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AEJ questions Commission plans to create new Online Media to ‘explain’ news about the EU

The AEJ has told the European Commission of its concerns that a proposal to fund a new Online Media on EU Affairs  may distort the media landscape by prioritising the EU’s political agenda; it could also hasten the demise of existing news media by creating a rival source of employment for journalists whose would be required to write original articles focused on the institutions of the Union.

Gregory Paulger, head of the Commission’s Communications Department, has replied saying that the published proposal to spend 3.2 million euros per year on the EU online media project did not represent ‘ a new plan’; it would, he said, be an extension of the existing Presseurop service, which translates and re-publishes selected articles from ‘the best of the European press’ in various European languages. Mr Paulger did not exclude the possibility that the Commission would organise a consultation on the Online Media plan ‘if time constraints allowed’.

The AEJ Media Freedom Representative’ s Letter to Commissioner Viviane Reding:

TO: COMMISSIONER VIVIANE REDING
TO: MR GREGORY PAULGER, DG COMM DIRECTOR-GENERAL
TO: THE EU ONLINE MEDIA TENDER

Dear Mrs Reding and colleagues in the European Commission,

I am writing on behalf of the Association of European Journalists about the published Tender for Online Media on EU Affairs.

The AEJ welcomes the Commission’s public concern to do more to uphold press freedom and freedom of expression within EU states and in EU external relations, and to try to ensure the viability of high quality, independent media in the face of severe economic and other pressures on existing media.

But I ask you to take account of our concerns that the terms of the Online Media Tender would distort the media landscape in ways that negate those goals.

The terms of the Tender are prescriptive in terms of content: they require that  the focus should be explicitly on EU affairs and EU annual political priorities. This would naturally lead to a distortion of the overall subject-matter in a way ordered by the European Commission on behalf of the EU institutions, casting doubt on the stated goal of editorial independence.

The Tender lays down content provisions in terms of ‘balance’ (‘balanced range of argumentation’). This seems to be open to question in the context where the Commission has already laid down its rules for what is the ‘norm’ (that is, the agenda of the EU institutions); the requirement for ‘balance’ in the content of written and online media coverage in the package of media laws enacted one-sidedly by the government majority in Hungary has been among the grounds for complaints that Hungary’s laws are not in compliance with European standards.  

We think  that the new Online Media proposal as set out in the Tender fails to set out necessary safeguards for vigorously critical coverage, including legitimate material that may be unwelcome to officials and representatives of EU institutions and EU member state governments. The Commission states that this Online Media proposal has the aim of correcting an ‘under-representation’ of EU affairs in printed and digital media; but the Commission should take account of the reality that in its impact on people’s daily life it too acts as a governmental or quasi-governmental authority, and so must be exposed to robust media and public scrutiny in the public interest, without relying on fear or favour.

If any national government were to announce plans to correct an ‘under-representation’ of its activities by setting up a significant new media entity with public funds, it should expect to be criticised for acting in a self-serving way. The position of the Commission is analogous to that of a national government and it should beware of opening itself to a similar accusation.  

The presence of a major EU-wide journalistic employer, amply funded by public money, risks hastening the demise of existing news media and further narrowing the diversity of media in the EU area. The proposed operation would create a major source of employment for journalists to the disadvantage of other media outlets, at a time when paid work is increasingly scarce and many thousands of journalists have either lost their regular jobs or are afraid of losing them, and are driven by economic necessity to work for state-funded or PR employers.

It is disappointing that the Commission has embarked on this plan without consultation, and so far without heeding concerns voiced by the International Press Association in Brussels. An initiative of this kind has enormous implications for the whole media environment in Europe and warrants proper consultation with the media sector before being launched.

In view of this, I hope the Commission will halt the process of offering the Tender as published and start afresh, taking account of the views of journalists and other stakeholders before acting.

Some alternative ways have been put forward of safeguarding and strengthening independent, vigorous and diverse news media in print and online within and about the EU. An open-minded process of consultation on those things would be welcome and the AEJ would be glad to participate.

Yours Sincerely,

William Horsley, AEJ Media Freedom Representative
Tel +447711 912499

The Association of European Journalists is an independent professional journalists’ association active  in more than 20 European countries.
AEJ Secretary-General: Tibor Macak (Slovakia)
AEJ President: Eileen Dunne (Ireland)
AEJ Brussels Representative: Peter Kramer (in copy)
Website: www.aej.org