EFJ Welcomes European Parliament Rebuke for Berlusconi and Strong Call for Media Pluralism

The European Federation of Journalists today warmly welcomed the European Parliament decision to adopt a hard-hitting report on the press freedom crisis in Europe and Italy in particular, despite attempts at sabotage by Parliament members, some of them loyal to media magnate and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The report, by the Liberal MEP Johanna Boogerd-Quaak, called for action to promote media pluralism and referred to “a possible breach of expression and information rights in the EU and Italy” and the “anomaly” due to the conflict of interest of Mr. Berlusconi as Prime Minister and owner of the major broadcasting networks of the country.

“The approval of this report is a major success for all defenders of press freedom and media pluralism in Europe”, said the newly elected Chair of the EFJ Arne König. “It sends a powerful message to the new and enlarged European Union – governments and media corporations must respect editorial independence, limit media concentration and increase media pluralism.”

The adoption of the report was postponed from Tuesday to today, due to the massive number of over 300 amendments and at the request of the Parliament President Pat Cox, himself a former journalist, who asked for some rephrasing where politicians, including Berlusconi, were named. In the end the amendments were not presented, and MEPs approved the report after voting on its contents paragraph by paragraph.

“We welcome the vote despite attempts by some MEPs to throw a spanner in the works of the voting process”, said König. “All European Union institutions and the Commission especially, are now obliged to recognise that there is a crisis for media pluralism in Europe. They cannot turn a blind eye to the problem and continue with feeble political excuses for taking no action.”

The report touched on major threats to pluralism and press freedom, citing in particular pressure on public service broadcasters, excessive media concentration and infringement of the protection of sources. The crisis in Italy, which had been the subject of a damning EFJ report late last year, featured prominently.

An important conclusion for the EFJ is the report’s call for the promotion of works councils in the media sectors in particular in new member states and for efficient structures for internal pluralism. “This opens the door to a much-needed dialogue that could strengthen journalism throughout the enlarged media landscape,” said Konig.

The EFJ, which represents 250.000 journalists in Europe, has prepared surveys on media concentration in Europe and published a report on the media situation in Italy, Crisis in Italian Media: How Poor Politics and Flawed Legislation Put Journalism Under Pressure, in November 2003, including recommendations for Italy and the European Union.