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High level, low results: EU media pluralism and some random recommendations

Damian Tambini had announced it for November. Neelie Kroes has blogged about it yesterday. Bruno Waterfield took the occasion today to get a quote from Nigel Farage that included a reference to “1984″. And I also thought it would be worth writing about the report of the “High Level Group on Media  Freedom and Pluralism” titled “A free and pluralistic media to sustain European democracy“.

Since it is a report about journalism, including challenges from new media, let’s start this blog post with an actual piece of semi-journalistic research:

First, download the data on beneficiaries of EU Commission funds for 2011 which you find hereSecond, write down the names of the four members of the High Level Group: (1) Vaira Vike-Freiberga, (2) Herta Däubler-Gmelin, (3) Ben Hammersley, (4) Luís Miguel Poiares Pessoa Maduro.

Third, search for the family names of these persons in the data you downloaded. Fourth, write down what you will find under “Name of beneficiary”, “Subject of grant or contract” and “Total amount” in your data for the year 2011:

  • “Natural Person”, “COMMITTEE ON PLURALISM AND FREEDOM OF THE MEDIA (FREIBERGA)” and “11098.08 €”
  • “Natural Person”, “COMMITTEE ON PLURALISM AND FREEDOM OF THE MEDIA (MADURO)” and “9800 €”
  • “Natural Person”, “COMMITTEE ON PLURALISM AND FREEDOM OF THE MEDIA (HAMMERSLEY)” and “9100 €”

And if you then look for “COMMITTEE ON PLURALISM AND FREEDOM OF THE MEDIA”, you will find another line with “Name of beneficiary”, “Country”, “Subject of grant or contract” and “Total amount:

  • d) “Natural Person”, “Germany”, “COMMITTEE ON PLURALISM AND FREEDOM OF THE MEDIA” and “10100 €”

The first thing we have learnt through a simple research is that in a “High Level Group” not everyone is necessarily at the same level. Since the EU beneficiaries data for 2012 is not published, we can only speculate whether the difference in height was equalised in 2012.

Now, this is the moment when we look into the actual report. What do we learn about the role of the four members of the group? On one side, it is noted that:

“The members of the Group have drawn up the recommendations in this Report independently. They do not represent a particular organisation or any particular interest and are acting here in a personal capacity.”

On the other side, we also learn that:

“The Group would like to thank the Secretariat of DG Connect for the support received in drawing up this Report.”

Now, giving the high level of those involved and the support of the DG Connect secretariat, I was first of all astonished by the low amount of footnotes or references in the text. It’s a political report, fine, but one would have expected a much more thorough argumentation than what you find in this report.

At the end there is a list of hearings held, contributions received, and documents studied. However, the way these are presented does in no way explain how the “evidence” in the report is linked to empirical evidence gathered through these source.

Looking into the list of documents studied, not much of that evidence is academic, and even less seems relevant for the actual question of what role the EU should have in regulating European media. Maybe that does not matter much, but the sources quoted leave at least doubts on my side how much of what is in the report is based on sound ground, not just on gut feeling or anecdotal evidence. A more thorough referencing in the report could have helped avoiding that feeling.

But even worse that the lack of proper referencing of the evidence: Many of the 30 recommendations don’t seem to have any concrete basis in the text that precedes them. Just some examples:

  • - Why are interviews of presidents of EU institutions with “a panel of national journalists” a contribution to a European Public Sphere? (Rec. 30)
  • - Why does the publication of codes of conduct on a website (Rec. 25) contribute to media self-regulation? And why is that the only recommendation under the headlines “Enforced self-regulation”?
  • - Why does state supervisory technology (Rec. 23) contribute to better media?
  • - Why does live-streaming of press conferences strengthen journalists rights? (Rec. 22)

I could go on, but just by the way this report is constructed I don’t feel it is very credible. It seems eclectic at best and random at worst. We all like good, pluralist, innovative, investigative journalism – but the report looks like a basket of existing solutions and unclear propositions, not like an innovative input into how to prevent the state from unduly limiting journalism, how to foster bottom-up investigative journalism through new sources or how to encourage responsible reporting in media environments dominated by large powerful media corporations on one side and globally distributed micro-journalism on the other.

For me this lack of relevance is best shown in the chapter “Changing business models”: What to think about a 2013 report that under this heading has nothing to recommend but that (a) a report should be commissioned [sic!] on what new business models there could be and (b) that public funding for media should be fair? Not much, in my view.



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