May Newsletter | Info ecosystem rebalancing: acceleration possible

Commissaire Breton, après le tourisme: média et démocratie?

Congratulations, recovery of Southern Europe and of holidays is on the map! Helping travel and hospitality through these financial guidelines, tourism is a high priority for the upcoming recovery plan. Why this mention by a media think tank? Because news media needs equal attention, equally urgently. When tourists go home in September, will they find independent information on the virus and the recovery, or just state broadcasters and fake news? Don’t take us for granted. Freedom of thought is as important to Europe as freedom of travel.

The Education and Culture Council gathered yesterday in Brussels. It was addressed by Commissioner Gabriel, not yourself and VP Jourova, unlike the video conference on April 8th. Whilst ministers acknowledged creative industries and reliable information in COVID times,  they made no real commitment to journalism. This is also because warnings by MEPs were hardly heard, and – apart from useful benchmarking, the Commission services were not asked for a sector-specific package by their leadership.

New disinformation Action Plan – The December 2018 version helped counter foreign interference during EU elections. The Commission will launch a new one, to reduce fake news around Coronavirus, on June 10th. This is four months after the start of the current crisis, and after platforms broke earlier promises. Shall the EU always act ‘after the battle’, or shall it anticipate, shaping a quality information ecosystem?

Ex-ante, not just ex-post’: this is a great concept for Digital Strategy,  by your supervisor, Executive Vice President Vestager. It applies to platforms, and in particular to the information ecosystem: Mr Breton, as Commissioner with an industrial policy vision, you can make a real difference.
In April 2018, the Commission endorsed most suggestions of the High-Level Expert Group on disinformation (both authors of this Edito were members). Notably to care for a quality information ecosystem. And to co-regulate platforms ‘including the use of competition instruments’. Despite good words at the beginning of this mandate, both aspects are still missing… two years later.

Coordinate policies and budget for news media – Our expert group also requested to prepare an economic report on news media. We will welcome DG COMP opening a sector enquiry on the information ecosystem, and developing a new competition instrument. But this will take time: services will be bombarded under company responses and lawyers’ submissions for the next two years. So, both Brussels and the Capitals need ‘early morning light’ and the sector’s ‘big picture’, quickly. Not from yet another large group, but a short study, summarising existing knowledge and policy hypotheses. Its draft report could be a basis for both the Media and the Democracy Action Plans due in Q4 2020. 

The new Disinformation Action Plan will surely recommend actions by governments and note new promises by platforms, plus stress the role of fact-checkers and media. The media sector, now in deep crisis, cannot be paid with words any more.  To be an ACTION plan, this new document should also: a) trigger the preparation of this economic report b) commit to a clearer planning and open stakeholders involvement for the parallel Democracy and Media actions plans c) include news media as part of Recovery Action Plan, and also sketch a continuing NEWS programme.

Joining Forces – The News Media file is a complex one. It is regrouping a multitude of different competences on the Commission side, such as skills, innovation, fundamental freedoms and business/competition aspects. This complexity should not slow down. Building on your meetings with several ecosystems, the Project Group of Commissioners for media should urgently meet to coordinate. And the media sector itself should better coordinate its proposals at the EU level, like it typically does at national level. Based on your initiative, the tourism sector impressively showed us the impact of a harmonized approach.

Mr Breton, you hopefully help save tourism: good! Media is not for ‘touristic’ foreys by politicians when it suits them, but a permanent home for democracy. That media home needs staff, and in turn revenues, not just words.

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

(Like usual, we consider transforming this modest newsletter piece into an OpEd, and welcome the feed-back of expert readers. Or public reactions too: @LeclercqEU & @FondEURACTIV)

THINK – Regulating platforms & rebalancing the information ecosystem

Read the Opinion piece by Christophe Leclercq: Press Freedom and Europe: Wolves, vultures, trolls… plus knights and journalists“. The media and the EU face similar dangers: Dark forces, impoverishment, and slow decisions.

Innovative financial solutions to back EU media sector
At the EP culture committee on May 4th, Thierry Breton said he will work with MEPs to test new innovative financial solutions, also underlying the need for the DSA to provide a level-playing field for platforms and media outlets.

‘New competition tool’ is set to feature in the upcoming Digital Services Act
Commissioner Breton: “Because platforms have to be aware of their key responsibility as gatekeepers. They must adapt to Europe and not the other way around.”

Tourism and media: Tourism and transport in 2020 and beyond (May 13th): “These networks shall also connect tourism with other industries to accelerate uptake of new solutions, foster cross-sectoral investments in tourism ecosystem with ICT, renewable energies, health and life sciences, agri-food, maritime, cultural and creative industries, including the media sector.”

Read here MEP Alexandra Geese twitter thread, focusing on the Zuckerberg/Breton debate, underlining the “systemic” nature of social media platforms.


Europe’s media is in crisis and needs immediate EU support (by Dace Melbārde (LV, ECR), vice-chair of Parliament’s Culture and Education committee)
While big media can face the new crisis without risking extinction -thanks to digitisation- small and local media may not. Financial aid is essential to allow those media to survive

Announcements from the Australian Government on media sector reforms
The Australian government announced different short-term and long-term measures to support media businesses, including tax relief, investment in the public sector news and regional journalism. It also sped-up the process involving reforms already foreseen for the media sector.

Coronavirus crisis shows Big Tech for what it is — a 21st century public utility
Tech platforms have become ‘’public utilities’’ as we rely on them as much as on any other public service. The issue is that they are not subject to the same scrutiny as other public utilities, and that their role of dominance on markets has brought some politicians to demand their dismantling.

Study for the assessment of the implementation of the Code of Practice on Disinformation: Drawbacks were underlined (self-regulatory nature, lack of uniformity of implementation, lack of clarity around the scope), and solutions have been identified: co-regulation with enforcement mechanisms and sanctions.

THINK – Press freedom and media innovation

Healing words: how press freedom is being threatened by the coronavirus pandemic
Covid-19 has brought new ways of undermining press freedom: the misuse of emergency legislation allowed governments to increase the level of surveillance and censorship against independent journalists and citizens; in the UK there have been evidence of authorities preventing journalists to access information.

Three media innovations to watch during (and after) COVID-19    
Media associations and research institutes teamed up around 3 main innovative ideas: automated journalism, advanced data visualization, and automated fact-checking.

To Engage with Audiences, Publishers are Reimagining Content
Media companies are finding new ways to engage audiences: Tik Tok, podcasts or videos.

Webinar “All things being equal” Gender equality in Media Conference, on May 26 – European Federation of Journalists

DO – Media news and skills for media professionals

Partnership opportunity? EU Commission Call for feasibility of a Platform of Quality Content
This report will sketch and assess a possible European distribution platform, focused on quality news and possibly cultural content, to help citizens with diversified information, in the emerging European media ecosystem. If feasible, a possible second stage would provide a blueprint for implementation.
Fondation EURACTIV is interested in this opportunity and actively looking for partners and experts, contact us directly at to flag your interest.

Media news – also relevant to media advocacy: relaunched, with Corriere della Sera: PM interview
PM Conte“Resources must be given primarily to the most affected states and must include a very significant proportion of grants, while not wanting to exclude loans; the states must be responsible for allocating them within a clear framework of common rules.”
Christophe Leclercq comments: “The media is distressed as a sector, like Italy is as a country. Given fragile balance sheets, loans sound good, but are deferring the problems. Like PM Conte advocating straight grants for his country, press stakeholders advocate cost cuts, extra revenues, and help for innovation. This is also why MEPs have asked for repurposing budgets to public-interest advertising, and for NEWS programme.”

The Stars4Media training and exchange programme
Media professionals are encouraged to enlarge their teams, connect with other relevant media outlets and diversify profiles (adding marketing and tech expertise), to sustain a stronger impact and deliver concrete innovation.

Join our resilient community of media innovators on our LinkedIn Group!
This is the best way to benefit from training, to gain skills in constructive journalism, fact-checking, AI, language technologies, and data journalism. You have the chance to test your ideas, to address your urgent business needs and find collaborative solutions.

Join our network of media innovators