Free media are essential to the functioning of democracies but no EU member state is immune to having that freedom eroded. With that in mind the European Parliament organised a hearing on 6 November on how to safeguard that freedom. Experts were invited by Renate Weber, a Romanian Liberal Democrat who is preparing a report on media freedom in Europe together with other members of the civil liberties committee.
Media freedom under threat
Participants to the hearing agreed that media freedom should never be taken for granted. Ms Weber said: "We discovered that the problems that media face in almost all member states are very similar. [My report] is not about naming and shaming but about setting principles: what member states should and should not do in order to secure media freedom."
Eleonora Gavrielides, representing Cyprus Council presidency, agreed on the need for vigilance: "Media freedom is not a done deal even in the EU."
Dunja Mijatovic, a representative on freedom of the media on behalf of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, stressed that EU member states are among the many countries that sign up to protect media freedom but then fail to implement measures.
Anthony Whelan, the head of cabinet of digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes, called for a wider debate in order to prevent the unforeseen consequences of new EU rules, which could inadvertently lead to more media regulation in the EU.
The situation in the EU had got worse since 2008, according to Olivier Basille, of Reporters without borders. He also stated that the major threat to media freedom in the EU is legislative in the form of libel laws and blasphemy laws. Nicola Frank, of the European Broadcasting Union Representative, called for more transparency in media ownership at EU level.
The role of the crisis was highlighted by Arne König, of the European Federation of Journalists. He said it not only decreased resources and led to journalists being laid off, but that it was also being used to put pressure on reporters and on the media as a whole.
William Horsley, of the International Association of European Journalists, added that media independence was put at risk by threats and acts of violence by the police as well as by corruption and arbitrary arrests.
Marius Dragomir and Magda Walter, of the Open Society Foundation, pointed out that media companies are increasingly less willing to invest in investigative journalism. They drew that conclusion on the basis of research conducted in 60 countries around the world.
Need for standards?
Peggy Valcke, a professor from Leuven University, made the case for minimum standards for legal provisions to ensure transparency of media ownership and prevent politicians from being able to prevent to influence media ownership.
However, Ivar Rusdal, of the European Newspaper Publishers´ Association, warned: "However well intended, EU legislation or standard setting runs a great risk of damaging freedom of the press on national level or editorial independence."