Media Freedom and Pluralism in Europe
At the beginning of the year, the European Commission’s High Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism published a report and presented several recommendations to protect and promote a free and pluralistic media in Europe.
In order to collect feedback on the report and recommendations, the European Commission launched a public consultation to which EDRi responded on 14 June. The consultation intended to open the discussion on media freedom without, however, detailing any possible follow-up actions or concrete measures envisaged by the Commission.
Firstly, we emphasised that, in order to efficiently implement Article 21 of the Treaty on European Union, the EU is only credible on the global stage when press and media freedoms are safeguarded and respected within the Union itself. We highlighted the fact that support for quality journalism can only be achieved with appropriate protections for whistleblowers and demanded that the Commission propose an instrument to provide legal protections.
Secondly, we highlighted the importance of safeguarding freedom of speech in our democratic, open and free societies, especially with regard to the digital environment. It is true that the Internet in itself can act as a guarantor of freedom of opinion and expression. These fundamental rights need to be safeguarded by the rule of law and legislative frameworks. We therefore especially welcomed the expert group’s recommendation to enshrine Net Neutrality in EU law. As we have pointed out in answers to previous consultations by the Commission and BEREC, there is a growing body of evidence that access providers restrict and limit access to the Internet in Europe. A regulation of Net Neutrality would avoid certain industry players becoming gatekeepers on behalf of media organisations, with power over citizens’ communications and their rights to freedom of expression and to impart and receive information.
Expert group’s recommendation 12 proposed that “services that provide heavily personalised search results or newsfeeds should provide the possibility for the user to turn off such personalisation, temporarily for an individual query, or permanently, until further notice”. We pointed out that any such personalisation or individualisation measures usually requires the collection and cross-linking of personal data which could represent a fundamental threat to privacy as well as a danger to pluralism and access to knowledge.
With regard to recommendation 23, we expressed concerns regarding the very vague, dangerous and possibly counter-productive wording and suggested a deletion of the recommendation: “Member States should ensure that appropriate instruments are put in place for identifying those responsible for harming others, even in the online space. Any internet user‐data collection necessary for this purpose should be kept confidential and made available only by a court order.”
Finally, we pointed out that the expert group’s definition of media or “journalistic activities” might need further explanation. Actions to protect freedom of speech and freedom of the media should encompass both traditional media and the digital world – news is increasingly produced and consumed not only by the traditional press but also by bloggers, citizen reporters and social media producers.