Back in June, we asked you how we can best guarantee a healthy media in Europe. We had some interesting comments and suggestions sent in; some bemoaning the influence that media tycoons like Rupert Murdoch and Silvio Berlusconi have over national politics, others arguing that independent media cannot surive without wealthy owners to prop them up. Recently, regular Debating Europe commenter Christos picked up on this issue over on his blog, arguing that Europe needs “pan-European” media if it is to ever truly “break the voices of the monopolies, the propagandists and those blinded by nationalism.”
Christos suggested that pan-European media would be the first step towards a European demos:
Once you receive regularly the news of other countries with a more unbiased perspective, then not only [do] you have a better judgement but you also understand what the people in another EU country are going through, how they deal with the crisis and what solutions or ideas they are putting forward.
Is Christos right, or is it too idealistic to think that pan-European media will ever be possible? For one thing, what about the language barriers between different European countries?
We had the chance to interview several MEPs on this issue at the Pan-European Forum on Media Pluralism and New Media in Brussels, and we put some of your questions and comments to them (including from Christos). We began with the following suggestion sent in by Catherine:
The first step has to be to tighten strongly the right to monopoly. Look at the insane way Rupert Murdoch was able to exploit the situation through his money and the power that gave him… What we need is a press and media service that gives a wide view on all matters political.
We put this comment to Andrew Duff, British Liberal Democrat MEP and president of the Union of European Federalists, to see how he would respond:
Andrew Duff was adamant that media, like all other areas of the European economy, was vulnerable to monopolies. Therefore, he argued, the EU should step in to legislate on the issue in order to uphold the single market:
We are going to have to have a directive on media pluralism that will apply the same competition rules to the press and to the media as apply to all the other sections of industry. And, if we did that, it would be extremely controversial to put in place, but it would severely embarass at least these press barons like Murdoch and, indeed, Berlusconi.
However, we had a counter-point sent in from Nikolai, who argued that breaking up monopolies would not solve the problem:
The reason media plurality is under threat is that traditional media (print) is simply not profitable as an independent operation. Even if we limit Murdoch and his ilk to ownership of x number of titles, those remaining will need either a very rich sponsor to back a money losing operation [or] the titles will either cease, merge or become part of a stable of titles under one owner.
We asked Andrew Duff to respond to this point. If you broke up the media empires of people like Rupert Murdoch, would it ultimately just hurt media independence?
We also spoke to Claude Moraes, British Labour Party MEP and the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in Europe. We put Nikolai’s point to him and asked him to respond:
Well, Nikolai is right. Printed media is massively declining. In fact, there’s going to be a tipping point where printed media is going to just practically disappear, and we’re almost getting to that tipping point. But, unfortunately, the print media in some countries, like the United Kingdom and one or two other countries, is still extremely powerful. Because it’s not the number of people that are reading the print media, it’s how the print media dominates the agenda of broadcasting media and, indeed, digital media. It’s the quality of the stories and the ideas that then feeds into the psychology of a whole nation. So, print media is still incredibly important until we get to that tipping point.
Not everybody may be happy about the amount of political influence wielded by some media magnates, but do we really have a choice if we want to keep media independent of government? Dobrinka, for example, puts the point even more forcefully than Nikolai, arguing that media pluralism has always been under threat (and not just print media).
Media pluralism… is always under threat. It is [simply] that media are not profitable as independent operations. Media independence is a dream.
We put Dobrinka’s comment to Judith Sargentini, Dutch GreenLeft MEP and leader of the GreenLeft delegation, and asked her to react. Is media pluralism really under threat in Europe, or is this just business as usual?
Finally, we took the following comment from Christos, who called for:
More European media, channels, radio, newspapers, blogs, magazines, independent from any national control and their elites. There are many young journalists and bloggers that think outside their “national box” and see things in a more “pan-European” way.
Again, we asked Judith Sargentinin for her view. Should we have pan-European media in Europe? And how could it be achieved?
What do YOU think? Would pan-European newspapers, radio stations and TV channels help create a common European demos? Or is such a dream too idealistic? Would the linguistic and cultural barriers simply be too difficult to overcome? Should the EU intervene to break up big media empires and encourage greater competition? Or would this risk harming freedom of speech and media independence? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.