Media freedom and independence: trends and challenges in Europe

The conclusions of the project MEDIADEM (European Media Policies Revisited: Valuing and Reclaiming Free and Independent Media in Contemporary Democratic Systems) were presented on 7 February at a conference in Brussels in which the EFJ participated. Speakers and participants raised the issue of the crisis in journalism, the increasing frustration of journalists in fulfilling their task as watchdogs in the public interest but also the importance of strong journalists' unions in "protecting professionalism and journalistic independence". The study found that across all countries concerns were voiced in particular on: working conditions of journalists; challenges to an informed, coordinated and representative policy-making; maintaining a fair balance between public service and commercial media; compliance with international standards and access to justice, that is in particular, compliance with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights; inappropriate state or political influence; the need to realign regulatory structures and rules to accommodate convergence; undue private power and ownership concentration; as well as media literacy in journalism and the demand to produce copy across all media and its effects on quality journalism. "The challenge is to close the gap between the excellent framework of law and jurisprudence of the Council of Europe and the need of its implementation", said William Horsley, media freedom representative at the Council of Europe. Björn Janson, head of the CoE media division, agreed that the European Commission lacks competence when it comes to implementing fundamental rights including media freedom. There was also a discussion around "professional regulation" and whether there should be a definition for journalists. The development of new media poses the following important challenges to that regulatory framework: the criteria to be used to define journalism; the distinction and the boundaries between professional and non-professional journalism; the distinction between commercial and social/not for profit content production. The meeting also lamented that there had not been enough EU pressure on Hungary, especially on the issue of independent media regulators. The objective of the project was to analyse regulatory instruments and different policy approaches to media freedom and its independence in 12 European countries and identify best practice in order to promote the debate on media freedom with relevant actors at national and European level. See also the working paper: Private Regulation, Freedom of Expression and Journalism: Towards a European Approach.