Press freedom: Report advocates more powers to Brussels

23 January 2013 – Presseurop Financial Times

In their report presented yesterday to the European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, the High Level Group of experts set up to analyse media pluralism in Europe recommends, among other things, giving the European Union more powers to ensure that the freedom of the press is respected in all countries as well as on the Internet.

The report, which focuses on the media situation in Hungary, but also in France and Italy, proposes harmonising national legislation (in particular on data protection and defamation issues), since European media operate in an environment without borders.

“There are sound reasons for the EU to review safeguards for press freedom and media plurality," writes the Financial Times: "Some newer member states, Hungary in particular, have in recent times taken steps that gravely threaten press independence. But there is a contradiction in wanting to defend this fundamental principle while at the same time giving Brussels greater powers over Europe's media.

Giving the commission oversight of media councils would just open the door to a new kind of interference – from Brussels [...] There are better ways to ensure that press regulators are not mere puppets of the state. Europe's charter of fundamental rights, which demands that members respect media freedom and plurality, became law in 2009. Violations can be addressed through judicial channels. The challenges presented by countries such as Hungary demonstrate that more effective tools are needed to deter governments bent on rolling back democratic rights. Europe suffers by not having a graduated range of responses to violations, such as the right to withdraw certain funds if governments overstep the line […] However, making Brussels media's new master is not the way to guarantee a free and vibrant press.

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