Democracy: beyond Summit talk and legalese

Early during the lockdown, this think-do tank and other stakeholders warned about the worsened media crisis, and asked for short term help to the sector, not only policy guidelines. Meanwhile,  debates were constructive, but – apart from horizontal measures – there is media-specific short term aid only in few European countries. Other sectors, from health of course, to transport and tourism, got their acts together much better.

It is expected that social plans, restructuring, bankruptcies, and takeovers will speed up in the coming months. Indeed, cash reserves and ‘chomâge partiel’ / furlough help will go, and the readership boost will not translate in as much revenue increase. Some media will disappear, others fall into the wrong hands, and let’s hope some may regroup on a healthy basis. What is at stake is…nothing less than the democracy infrastructure.

Now, moving from budget and innovation back to policy… showing the need for legislative action. A preliminary view by EU Court of Justice suggests that platforms operators like YouTube are not directly liable for illegal uploading of protected works. Despite it’s curating content and selecting ads, it would allegedly be technically neutral, and thus exempt from liability. Remarkably, this disregards the Court’s own case law. It will be interesting to see if the Court will really follow the Opinion of its Advocate General. In the light of the upcoming discussions on the Digital Services Act this ruling will be crucial (more here).

Meanwhile, some platform operators are tripling their European advocacy budgets, while media companies, hit by the corona crisis, are forced to downsize their public affairs departments. As for public affairs consultancy and law firms, most would love to work for big platforms players…or already do. While media circles are busy with…surviving.

Given forces at work -and money- expect a lot more pro-platform reactions to the DSA consultation than pro-media. Publishers would prefer to comment on the long-promised MAP (Media Action Plan). Let’s hope EU officials and selected politicians will see beyond strong lobbying…

Marc Sundermann, Senior Fellow Fondation EURACTIV (former EU Representative Bertelsmann)                                      
Christophe Leclercq, Fondation EURACTIV Executive Chair

THINK //  Supporting the media sector to cope with the crisis

Europe is not alone rethinking competition policy on GAFAs….(The New York Times)
Christophe Leclercq comments:
“In Europe, there is a public debate about the digital tax, perhaps helping to pay back the recently agreed EU loans, and a more specialised debate about preemptive regulation, under the name ‘the new competition instrument’. Let’s not be fooled by the rebuttal of EU initiatives by America’s outgoing President. In that country too, damage done to democracy and jobs by dominant platforms is clear. Congress just hosted hearings of the GAFA leaders, and academics also reopened some old concepts.
The New York Times article explains why short term consumer benefits, chiefly price, are not the only driver of regulation. Who will be Europe’s Kahn?

Media decline is damaging deeply divided societies – can we ‘build back better’ after Covid 19?
(Social Change Initiative) “The global crisis facing traditional journalism has been deepened by the Covid 19 pandemic, with the furloughing and closure of news outlets. That trend affected the jobs of at least 38,000 news company workers in the US alone since March”. Read the suggestions from experts on how journalism can adapt to this new reality.

Fondation EURACTIV has already drafted its answer to the DSA consultation, building on a number of publicly available OpEds and Open Letters, mostly available here. Relevant media stakeholders who are interested in seeing this document (before or after the consultation deadline of 8 Sept.) may ask for it at (Christophe Leclercq) or (Marc Sundermann).

Media Freedom in Poland 2020: No Vaccine for Press Woes (
Since 2015, state-media turned into propaganda tools, & state-owned companies withdrew their advertising from critical media. “Media in Poland should be Polish”Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of the Law and Justice (PiS) said, confirming that the “re-polonisation” of media law is underway. Journalists are precarious victims of this situation. It is hard to see how professionalism can thrive in circumstances where journalists are deprived not only of a decent wage, but – all too often – of respect.”

Christophe Leclercq: “Disinformation and populism go hand-in-hand” (EURACTIV Romania)
“Changing the respective visibility of doubtful information and of news from quality sources is possible. Today’s algorithms, if well ‘fed’ with the right ‘signals’, can do that. Item-by-item evaluation by fact-checkers is relevant but too slow: it used to be a cottage industry and should now harness the power of big data.”

“One should assess sources, not negatively by censoring any, but positively: highlighting the most credible ones. Algorithms are good at generating loads of relevant advertising, they can also promote relevant content quality. Trust indicators are not a blunt black or white certification, but rather ‘50 shades of credibility’. Combined with respect for the copyright directive, this could indirectly boost the viewership and revenue of quality media.”

Mass resignations at Hungary’s biggest news site as fallout from editor’s sacking continues (EURACTIV)
The editor-in-chief of Hungary’s leading independent media outlet Index, Szabolcs Dull, was dismissed on Wednesday 22nd of July, after publicly claiming that the editorial press freedom to publish stories critical of Orban’s government was in “grave danger”. Then, more than 70 journalists resigned from Index’s editorial team.  “If the EU Commission is serious about protecting common values in member states, it needs to step up its efforts to ensure that Hungarian journalists can do their work without political pressure or editorial influence,” Lydia Gall, Human Rights Watch researcher said.

In Hungary, EU funds are used to finance pro-government media
“The political interference at Index, the last independent news outlet in Hungary, requires a strong reaction from the leaders of the European Union.” Read EFJ’s Open Letter to EU Leaders  signed by media organisations.

Monitoring media pluralism in the digital era (EURACTIV)
Christophe Leclercq welcomed the reportsaying that more needs to be done to combat government influence and the concentration of media in the hands of oligarchs. “In my view, this report will help shift EU policy from fact-checking media to rebalancing the overall information ecosystem,” he said. More here.

Digital Brief: EU Digital cuts (EURACTIV)
EU leaders reached an agreement’ on the new multi-annual financial framework and the recovery and resilience fund. However, substantial cuts have been made to the bloc’s various funding programs, notably on Horizon Europe and Creative Europe, which is being brought back to 1,64 billion euros, the same level as in the 2018 proposal.

Coronavirus : le gouvernement a débloqué 2 milliards pour les médias  

(Les Echos)
“Alors que la crise du coronavirus a durement affecté les médias, le gouvernement a débloqué presque 2 milliards pour les médias. Dans le secteur de l’audiovisuel et de la communication, l’enveloppe atteint 985 millions d’euros. L’essentiel (845 millions) concerne des dispositifs transversaux de soutien à l’économie”.

German Presidency
Open letter from the European Centre for Press & Media Freedom (ECPMF): “Given that the aim of the presidency is to work “together for Europe’s recovery”, we ask you to also take into account the financial situation of the EU’s media sector, on which the pandemic has had major consequences. At a time when the role of journalists and the media is more vital than ever, we need robust support for independent journalism”.

Find here the media policy events organised by the German Presidency.

Lords tell UK Government to stop pandemic of internet misinformation (ISP Review)

A report from the House of Lords Digital Technologies Committee has called on the UK Government to ensure that their future Online Harms Bill tackles the rising “pandemic of misinformation” on the internet, which they warn is a “threat” to democracy.

Commission eyes US GAFA hearing for future competition challenges (via EURACTIV)
The heads of US tech giants Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple started to testify in a US congressional hearing on Wednesday (29 July) as part of an ongoing probe into the dominance of digital platforms. For the EU, the hearing could provide a valuable insight into how to address competition challenges in the digital economy. So far, Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and Whatsapp were examined, with the company being accused of putting in place aggressive acquisition acts towards smaller businesses.

If you’re not terrified about Facebook, you haven’t been paying attention (The Guardian)
“Facebook and America are now indivisible. Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, these are now the bloodstream of American life and politics. A bloodstream that is sick. And so the world is sick, because American capitalism has been the vector that has brought this infection across the globe. Algorithmically amplified “free speech” with no consequences spread at speed. Hate freely expressed, freely shared. Ethnic hatred, white supremacy, resurgent Nazism all spreading invisibly, by stealth beyond the naked eye.” (by Carole Cadwalladr)

Tim Bray is not done with Amazon (The New York Times)
Tim Bray, internet pioneer and former VP at Amazon, addressed the company with a broad critique. Bray called for unionization and antitrust regulation, as the company is facing more and more antitrust scrutiny. He also said “the sheer size of Amazon and other large corporations gave them inordinate power over politics, policies and labor conditions”.

Stop Hate for Profit campaign 
The “Stop Hate for Profit campaign” gained momentum after protesting against Facebook, asking the platform to take responsibility over hate speech. Big companies such as Coca-Cola and Unilever decided to stop advertising through this social media platform. Facebook declared it would start labelling potentially harmful or misleading posts. For some, the company’s great power represents a threat to democracy. Zuckerberg reportedly said to his staff that “advertisers will return soon enough defining the boycott “more of a “reputational and a partner issue” than an economic one”.

Read more:
Facebook, YouTube, Twitter to face same EU rules on hateful content as broadcasters (EURACTIV)
Carnage for digital publishers in what was meant to be turnround year (Financial Times)
Why is ad tech paying US$25 million to COVID-19 disinfo sites? (Disinformation Index)

DO – Innovative solutions for journalism through Stars4Media

One sad news is the shrinking of the Paris-based Tank Media: the sanitary crisis hit the activities of the Tank Media, which was forced to reconsider its business. Read their announcement here.

Encouraging news: the Stars4Media programme managed to transform itself, moving entirely online and meeting its goals. Thanks to the dedication of its partners VUB, Fondation EURACTIV, WAN-IFRA and EFJ, and to its jury members. This is based on the pilot project ‘rising stars’ voted by the European Parliament and co-financed by the European Commission. Out of transparency: a call for proposals regarding the second year of that pilot project has been issued: this is an open and competitive process. The current consortium is making a proposal and would transfer its know-how if it does not win. Stars4media also intends to disseminate some findings from year 1, also before the end of the current project. It is too early to give guidance to future media applicants for year 2, but interested media professionals can register potential interest under this address:

The Stars4Media Pilot Project is a training programme supporting cross border initiatives developed by media innovators. For its first year, Stars4Media is accompanying 21 innovative partnerships, bridging together more than 100 media professionals from 17 countries.
This programme is designed to develop the skills of media professionals from diverse profiles: journalism, content marketing, social media management, communications, editing, engineering and business.

To work with media innovators and cooperate with media professionals from all over Europe, join the community on the Stars4Media LinkedIn Group.