Public hearing at the European Parliament on media pluralism
The Citizens' Rights Committee held a public hearing on 19/02/2004 on the dangers of violations of freedom of expression in the EU. The aim of the hearing was to assess the need for measures at European level to protect pluralism in the media and to contribute to the preparation of a report on this issue, to be tabled by Johanna BOOGERD-QUAAK (ELDR, NL) to the full Parliament in April. Mrs Boogerd-Quaak hopes the report will prompt the Commission to update the Green Paper on media pluralism, which dates back to 1992. Paolo Serventi LONGHI, Secretary of the Italian Journalists' Union, expressed concern about the decline of pluralism in Italy and the conflict of interests of the Prime Minister, who is the owner of the main private network. Renate SCHROEDTER, Director of the European Federation of Journalists, said the problem of media concentration in Italy was "unheard of in any modern democracy". However, she stressed that this was a Europe-wide problem and gave as a further example the editorial policy of Rupert Murdoch's media in favour of the Iraq war. Pascal MOONEY, rapporteur of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, gave some examples of public broadcasters shying away from their duty to provide impartial information. Mr Mooney identified two main problems relating to pluralism: the concentration of media ownership and the threat to diversity of content due to commercialisation. He pointed out that the growing commercialisation of the media sector was leading to "alarming uniformity". And his conclusion was that EU rules on media ownership were needed to protect pluralism. Yves Punie, of the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, highlighted the rapid changes in the media landscape due to the Internet and online-media. He pointed out that Internet search engines can be seen as media as they preselect the information available for users. "There is a need for more holistic approach for the debate on media and pluralism", he added. "The media are not just a commodity," said Ross Biggam of the Association of Commercial Broadcasters. However, Mr Biggam did not believe the situation was too gloomy. Digital television would lead to the availability of ever more TV channels and thus to ever more differing views and opinions being broadcast. The situation had improved considerably since the first Gulf war, when viewers in the UK could obtain their information from only two television channels. Mr Biggam did feel, however, that it was in the interest of Europe to have European companies among the world's largest media corporations. Europe should ask itself whether it wanted to compete in audio-visual content with the US or lag behind. Professor Karol JAKUBOWICZ, of the National Broadcasting Council of Poland and Vice-Chairman of the Council of Europe's Steering Committee on the Mass Media, described the situation in most Central and Eastern European countries. Mr Jakubowicz explained that the public in the accession countries had a fresh memory of concentration of the media under communist rule. For the public in these countries, the opening of the markets has meant a great diversification of media content. However, since the public still compares the situation with that before 1990, it is not aware of the all too real dangers of new media concentration. On the subject of an EU legal framework, Professor Olivier DE SCHUTTER of the Law Faculty of the Catholic University of Louvain told the committee that there was no formal obligation for the Member States to guarantee media pluralism. Mr De Schutter, who is also coordinator of the European Union network of independent experts on fundamental rights, said that national legislation worked well and that there was no need for harmonisation of the legislation on media pluralism at the European level. Wrapping up the seminar, Ms BOOGERD-QUAAK said that Rome was not built in a day. She believed it would be difficult to convince the Council of the need to take measures. "We must have the courage to draw up a list of criteria that is valid for every media company and every government. We have to find a legal base for measures at European level," Ms Boogerd-Quaak concluded.