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    Media pluralism under threat in Europe

    Credit: Unsplash/Roman Kraft

    A new study by the European Commission shows that there has been a general stagnation or deterioration in terms of risks to media pluralism across all countries in the EU.

    The study was carried out by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF) on behalf of the European Commission and covers all 27 EU Member States plus the UK, Albania, and Turkey. The CMPF is a research centre established in 2011 at the European University Institute in Florence and is co-financed by the Commission.

    Since 2013 the Centre has been developing and implementing the Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM), to assess the risks for media pluralism in EU member states and candidate countries.

    “This study is a wake-up call. We need to better protect journalists and to increase transparency and fairness in the online world, especially in the context of political campaigning,” commented Vera Jourova, Vice-President of the Commission for Values and Transparency. “The Commission can’t win this fight alone: I rely on Member States to help reverse this trend” (23 July).

    In the report, CMPF scores the countries according to the level of risk in four areas: basic protection, market plurality, political independence and social inclusiveness. The assessed risk scores for various indicators and sub-indicators are grouped as Low (0 – 33%), Medium (34-66%) and High (67-100%). In total, the scoring is based 20 indicators and 200 variables.

    The research design is based on a questionnaire compiled by national country teams which consist of experts in media pluralism and media freedom. The data was collected using an online platform. For particularly sensitive and complex variables, the MPM employs an external peer review system.  The countries are scored in each area separately and not ranked according to a consolidated scorecard.

    The Basic Protection area covers a number of factors that must be in place in a pluralistic and democratic society, including the existence and effectiveness of regulatory mechanisms in order to safeguard the freedom of expression and the right to seek, receive and impart information.

    The average score in this area was 33%, close to the medium risk range. 11 countries (Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Spain) scored medium risk.

    Under the Market Plurality area, the study assesses the risks to media pluralism, such as transparency of ownership, businesses’ influence over editorial content, and the sustainability of media production.

    The average score for this area is 64%, which is considerably higher than in the previous monitor in 2017 (53%), signaling the growing economic threats to media pluralism.

    13 countries scored a high risk: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Turkey. The highest risks for market plurality come from ownership concentration, both in the news media and the digital intermediaries’ markets.

    Political Independence, as a potential for actively representing the diversity of the political spectrum and of ideological views in the media and other relevant platforms, is one of the crucial conditions for democracy and democratic citizenship, writes CMPF. The area is assessed using indicators on politicization of the distribution of resources to media and political control of media.

    Overall, the Political Independence area is at high risk in 7 countries (Bulgaria, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, and Turkey). On average, the risk remained almost the same as in 2017, when it was 46%.

    The Social Inclusiveness area considers access to the media by various social and cultural groups, such as minorities, local/regional communities, people with disabilities, and women. On average, the area scored 52% (i.e. medium risk). 5 countries (Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania and Turkey) scored a high risk.

    According to the Commission, the findings of the study will serve as source of information for the first Rule of Law Report, scheduled for September, which will specifically address media pluralism. They will also feed into the European Democracy Action Plan, the Media and Audio-visual Action Plan and the Digital Services Act, all to be presented later this year.

    M. Apelblat
    The Brussels Times