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IN THE first two parts of this debate (you can read them online here and here) we discussed some of the future and current challenges facing citizens and media in the EU. In this post, however, we want to look at some possible solutions. Should the EU be trying to actively support the media in Europe in facing down these problems? If so, how can it do this whilst also preserving and encouraging a critical and independent European press? We approached the heads of a couple of large journalist associations and asked them for comment.

Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, in a speech at the opening of the Brussels’ office of EURONEWS (14 June 2011) stresses that while the EU is supporting some relevant EU media financially, it does so scrupulously respeciting their editorial independence:

“Vous le savez, les institutions européennes – surtout le Parlement et la Commission – veillent particulièrement au développement de votre chaîne. Depuis l’origine, ou presque, la Commission apporte un soutien financier à Euronews tout en respectant scrupuleusement son indépendance éditoriale. Les liens étroits tissés entre votre quartier général lyonnais et “Bruxelles” ont toujours été marqués par un grand respect de votre liberté éditoriale, protégée dans nos accords et contrats.”

Peter Kramer, international secretary-general of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), which gathers national and regional journalists covering EU matters, believes the European Citizens’ Initiative might hold the answer. Kramer hopes the Citizens’ Initiative will make Europe more accessible and interesting to citizens, and thus coverage will increase. If this happens, he warns that national journalists will need support and training about the EU and how it functions:

“With upcoming European Citizens’ Initiatives, coverage of Europe will increase, but we will hear the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Aidan White, the outgoing secretary-general of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) – which groups together journalist unions around the world – speaks of the importance of sharing good practices between journalists:

“The challenges facing journalists in Europe are dramatically put into context by the struggles for press freedom south of the Mediterranean. This initiative is an opportunity to create a professional bridge of good practice that will strengthen journalism in the EU and inspire journalists striving for independence elsewhere.”

Christophe Leclercq, EurActiv founder, takes a balanced view on direct support for struggling European media:

“Journalists are faced with both government restrictions in some countries and the limited resources of their media companies, as exemplified by the dwindling EU press corps. Except for justified and competitive advertising or communication projects, the EU should not fund media companies. But the EU, among others, can help on both fronts. First, by taking a firm line on media freedom at national level. Second, it could develop and improve its programmes to make journalists aware, well-informed and well-supported when they do cover European matters… Social media tools could help journalists find mutual support, so they can identify stories they find relevant and leverage sources across borders. In the Arab world, this has worked efficiently in recent weeks: why not more so in Europe itself?”

We can be sure that the European Citizens’ Initiative will focus greater attention on the EU (assuming, of course, the ECI is a success). Will that be enough? The EU could also provide indirect support, especially in terms of training, resources and access. However, direct financial support would be a mistake. It would encourage media organisations to become dependent on aid from the institutions they are supposed to be reporting on critically.

It’s a fine line between supporting independent media and controlling coverage. Even whilst Commission President José Manuel Barroso was calling media freedom a “sacred principle” during the Hungarian media law controversy, the Commission was being accused of pulling funding from a project designed to support investigative journalism in the EU because of a disagreement over editorial independence. The Commission allegedly wanted to be responsible for awarding the grants and, crucially, wanted information about editorial content before money was handed out. The EU should be supporting editorial independence and critical voices, not trying to retain control of what is being said.

What do you think? All ideas are welcome, especially practical suggestions. What do you think about opening up future official or information events to high-profile bloggers? How can we make them more lively, involving different institutions and various stakeholders? Could focused financial support be managed by media organisations themselves? Which organisations? The most relevant contributions will be circulated ahead of the stakeholder workshop that Fondation EurActiv PoliTech (which runs Blogactiv.eu) is planning.

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Image Credits: CC / Flickr – Esther Gibbons

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