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Report recommends giving EU power to protect media freedom

A report commissioned by the European Commission also suggests each country should borrow Ireland’s model for media regulation.

Image: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP

A NEW REPORT submitted to the European Commission has suggested that the European Union should be given the power to act to protect media freedom and pluralism on a national basis.

The report, commissioned by Digital Agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes and compiled by a former president of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, also recommends that individual EU member states take inspiration from Ireland’s model of press regulation.

The report says the EU should be empowered to ensure that individual countries cannot bring in restrictions on the freedom of the media or pluralism, without compromising the quality of news coverage and the protection of democracy.

“The link between media freedom and pluralism and EU democracy, in particular, justifies a more extensive competence of the EU” in addition to those already enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which forms part of the Treaty of Lisbon.

The document – which can be read in full here – also recommends that data protection and libel laws should be harmonised throughout the EU to remove legal questions surrounding the legality of some online content which may be considered legally safe in some countries but questionable in others.

The difficulties posed by online media feature heavily in the 50-page report, with recommendations that media organisations adjust their codes of conduct “to the challenges posed by a rapidly changing media environment”, and in particular to verifying news first sourced via online sources.

“Any new regulatory frameworks must be brought into line with the new reality of a fluid media environment, covering all types of journalistic activities, regardless of the transmission medium,” it adds, suggesting that organisations should be legally required to publish their editorial and conduct codes.

Irish model inspires EU recommendations

The Irish model of press regulation forms the inspiration for a model that should be replicated elsewhere, with the report suggesting independent media councils and the existence of a specific media ombudsman in each country – similar to the Irish structure of a Press Council and Press Ombudsman.

Elsewhere, the report suggests that each EU member state should introduce legislation allowing journalists to claim privilege in protecting their sources, subject only to the possibility of a court order within the terms of each country’s constitutions.

It also seeks the beefing-up of penalties for media outlets who lose court cases about their conduct or content.

“Compulsory damages following court cases should include an apology and retraction of accusations printed with equal positioning and size of the original defamation, or presented in the same time slot in the case of radio or TV programmes,” it says.

In addition to this and to a legally-imposed right of reply, it should become accepted as responsible practice among news media to also publish retractions and corrections of wrong and unverified information on the simple request of citizens providing justifications to the contrary. [...]

Any public funding should be conditional on the inclusion of such provisions in the code of conduct of the media organisation.

A free and pluralist media should also be treated as a prerequisite for future entry to the EU, it further adds.

Read: 7 essential rules of social media etiquette

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Gavan Reilly

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