One million signatures to protect Europe’s media from ownership concentration

By Media Reform Coalition / Monday March 25, 2013 Read More

By Carolina Are

A group of media experts and activists met in the House of Lords last Thursday for the UK launch of the European Citizens’ Initiative on Media Pluralism.

The EIMP aims to get one million signatures in favour of changing EU law to protect media pluralism in member states. Under the Initiative, the European Council must consider and respond to any petition which gathers a million supporters.

The Media Reform Coalition’s Deborah Grayson was joined by journalists, activists and academics such as:

  • Giovanni Melogli, co-initiator of the EIMP;
  • Bill Emmott, former editor of The Economist and star of Italian political documentary Girlfriend in a Coma;
  • Claire Enders, media analyst and founder of Enders Analysis
  • Steven Barnett, professor of Communications at the University of Wetminster;
  • Barry McCall, President of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ);
  • Benedetta Brevini, lecturer in international media policy at City University (and MRC member)
  • Damian Tambini, from the London School of Economics’ Media Policy Project; and
  • Marc Gruber, director of the European Federation of Journalists

According to Giovanni Melogli, the initiativ started with an “egoistical” aim: protecting Italy’s media from Silvio Berlusconi’s ownership concentration. However, the creators later found out that states such as Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and the UK also had concentration issues, too.

Melogli said: “The most important thing and the main goal of the initiative is for the EU to have the competence to defend media pluralism and independence in its member states. The EU has to take care of the rights of its citizens.”

Ferenc Miszlivetz, from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, said: “We are witnessing a new face of capitalism, the emergence of the fifth estate: an elite bubble very similar to the financial bubble. These media experts talk about the market’s demand, but it’s very difficult to differentiate between the real demand and what is presented by the media experts as demand.”

He went on: “How do we handle the issue on an international level? We still do not have that democracy and we need clarification: we need to democratise the EU.

David McKnight, author of the book “Murdoch’s politics”, and Mark Gruber, director of the European Federation of Journalists, focused on how the concentration of foreign media companies’ in some states is killing the local press. Mr Gruber said: “When we went to Russia they told us, ‘If you are not able to look after your own European media, why do you complain about ours?’”

McKnight said that some aspects of media pluralism, such as excessive competition, can have the perverse result of excessive concentration.  Describing Australian newspaper markets, which are often a duopoly between Fairfax and Murdoch’s press, he said: “In competition the obvious goal is to eliminate your competitor, which brings us to the opposite of pluralism: monopoly.”

Sure enough, a report for Enders Analysis by Claire Enders and Chris Goodall in 2012 found that the UK media sector was massively concentrated – with News Corporation controlling 20% of the entire media market (not just news but cinemas, TV, and videogames) by one estimate. As Enders told the panel: “Research proves that too much concentration is negative for GDP.”

The EIMP’s petition calls for an EU Directive containing:

  • legislation to avoid concentration of ownership in the media
  • guaranteed independence of supervisory bodies from political power and influence;
  • a definition of conflict of interests with media ownership to prevent abuse of media power for special interests ;
  • rules enforcing transparency to identify the ultimate beneficial owners of media outlets, and monitoring systems to gauge the independence of the media
Sign the petition here.