Media Pluralism, Democracy and Conflicts of Interest. Statement to the Congress of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC)

Statement adopted by the EFJ Annual Meeting in Prague, 26 may 2003

The European Federation of Journalists, the regional organisation of the International Federation of Journalists and an Industry Committee of the EUC, calls on the ETUC to strongly support demands for pluralism of information and freedom of expression and opinion, both at European and international level. These principles are the cornerstones of democracy.

Journalists and media workers join with all employees in the information, cultural and communications industries in rejecting the tendency towards excessive commercialisation and concentration of market power, particularly in the broadcasting, press and news agencies sector.

The industry workforce underscores the threats arising from media globalisation which may lead to more opportunities for commercial exploitation of the information market, but which will diminish pluralism and diversity and only benefit a few powerful publishing groups.

For this reason, the European Federation of Journalists expresses the hope that the European Constitution, now being drawn up, will explicitly recognise the principle of freedom of information, and that the European Union during the period of the Italian Presidency will introduce rigorous policies to control the threat of excessive concentration of ownership in the media sector.

We believe that this is an urgent problem that the European Commission, under the leadership of President Romano Prodi, must face decisively.

European media workers are strongly in favour of freedom in the information and communication sector and they demand that clear antitrust rules must be established to prevent the growth of media monopolies. Criteria must be set to guide the process of transnational ownership and joint ventures. It is imperative to create the conditions for the preservation of career opportunities and existing skills as well as supporting national charters on the social, cultural and professional rights of employees. It is paramount to ensure conditions that will ensure true pluralism in the various national, regional and linguistic sectors.

Attempts to eliminate antitrust regulations in some European countries, such as that currently proposed in Italy, may harm freedom of the press and limit the right of citizens to be properly informed, as well as threatening the survival of independent media.

Against this background, the attacks by some governments and business interests on public broadcasting will be resisted forcefully by journalists and workers in the media sector.

The Amsterdam Treaty of the European Union starts from the assumption that the defence of public broadcasting in the EU member states is directly linked to democratic, social and cultural requirements in any society, as well as to the need to maintain pluralism of communication channels.

Defending the role of public broadcasting services and their independence and autonomy from any form of influence, whether from the government or other sources, is the objective of all European media workers.

The European Federation of Journalists notes the impact of the Clement report in France, which outlines the need to include the principle of the coexistence of public television services alongside commercial channels in the European Constitution. This initiative gives the hope that there is scope for the establishment of a credible and effective Charter of Independence for public broadcasting in Europe.

For these reasons, the European Federation of Journalists calls on the ETUC to declare its intention to resist laws or regulations that will encourage media concentration or that aim to cancel the existing antitrust regulations, including any action that may increase the influence of advertising on the media or lead to the exercise of undue political and economic pressure on media.

The workforce in the communication world will not accept legal or political manoeuvres that undermine the basic principles of democracy and pluralism within the European union.

Finally, the EFJ requests urgently that the ETUC, in defence of media pluralism and democracy, supports the introduction of standards to protect independence by appropriate rules to prevent political figures who are candidates for political office in government from holding substantial shares in the media, information and communication sector. Such conflicts of interests, especially in the media and information area, compromise the balanced and professional development of media in democratic society.

The institutions of the European Union, including the European Parliament, the Commission and the current Convention of the Future of Europe, should support the establishment of a clearly defined line of demarcation between the exercise of government powers and the maintenance of business interests, particularly where they involve control of companies in the media sector and major holdings in the advertising market.