On 27 March the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs adopted Rapporteur Barbara Spinelli’s Report on media pluralism and media freedom in the EU, with 44 votes in favour, 3 against (Netherlands, France, Germany) and 4 abstentions (Finland, Poland, Slovakia, Austria). Spinelli has subsequently proposed two amendments, condemning the murder of Slovak investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his partner, and calling for the Conference of Presidents to honour his work.
The report includes a motion for a European Parliament Resolution, which focuses on the relationship between media pluralism, freedom of expression and democracy in the digital age. Its Explanatory Statement highlights four key issue areas in relation to freedom of expression, broadly categorised as: violence, threats and pressures against journalists; the digital sphere; national measures and the Copenhagen dilemma; and whistle-blowers. The Resolution strongly condemns the US Federal Communications Commission’s decision to repeal the 2015 net neutrality rules, Member States’ attempts to restrict freedom of expression, and violence against journalists, referencing the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. It also addresses questions specific to media in the digital age, including cyberbullying and revenge porn, data ownership and the widespread use of algorithms and artificial intelligence.
The impact of funding on media pluralism is a central focus of the Resolution, which condemns government attempts to silence critical media through buying up commercial media outlets and hijacking public service media to serve partisan interests. It calls on Member States to ensure that there is adequate public funding to safeguard and promote a pluralist, independent and free media, which is to be given on the basis of non-discriminatory, objective and transparent criteria. Public broadcasters are to be provided with adequate financial means to serve the public interest, and Member States are asked to refrain from involvement in editorial decisions. To tackle the monopolisation of media outlets, the Resolution advises the implementation of ownership regulations, and transparency with regard to funding sources and management.
Opinions were adopted from both the Committee on Culture and Education and the Committee on Legal Affairs. The first made recommendations around the importance of improving citizens’ media literacy and media inclusivity. The latter focused on Member States’ obligations to ensure the appropriate conditions for fostering media pluralism, including developing socially sustainable economic models to support independent journalism. Both recognised issues of transparency and equality around media ownership, competition and funding, aggression and hate speech towards journalists, working conditions for media professionals, the protection of whistle-blowers, and fake news.
The minority opinion was put forward by Polish MEP Marek Jurek, who criticised the failure to address new forms of restriction of freedom of expression such as France’s introduction of prison sentences for ‘exerting moral pressure’. Jurek also raised the oversight of specific measures for ex-totalitarian states and objected to the reference made to the Istanbul Convention which has not been universally ratified by Member States, accusing the report of pushing ideas beyond its remit.
Spinelli’s report has been adopted in the context of increasing violence towards journalists and infringement on media freedom, attested to by Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 World Press Freedom Index, and the European University Institute’s Media Pluralism Monitor report. It follows the 2013 EP resolution ‘standard settings for media freedom across the EU’, amongst other measures including the High-level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism, the inclusion of media freedom and pluralism in the EP resolution on EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights, the establishment of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, and a review of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive.
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