’. On the proposal that the European Commission lead a reflection on the independence of public media regulators, she highlighted that the European Commission recognises the importance of the issue, mentioning that the initial proposal of the European Commission for the AVMS Directive included an article on independent regulatory authorities, which did not make it to the final text. She welcomed the MEDIADEM’s recommendation for a stronger role for the EPRA in coordinating public regulators and for more coordination between EPRA and the European Regulators on Electronic Communications (BEREC). Professor Pier Luigi Parcu, director of the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom at the European University Institute, supported MEDIADEM’s recommendation on the adoption of a technology neutral approach to media regulation, noting, however, that first, a definition of what constitutes the media should be established. He suggested that the principles of competition policy be revisited to capture the complex dynamics of new media, through, for example, the incorporation of pluralism considerations in competition analysis or the forbidding of holding a dominant position in media markets (and not just the abuse thereof).

Mrs Nicola Frank, head of European affairs at the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), discussed the concept of public service media in the digital environment. She welcomed MEDIADEM’s recommendation on the shift from public service broadcasters to PSM which enjoy a broad remit also in the online and multi-platform world. In this context, she referred to the EBU’s Declaration on the Core Values of Public Service Media, which builds around the principles of universality, independence, excellence, accountability and innovation, and to the efforts made by the EBU to assist its members in these areas. The final panelist was Mr Ross Biggam, director general of the Association of Commercial Television, who argued, inter alia, that moving from ‘command and control’ to principles-based regulation while ensuring better coordination among the EPRA members can create some space (and appetite also among commercial media operators) for private regulatory solutions. Self-regulation, he noted, can at the same time benefit freedom of expression and broadcasting standards which may ultimately attract more users and thus protect broadcasters’ commercial interests.

The agenda of the conference is available here.

View the list of participants to the conference.

For more information concerning the conference you may contact Anna Kandyla.

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