Who Should Control Europe’s Media?

FLORENCE – Last month, the independent High-Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism (of which I was a part) presented to the European Commission its recommendations for the protection, support, and promotion of media pluralism and freedom in Europe. Since its release, the report has attracted considerable attention – but not the kind for which the group had hoped. Ironically, the way in which some media have portrayed the report supports some of the group’s findings.

It has been asserted that the report advocates giving the European Union the power to regulate independent national media. But, far from recommending that the EU should control the operation of, or reporting by, the media, the report simply suggests that the EU should play a role in guaranteeing media freedom – crucial for European democracy – in all member countries.

The group acknowledges that the major responsibility for maintaining media freedom and pluralism lies with member states. Given this, it recommends that, beyond safeguarding media freedom, EU intervention be limited to regulating cross-border issues – such as libel “forum shopping” (when litigants choose the court to which to take their case based on the likelihood of a favorable judgment) – and promoting a European public sphere.

The report asserts that the media should retain the fundamental responsibility for press regulation. But no industry can be trusted entirely to regulate itself. Indeed, as recent phone-hacking scandals involving Rupert Murdoch’s defunct News of the World newspaper demonstrated, unchecked self-regulation risks inviting abuse. To minimize this risk, the report advocates two forms of limited supervision.