Alarming trends in media freedom blight Europe

23 April, 2016 / By Pier Luigi Parcu in Euroactiv.com

Freedom of expression and media pluralism are principles enshrined in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. Member states are bound to guarantee them, as they represent the essence of liberal democracies. But Pier Luigi Parcu asks whether this is true in practice.

Pier Luigi Parcu is the Director of the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, a part of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

Our centre has been monitoring the status of freedom of expression and media pluralism across Europe since 2013. The results of our latest report across 19 EU countries unfortunately show that all countries analysed present some level of risk with regard to media freedom and pluralism; those results confirm a trend already emerging from a previous study we carried out in 2014.

Our analysis is based on indicators that assess the risks to media freedom and pluralism such as the respect of freedom of expression; freedom of information; the working conditions of journalists and the independence of media authorities, something we defined as ‘Basic Protection’; the concentration of media operators or ‘Market Plurality’; the evaluation of the independence of the media in terms of political influence or ‘Political Independence’; and finally, the geographical, cultural and social dimension of the media, including media literacy, ‘Social Inclusiveness’.

It is not surprising that the main threats result from the fact that media markets are concentrated at national level. However, a majority of countries also show some level of risk in the area of Social Inclusiveness. Most countries show worrying trends when examining the Political Independence of the media and it is quite alarming that the set of indicators composing the area of Basic Protection, while not receiving high scores in terms of risk, still show that even the fundamentals are at stake in some countries.

In particular, the indicators for journalistic profession, standards and protection sound an early warning of worsening working conditions for journalists that seem to be more and more common throughout Europe.

The threats to media pluralism are spread across the continent. In our last study, Romania scored the highest risk factor for Basic Protection; Finland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland and Spain scored high risk in the Market Plurality area; most of the countries came out at medium risk for Political Independence. Only Austria, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden were at low risk for Social Inclusiveness, while all the other countries came out at medium risk in that area.

Some trends are alarming across Europe. Soon after our report was published the Polish government passed a law to place public service media under direct government control.

These kind of negative developments will definitely carry weight in future analysis.

Even in the EU area, media freedom and pluralism cannot be taken for granted and European governments should not ignore these developments, for the sake of our Union’s integrity as an area of diversity, tolerance and respect of civil and political rights.

We invite the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council to use the data that we have gathered to take action to contrast these worrying trends across Europe.

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