First we had Silvio Berlusconi and now there’s Viktor Orban and the right-wing Fidesz government in Hungary. Control of the media, who owns it, who works for it and who distributes it – media pluralism in the jargon – is a subject which bubbles away under the surface much of the time in Brussels. However, the Hungarian new media legislation has put the issue very much on the current agenda.
This would perhaps not be such a big story if it wasn’t for the fact that the Hungarian government have just assumed the presidency of the Council of Ministers and are in the process of telling us their priorities for the next six months. Many of these seem to me to be very constructive and forward thinking, but unfortunately, they are being obscured by the furore surrounding these highly questionable new media laws.
Today though, the Socialists and Democrats had the pleasure of hearing what the European Commission have been doing to help tackle the issue of media pluralism. In 2007 the Commission came up with a three stage plan for media pluralism. The first stage was a working paper that looked at what efforts were being made already to promote media pluralism. Then they commissioned an independent study to establish the parameters for judging whether a media is diverse and diffuse enough. The final stage is to be a Commission Communication addressing the issue, but since stage two has only just been completed, this is still to come.
In the meeting we first heard from Mr. Adam Watson-Brown, who is the Head of Unit from the Commission’s task force on media pluralism. He pointed out that ownership of media providers was only one indication of the plurality of a countries media and not always the most conclusive element since you had to take in to account media licensing and public service broadcasters. Mr. Watson-Brown also pointed out that new technology was adding further difficulty to the discussion of media pluralism as large and established content providers could expand much faster in to new areas and begin to dominate nascent markets. This isn’t necessarily sinister, we just need a period of adjustment.
The second speaker was Dr. Peggy Valcke from the Catholic University in Leuven, who was the project leader for the Commissions report on media pluralism. She spoke extensively about the exhaustive methods used to establish a set of criteria for judging the media plurality of a country. It was very interesting indeed and far too complex to go into here, but if you fancy an interesting and very technical explanation, you can read the report in full here.
So we wait now for the Communication from the Commission. Media pluralism is one of the most important aspects of modern democracy. We need a diverse media providing contrasting views to ensure that citizens can access all the information and form their own opinions. I hope the Commission can provide some constructive solutions for this difficult problem.