The European Parliament to Advocate Media Pluralism and Blogging Transparency

This in-depth article by EUobserver journalist Leigh Phillips comments on a draft report of the European Parliament’s Culture Committee about concentration and media pluralism in the EU. It was adopted by the Committee on June 3rd and the report will now be submitted to the plenary assembly within the next few weeks. As stated by Phillips,

its main recommendation is for the European Commission and EU member states to apply competition law to the media to ensure media pluralism.

Its other major recommendations include the creation of media pluralism ombudspersons in the member states; the development of European core curriculum for media literacy; for the commission to ensure that regulations governing state aid not be used to undermine public service media.

The report also tackles the very latest new media developments – the ever-expanding blogosphere and increasing use by news organisations of user-generated content such as mobile video. In order that existing profession producers of content not be undersold by freely delivered but poorly produced content, the report recommends the payment of fees for use-generated content. In this way, producers or publishers would choose which content to purchase – professional or amateur – not based on which was cheapest, but which was of the highest quality.

Ms Mikko (the rapporteur) also worries that who the authors of weblogs are is not always made clear to readers, and that there are regular concerns regarding the impartiality and reliability of blogs. What is the legal situation of bloggers regarding source protection? Should they adhere to journalist ethical codes? Where is liability assiged in the event of lawsuits?

As a result, the MEP also calls for a clarification of the legal status of weblog authors and wants to see a disclosure of interests and the voluntary labelling of weblogs. Interestingly, the UK’s National Union of Journalists new media section – who recently signed up the world’s first unionised professional blogger – is currently drafting a voluntary code of conduct for bloggers that can be applied as a widget on any blog, similar to a ‘fair trade’ sticker on a bunch of bananas or packet of coffee. (Emphasis added)

Providing a status to bloggers represents a novel approach and could spark off much controversy, depending on what exactly is proposed. So far the report argues that such labeling would improve transparency by disclosing the “professional and financial responsibilities and interests of (blogs’) authors and publishers“. In spite of this regulatory stance, it is worth noting the report clearly recognizes that blogs now constitute an essential contribution to media pluralism.

In the meantime, concerns over media independence are also growing in France (see previous post). Currently in the middle of a debate on constitutional reform, the French Parliament is considering whether or not there should be a specific article in the Constitution guaranteeing media pluralism. Yet, the First article already stipulates that France is a democratic Republic. I personally think these two words suffice to give lawmakers the power to do whatever is necessary in order to maintain a diverse, healthy media landscape. They should let the Constitution determine ideals and use the Law to draw necessary principles from it.

Nonetheless, a quarter century after media deregulation, these political moves are additional signs that the media are entering a new era.

Photo on Flickr by MatteoBertini under Creative Commons License.

Sweden and the Information Society: A Step Backward

Sweden is considered as a leader of the information society. The country boasts one of the best broadband networks in the world, 80% of households have an internet connection and it is heading towards progressive policies on file-sharing (thanks to rightholders in particular). In addition, Sweden has taken the transparency lead in the European Union as it has successfully convinced its partners to implement principles of government openness in the functioning of EU institutions since it entered the EU in 1995.

A law passed on Wednesday, however, appears as a huge setback for both the information society and political transparency. The Swedish Parliament, the Riksdag, narrowly passed a surveillance law that will authorize a governmental agency to process and analyze internet and phone communications coming in and out of the country as soon as January 1st, 2009.

Although the Government claims the law does not threaten Swedish citizen’s rights, what about the millions of EU citizens, and other foreigners for that matter, who pass communications to Sweden? The government body, subordinate to the Ministry of Defence, will spy on them and possibly their Swedish correspondents with no respect for their individual liberties. Even the former head of the Swedish intelligence agency said he was shocked by the lack individual rights protection.

Yet, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms protects the respect to one’s privacy along with the freedom of communication and covers all EU member states, Sweden included. In addition, this law obviously undermines the EU’s commitment to promote individual freedoms across its interior borders as well as its painful attempt to become a true political community. Instead of keeping EU citizens under surveillance, Sweden should treat them the same way it treats Swedish citizens, particularly when it comes to fundamental freedoms.
Now the question is: will the EU leaders, especially the European Parliament, remind the Swedish government of the principles underlying its EU membership?

Photo on Flickr by xjyxjy under Creative Commons License.

The Media Under Control ?

Here is a short review of a conference entitled “The Media Under Control” that took place at Sciences Po last thursday. The first speaker was Hervé Bourges, former director of the public TV network (France Television) among many other things. He gave an interesting account of the way French politicians, ever since De Gaulle’s presidency in the 1950’s, have exerted a strong control over the media (all State-owned) until the complete deregulation in 1986.

Then came Alain Finkielkraut, a rather conservative philosopher, who spoke not about the control of politicians over the media, but about the control of the media over politics, which he argued was more dangerous… He referred to Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and his concept of the “tyranny of the majority”. According to him, the general public exerts an absolutist power over the media. Reality TV as well as new satirical political talk-shows and other programs of the sort are all reminiscent of a growing “trivial-is-good” trend that is shaping our culture… He went very far off, saying that this form of egalitarianism, the implicit acceptance that everybody’s opinion is of the same value, was even favored by new technologies. Delving shortly into this argument, he called the internet “an environment of horizontality”, saying that on the net everybody can call themselves a journalist. Facts don’t matter, it’s all about opinion, and everybody shouts out at the same time. He went on to draw a parallel between the anticipated secondary education reform in France, which will apparently consist in decreasing the number of lectures for high school students while developing cooperative projects and workshops. All this, according to Finkielkraut, involves that there is no more elite, no more authority. This renunciation of a top-down order is the “death of civilization” (!). This is what he said in a nutshell, and I strongly disagree with the paranoid look he has on the transformations of the media landscape. Of course, there are flaws. Journalistic deontology lacks in what is being reported online, sometimes even by well-established sources. But instead of discriminating the good and the bad, of looking for solutions to these deficiencies, Finkielkraut throws out the baby with the bath water without mentionning the huge opportunities that the internet offers. (About the education reform, well, 7 hours of lectures a day, with very few workshops and very little pedagogic exploration is not the best way to help a teenager to think by themselves nor to arouse their critical mind, which is of the utmost importance in the information society).

Finally, two journalists, Daniel Schneidermann and Rémy Rieffel, came up and talked about the links between big industrial groups (Bouygues, Lagardère, Dassault, Bolloré), main shareholders of France’s mainstream media, and President Sarkozy. The issue is that most of these companies depend on public contracts (road works, armament, transportation, etc), so that there is an obvious risk of collusion. I have to say it was really sad to hear the French media compared with Italian ones.

More info on this alarming situation here :

A feud over press freedom boils in France, The International Herald Tribune
The Rag Trade, The Economist
Sarkozy, the New Berlusconi, The Guardian
Battle for Le Monde Heats Up, Newser

Photo on Flickr by afagen under Creative Commons License.