Hard-won over 300 years ago, freedom of the press in Britain and the EU faces new challenges in 2013.
It’s havoc for the European Union these days. The vice-president, Neelie Kroes, of the European Commission, mandated a “High Level” group of experts to explore the question of media freedom and pluralism back in October 2011. Released on January 21st, the results have provoked widespread opposition and accusations, such as that the EU is attempting to bring out the ‘thought police’. The report is in fact nothing more than an attack on the freedom of the press.
The report recommends that every member state of the EU should set up an independent media council. Such a council would itself be under the authority of the European Commission. In other words, unelected officials in Brussels would have the power to strip organisations of their journalistic statuses and sack individual journalists across Europe.
It also criticizes the media for not providing sufficient coverage of EU affairs. It states that the “insufficient Europeanization of national politics” threatens to undermine democracy.
The national media councils should follow a set of European-wide standards and be monitored by the Commission to ensure that they comply with European values.
The recommendations made by the “High Level” group ( President of Latvia, Professor Vaira īķe-Freiberga, Professor Herta Däubler-Gmelin, Professor Luís Miguel Poiares Pessoa Maduro and Ben Hammersley) have been repeatedly condemned by the media since their release.
The comments from British Conservative MP Douglas Carswell represent this general frustration found in the media after the publication of the EU report: “This is the sort of mindset that I would expect to find in Iran, not the West. This kooky idea tells us little about the future of press regulation. It does suggest that the European project is ultimately incompatible with the notion of a free society.”
“1984” by George Orwell may come to one’s mind as one reads through the report. It echoes in many ways The Leveson Inquiry. The purposes of Lord Leveson’s Inquiry were to expose what had been happening in British press after scandalous events were revealed in July 2011 about News Corp, and to make recommendations for the future. If the criminal law had been operating correctly, or more efficiently, the Leveson enquiry would perhaps not have been necessary at all.
With Prime Minister Cameron committing to hold a referendum on withdrawal from the EU, it isn’t really the time to implement unpopular policies. The report is to be used to help form new EU legislations. The proposition to regulate the press in 27 member countries, particularly to promote “European values”, may eventually backlash.
-Mathieu Paul Dumont
(Featured photo: jon smith., Creative Commons, Flickr)