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MEDIADEM Highlights Lack of Media Freedom

On 7 February in Brussels, the 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 was hosted by the Representation of the Free State of Bavaria to the European Union.

Editor in chief of TheDaily.SK, John Boyd, was invited to attend and speak at the conference by the Slovak partner of the MEDIADEM team, the School of Media and Communication (SKAMBA), which has been involved in other important research or more practically focused projects, e.g. EMEDUS.org, NewMedLit and ANTICORRP.

John’s situation had attracted attention as he faced the threat of a prison sentence in the UK for contempt of court if disobeying a reporting ban issued by a UK court concerning articles published in Slovakia on www.TheDaily.SK on a case where a Slovak woman (Mrs. B) had had her two children taken by UK social services. We had to remove the articles on the case, unfortunately along with over 850 comments from the public. We revised the articles and reposted them, but the comments are too explicit to be republished until the reporting ban expires in May 2013.

The case points to a lack of media freedom and absence of clear cross-border rules and the protection of individual journalists, which the MEDIADEM project focuses on, among other issues. 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 project is a joint interdisciplinary effort of 14 partner institutions that will make a significant contribution to media policy development by advancing knowledge on how media freedom and independence can be safeguarded in Europe. It will thus be of particular interest to state and European policy makers, civil society and the public at large.

MEDIADEM Final Meeting

The first session was devoted to MEDIADEM’s main comparative research findings. Research fellow at ELIAMEP and MEDIADEM’s scientific coordinator Dr Evangelia 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. She went on to stress how the concept of freedom and independence on 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, onfundamental 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.

Dr Andrej Školkay, director of the School of Communication and Media in Bratislava, 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.

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. Source: http://www.mediadem.eliamep.gr/

The full 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.

1 Comment for “MEDIADEM Highlights Lack of Media Freedom”

  1. [...] the article ‘MEDIADEM highlights lack of media freedom’ published in TheDaily.SK (in English) on 11 March 2013.   Project funded under the [...]

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