Europe’s media sector: time for a constructive optimism?

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Europe’s media sector: time for a constructive optimism?

Covid is finally loosening its grip on Europe. Things are fortunately slowly going back to normal, not for the media sector though.
The shift to digital during the pandemic strengthened dominant US players even more. And there is no rowing back, this trend is meant to stay.
So the media sector consolidation continues to accelerate. Bertelsmann is refocusing its strategy on national (German) champions, divesting from other countries. The selling of RTL Belgium and RTL Netherland confirms the trend.

New alliances are built: the latest in France between TF1 and M6. Whilst the acquisition of MGM by Amazon for 8 billion $ didn’t create antitrust concerns, TF1 & M6 will have to undergo a lenghty antitrust clearing process with a potentially uncertain outcome (two national regulators are involved). Even if cleared by the end of 2022, what will happen then? Swallowed by another GAFA?

Survival mode does not allow for mid term planning any more. Luckily the European Commission is willing to help. The new, recently published Call for proposalsJOURNALISM PARTNERSHIPS shows a step forward in that direction, and an opportunity to ensure the sustainability of the Stars4Media programme. Particularly relevant for smaller scale, local and regional media is the European Cooperation Projects call that envisions funding for up to 130 projects in creative sectors.

Disinformation remains in focus as the Commission embraces the fight against it with the recently published Code of Practice on Disinformation that aims to create, among other, stronger monitoring framework. Horizon Europe, successor of Horizon2020, opened a Call for Proposals aiming to fund projects that tackle disinformation providing advanced AI solutions for both media professionals and citizens.

MediaLab continues to actively work on fighting disinformation through an array of activities. Currently in development is the Content Sharing Study on European Platform(s), developed on behalf of the European Commission. Christophe Leclercq’s keynote during the High Level Conference on Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Journalism stressed equal access to AI food both big and small media is key, and this was also highlighted during the #Stars4Media Lab held in May.

Many funding opportunities for MediaLab, as well as other media policy think tanks, companies and organisations will hopefully translate in a vivid public sphere, and a digital ecosystem where trustworthy and reliable information takes center stage again.

Marc Sundermann, Director (

Christophe Leclercq, Executive Chairman (

Antonia Loncar, Senior Communications and Project Manager (


Critics raise alarm over Big Tech’s most powerful tools (FT)
A number of so-called ”learning algorithms’’ seems to govern users’ digital lives by constantly adjusting to their habits through a vast amount of data, often with no ethics standards. Critics remark that ”there is no way to tell whether codes of conduct are being followed, and that they inevitably clash with powerful financial incentives’’.

Biden nominates Lina Khan, a vocal critic of Big Tech, to the F.T.C. (NYT)
“As consumers, as users, we love these tech companies,” Ms. Khan said in a 2018 interview with The New York Times. “But as citizens, as workers, and as entrepreneurs, we recognize that their power is troubling. We need a new framework, a new vocabulary for how to assess and address their dominance.”

Lawmakers unveil major bipartisan antitrust reforms that could reshape Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google (CNBC)
”The package of five bills would make it harder for dominant platforms to complete mergers and prohibit them from owning businesses that present clear conflicts of interest.’’
Critics affirmed that adopting a European regulatory model would impede competition and innovation in the US and globally.

German competition regulator initiates proceedings against Google (EURACTIV)
”After Facebook and Amazon, this is the third instance of investigations for  American tech companies since the amendment to the German competition law came into force. The business newspaper Handelsblatt reported internal information on Germany’s further approach to the DMA. According to this, the government wants to enforce a central role for national authorities in the review of digital companies.’’

Andreas Schwab : « Le Digital Markets Act doit se focaliser sur les Gafa » (Contexte)
Pour son rapporteur au Parlement européen, la future régulation des plateformes verrouillant l’accès aux marchés numériques doit être resserrée sur les acteurs les plus visibles. L’eurodéputé plaide aussi pour une séparation des pouvoirs, pour l’instant placés entre les mains de la Commission.

EU tech rules should only target dominant companies, EU lawmaker says (Financial Post)
“The DMA should be clearly targeted to those platforms that play an unquestionable role as gatekeepers due to their size and their impact on the internal market” MEP Andreas Schwab wrote in his report.
To know more about this notion, read the Op-ed ‘’Democracy and Digital: trusted media and platform regulation’’, co-signed by five MEPs and former MEPs, and ten policy and media experts. These gatekeepers could also be called  ‘Systemic Publishing Platforms’ (SysPPees): dominant in a number of markets, platforms are an ‘essential facility’, a ‘must’ gatekeeper for other actors and for users.

Leading MEP’s bid to ‘take back control of Big Tech’ (EURACTIV)
Germany fears EU digital law might loosen its antitrust grip on tech giants (EURACTIV)
France, Germany, the Netherlands press for tighter rules in DMA (EURACTIV)
Germany and France gear up to fight foreign interference ahead of elections (EURACTIV)
Google fined €220m by French competition watchdog over online advertising market (euronews)
Google to change global advertising practices in landmark antitrust deal (EURACTIV)
Google Risks More Antitrust Pursuers After Rare Surrender in EU (Bloomberg)
European press publishers encouraged by EU antitrust probe into Google ad-tech (NME)
Facebook braces for showdown with world leaders after Trump ban (Politico)


Facebook acknowledges politicians can harm, but won’t let them be fact-checked (Poynter)
Facebook recently announced it will keep the former U.S. President Donald Trump off the platform for another two years. For a long time, the tech company adopted a policy for which politicians are exempted from fact-checking, so as to not deprive citizens of hearing their elected officials. However, it has also acknowledged how “public figures often have broad influence across the platform and may therefore pose a greater risk of harm when they violate our Community Standards or Community Guidelines.”

Christophe Leclercq comments:
IFCN has a good track record with setting standards in the early stages of fighting online disinformation. It is “a business unit of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a nonprofit journalism training institution”, indeed a reputable US organisation. Given that US gatekeepers require fact checkers it funds to be IFCN certified, and given that the issues and debates are slightly different in Europe, should there be a European certifying organisation? If so, it would likely use very similar standards. EDMO is one step in that direction. Fact checkers in Europe could organize even better, also with help from the EU.”


Facebook, German Publisher Axel Springer strike global cooperation deal (Reuters)
Axel Springer and Facebook are said to have agreed on a global cooperation deal under which content from the German publisher will be featured on the social network and its Facebook News product.

Totale Transparenz endet immer totalitär (Welt)
Chrostophe Leclercq comments: ”Axel Springer CEO supports (c) laws openly”
“Allein Google und Facebook haben im vergangenen Jahr circa 230 Milliarden Dollar Werbeumsatz erwirtschaftet. Das sind 46 Prozent des weltweiten Werbemarkts. Bis 2024 wird der Marktanteil laut Prognosen auf mehr als 60 Prozent steigen. Die absolute Dominanz der Plattformen bedeutet zugleich auch perspektivisch das fast völlige Verschwinden der Vielfalt journalistischer und künstlerischer und kommerzieller Angebote. Warum sollte jemand zum Beispiel Informationen aufwendig recherchieren, wenn einige wenige Plattformen damit am Ende das große Geschäft machen? Nun kann man sagen: Das ist halt so. Aber man kann auch fragen: Woran liegt es?”

Quand Ruquier plaisante avec Barthès du rachat de M6 par le groupe TF1 (Huffington Post)
Le groupe M6 détenant déjà 5 fréquences (sa chaîne éponyme, W9, 6ter, Gulli et Paris Première), un rachat par TF1 également propriétaire de 5 canaux (TF1, TMC, LCI, TFX, TF1 Cinéma Séries) impliquerait la cession de trois chaînes, rappelle l’AFP.

French TV broadcasters M6 and TF1 seek to merge (FT)
Bertelsmann has chosen to merge its French television business M6 with its larger domestic rival TF1 after a months-long auction process ¨[…]. This would create a player with roughly 70 percent of the French television advertising market, far above levels that would usually breach competition rules. But the companies plan to argue the regulators should instead consider their position in the overall advertising market […].

The TF1-M6 merger is the right answer (RTL Group)
DPG Media and Rossel bid together on RTL Belgium (De TIJD)
See also in English (Paudal) and French (RTL)

Portuguese Presidency High Level Conference ‘’Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Journalism’’ 
In May, Christophe Leclercq moderated a session on ”AI and the future of journalism’’ during the High Level Conference organised by the Portuguese Presidency. Among the panelists, Commissioner for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová addressed the current issues in the media sector, stating that ‘’public funding for the news media sector is key, but even more important is to guarantee media independence especially in AI’’.


L’état de l’État de droit (EuropaNova)
”La liberté et le pluralisme des médias continuent d’être un enjeu central dans la bataille pour l’État de droit en Pologne. Un tribunal de Varsovie a suspendu l’approbation du rachat par le raffineur PKN Orlen, contrôlé par l’État polonais, du groupe de média local Polska Press, a déclaré lundi le médiateur polonais des droits de l’Homme.
Cette pression sur les médias libres préoccupe les responsables européens, en Pologne, ainsi qu’en Hongrie ou des pratiques similaires sont devenues courantes.’’

Digital News Report 2021 (Reuters)
Trust in news media increased over past year, report finds (RTE)
Publishers Bank On First-Party Data To Drive Subs, Ad Revenue (Mediapost)
Brussels reporters worried about Commission’s post-pandemic press ‘ideas’ (EURACTIV)


The first yearly call for journalism partnerships has been launched, with a deadline for applications on 26 August 2021.

Grants will support cross-border collaboration among news media professionals in Europe. This first call promotes business transformation and journalistic projects – this can include the development of common technical standards, new types of newsrooms, the testing of new business models, original reporting and innovative production formats.

Europe’s MediaLab considers applying, together with other consortium partners, based on the successful Stars4Media experience.

The European Commission is also looking for experts in the field of news media to evaluate upcoming calls for proposals under Creative Europe. In case of questions, news media experts can contact: and media literacy experts
Please note that neither EURACTIV nor Europe’s MediaLab or its Senior Fellows will apply to this call for experts, in order to avoid any possible conflict of interest. 

AI to fight disinformation (RIA): Human-Centred and Ethical Development of Digital and Industrial Technologies 2021 (Horizon-CL4-2021-Human-01) is a Horizon Europe call aiming to provide Advanced AI solutions against disinformation for citizens, with focus on advanced disinformation techniques for media professionals.
[MediaLab has a strong interest in this yield and is open to consortium collaboration proposals. Two of its leaders were on the High Level Group Expert Group on Disinformation, and Christophe Leclercq is on the Advisory Board of EDMO].

European Cooperation Projects envisions funding for up to 130 projects in creative sectors on a small, medium and large scale.
[Though not of the MediaLab primary interest too, it will promote and strongly encourage all media and news professionals to apply. It may also be a policy or dissemination partner.]