EU member states approve resolution to support independent, local, and transparent media

On Tuesday 19 October, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that calls on member states to support the media sector through the provision of funds and including them in approved national recovery plans.

Earlier this month, the European Parliament published a report for the European Commission called ‘Media in the Digital Decade: An Action Plan to Support Recovery and Transformation’, drafted by Rapporteur Dace Melbarde. 

Besides addressing funding issues, the resolution also notes changes in online audience consumption and a need for more transparency, accountability, and accuracy mechanisms.

Its adoption comes when many online media are struggling with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Decreased advertising revenue, more competition for funding opportunities, and the prevalence of fake news and disinformation impact the industry the world over.

After adopting the resolution, which was passed with no changes, Melbarde said, “This is truly a deciding moment to strengthen the European media and audiovisual sector. European media must be provided with substantial financial support and a favourable regulatory framework to help them seize the opportunities of the digital environment. We need to strengthen the economic viability of the sector.

A key point of the resolution is the importance of the European News Media Freedom (NEWS) initiative which enforces local and regional media. It notes that public funding mechanisms should respect editorial independence using the ‘arms length principle’.

Diversity and gender equality are also mentioned in the resolution, including improved gender portrayal, improving female representation, and encouraging disadvantaged groups to consider a career in media.

It also calls for a study into news media funding. This would help the EU develop guidelines on public funding mechanisms.

In terms of public and commercial media, member states are asked to provide adequate funding for public service media while ensuring independence from “governmental, political, and market pressures.”

Additionally, it called for media and digital literacy support at all levels and better working conditions for freelance and employed journalists in the EU.

The European Federation of Journalists, an organisation representing more than 320,000 journalists in more than 71 journalists’ organisations, welcomed the resolution.

Director of EFJ Renate Schroeder thanked Melbarde for her approach in tackling the challenges journalists face in Europe.

“Journalism is a public good, and it must be protected before it is too late. We welcome this latest European Parliament report on media which entails a detailed Action Plan to Support Recovery and Transformation. Now it is on the European Commission and its member states to show that they are committed to independent journalism and media freedom.”

Not ony is journalism in Europe suffering a crisis of trust and reserouces, but women jouurnalists in particular are under increasing pressure. A recent study from the Coalition For Women In Journalism reported a staggering 149 cases of violations against women media workers in Europe between 1 January and 1 October of this year.

Cases included detention, physical assault, legal harassment, intimidation, troll campaigns, sexual harassment, and state opression.

Malta got a mention in the report for an incident involving Norma Saliba, the head of PBS news. During a segment with the Nationalist Party leader Bernard Grech, Godfrey Leone Ganado made several remarks towards her, including calling her a political prostitute. Following a compaint to the Institute of Maltese Journalists, Leone Ganado apologised and said he would not cross the line in the future.

But on the topic of funding mentioned in the resolution, Malta also continues to struggle. The government has been widely criticised for doling out millions in advertising revenue to select media. Millions more were given to Savior Balzan, the Editor in Chief of Malta Today, for communications consultancy services to ministers, including Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis. His services included advising him on acting in public, preparing responses to criticism, and dealing with the media.

 A report published in July 2021 by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom found a high risk of threats to media pluralism in the country. These risks include a lack of transparency around media ownership and the independence of public service media funding.

In September, a study looked at editorial independence of 546 state-owned media companies in 151 countries and categorised PBS as “state-controlled”.​​

The report said this change in risk assessment is due to a recent development impacting the transparency of public service media funding. In   September 2020, The Shift reported that €30 million would be allocated to PBS from public funds, spread over the next five years despite the company suffering heavy losses.

                           
                               
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