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Paul Nemitz Principal Advisor, European Commission

 

Democracy in Europe after the Second World War has been greatly inspired by the transitions from dictatorship to freedom, which the people of Greece, Spain and Portugal and the people of countries of Central and Eastern Europe achieved. When recalling the energy the student movement of 1968 brought to democracy, with the march through the institutions, the movements for peace and environmental protection, the dynamic changes in governments and the political system, and indeed the sustained resolve of the democracy movements in the south of Europe and of those who brought the Iron Curtain down in 1989, one wonders where today comparable energy and engagement for democracy in Europe is to be found.
We are taking democracy and freedom for granted. Most political parties, unions, NGOs, churches, and self organised people’s activities such as public services sports clubs (as distinguished from commercial fitness centres) suffer from a decline in paying members and even stronger declines in sustained active citizen’s engagement over a longer period. Whether the little recent good news, which is an exception to the rule, will be short lived or mark a sustained change of trend, remains to be seen.
Much of the time and energy the young previously gave to engaging with their peers on political, social or other selforganized causes today, seems to go to more individualized pursuits in which it is not the relation among people, and a broader societal objective, but the subject – object relation, the me and the machine, me and the software, the hack, the game, which are at the centre.

Participation in democracy in the digital age is at risk of degenerating into the occasional rant of 140 signs or the clicking of a like button, thus from activism to “slacktivism”.

Some of the smartest who in previous generations may have engaged for one or the other societal cause, today engage in the start-up and tech scene.

 

Still a minority, but gaining attention, are those who seek to combine an engagement with technology and an engagement for democracy. It is in this field that start-up entrepreneurs and journalists are playing, who seek to develop new forms of journalism on the internet and who have the ambition to devise new forms and technologies to strengthen the function of journalism as the fourth estate in democracy, which controls power and the powerful.

Let’s not forget that we have very good reasons for including in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights the freedom to receive and impart information and the pluralism of the media; freedom of the media is the backbone of the values on which this Union is built. A free and pluralist media is the watchdog in our democracy. There can’t be healthy democracies without a free and pluralistic media, free of interference from the powers that be.

Media pluralism is however facing huge challenges. Misinformation is sadly only one of the many challenges that Europe is facing when it comes to media freedom and pluralism. Media currently face the issue of independence of the media from political pressures – comprising public service media – but also commercial and financial pressures. Media companies struggle to monetise their content and keep on financing quality journalism.

 

Next to civic tech and hacks for democracy and human rights, these new journalistic start-ups, when they are not just aiming to produce clickbait for maximized advertisement revenue, are cause for hope. The hope is that the quality of discourse and the rigour of investigation our democracies need, will be enriched by these initiatives, many of which are driven by an idealism comparable to earlier democracy movements and to the ethos we know from great journalism.

Many of these endeavours are economically precarious. It is indeed no secret that a sustainable replacement for the business models of the analogue media environment is yet to be found. Which type of activities in democratic societies are able to provide for a livelihood, need financial teaming with public service broadcast, or are profitable enough to attract private investors is a matter of public interest and cannot be left alone to technology and markets, where the space for public discourse and essential functions for a democracy such as quality journalism are concerned.

 

The draining of revenues for journalism and the press 1 goes hand in hand with mega profits for very few tech platforms, without these platforms themselves however, giving to society in Europe, what journalism as the fourth estate gave and needs to give in the future, even if in new forms. The profits of tech and the precariousness of journalism today go hand in hand, and they are not only results of successful tech business models and technology development on the one side and failure of entrepreneurial and journalistic innovation on the other. They are also the results of market failure and of old laws, which today provide uneven playing fields between technology and platform providers on the one hand and content producers on the other, in areas such as copyright, taxation, liabilities to act on illegal content and scope of application of laws, be it territorial scope or the question, what activities should fall within the scope of media law. Some of these laws are laws of Member States, some are laws of the European Union.

 

The European Union aims to support pluralism of Media, so important for democracy in Europe, and a level playing field across borders and between actors in the Digital Single Market. The Commission has to this purpose undertaken a great number of initiatives, ranging from ensuring that digital press can benefit from the same tax advantages as printed press 2 , via start up support programmes which can benefit digital media start-ups 3 , right through to the installation of media pluralism observatories 4 and the recent proposals on copyright reform 5 and audiovisual services 6 . The Commission’s decision on the taxation of Apple – or may one better say the lack of it – in Ireland 7 is another indication that the Commission has an eye on the need to ensure a level playing field in the new conditions of digital capitalism.

 

In November last year, the First Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans devoted the 2nd Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights to media pluralism and democracy in Europe 8 to address four trends that are of particular concern: (i) how to protect and promote media freedom and independence from Government’s attempts to undermine the guaranties the press needs to exercise its function in free societies; (ii) how a pluralistic media environment can foster political debate on crucial issues for democratic societies and the effects of media concentration; (iii) the impact the internet and digital technologies (including digital business models and, in particular, major social platforms and search engines) have on freedom of speech and journalism in democracy as well as the role of media and ethical journalism in promoting fundamental rights and (iv) how to empower journalists and protect them from threats of physical violence or hate speech. It is of course a paradox that if social platforms continue allowing hate speech and incitement to violence and hatred to spread unchecked, they will contribute to a chilling effect for speech by journalists, who are often targets of hate and

 

It is of course a paradox that if social platforms continue allowing hate speech and incitement to violence and hatred to spread unchecked, they will contribute to a chilling effect for speech by journalists, who are often targets of hate and threats 9 , which adds to the difficult situation journalism is already facing due to the drain on advertisement revenues. The Code of Conduct against hate speech and incitement to violence 10, which the Commission negotiated with Facebook, Google (Youtube), Twitter and Microsoft serves to protect journalists from intimidation. While reflections on these challenges continue, one conclusion of the Colloquium 11 was that journalistic startups which pursue the ambition to enrich through innovation the debate in democracy and to further promote a plurality of viewpoints from within Europe, need support. Such start-ups can become not only a rich source of investigation, reporting, curation, opinion and debate in their own right; they can also bring innovation to free speech of citizens in democracy and the media landscape it needs. While in some Member States the scene of media start-ups organised themselves to represent their interests, in others they have not yet taken that step, so essential in a democracy. We live today in a media world in which analogue advertisement Euros have been replaced with digital cents for publishers and journalists, and in which the overwhelmingly biggest share of revenues previously available for the financing of a plurality of journalistic formats now flows to very few tech companies, namely Google and Facebook. In this situation, combining innovation in technology and business models for journalism with organised representation of interests may also help to return earnings to journalists and publishers, whether or not they are working with the Lumascape, and thus towards those pursuits of journalism, which democracy in Europe needs. We need lively, informed and enlightened debate, not channels for viral hate, fake news and returns of echoes of our own interests, tuned by hidden algorithms based on deeply intrusive collection of personal data and profiling techniques. We need a media mix, which could be partly financed by states through public service broadcaster, but also through revenues from the market and private funding and which is not dominated by a few. And we need to give renewal and innovation in journalism the support it deserves and requires, to the benefit of maintaining journalism as the strong 4th estate in democracy, as distinguished from the tech and stock market driven clickbait platform cacophony, which is concerned neither by the journalist’s ethos nor sees people as citizens constituting the demos but only as “users”, the number of which is first statistical stock market relevant information and second, a source to extract personal information for profit through profiling and manipulative targeting. When we thus bring together start-ups for journalism from all over Europe, we do it in the hope that they will inspire each other and get organised together. We do it to provide them with a forum for gaining attention, attention from politics for their needs in terms of legislative change and support, attention from potential partners for marketing, production and exchange of content and attention from investors and philanthropy. We salute the engagement of the journalists and tech people who have brought their start-up projects forward, often in economically precarious circumstances, but in the resolve to contribute to democracy and this, with journalistic ethos. And we salute those who have supported these projects financially and continue to do so, even if profitability is not on the horizon. We are inspired by all of you to recall the great history of the fight for freedom and democracy in Europe: You are part of this fight, and we trust you will inspire and bring along others – to your projects, to reading, getting informed and getting engaged in democracy, our democracy, which we cannot take for granted, and which needs engaged and creative people like you and which needs encouragement of creativity and engagement to thrive, rather than a takeover by or a handover to those who brought us slacktivism, viral hate and fake news.

 

While reflections on these challenges continue, one conclusion of the Colloquium11 was that journalistic startups which pursue the ambition to enrich through innovation the debate in democracy and to further promote a plurality of viewpoints from within Europe, need support. Such start-ups can become not only a rich source of investigation, reporting, curation, opinion and debate in their own right; they can also bring innovation to free speech of citizens in democracy and the media landscape it needs. While in some Member States the scene of media start-ups organised themselves to represent their interests, in others they have not yet taken that step, so essential in a democracy. We live today in a media world in which analogue advertisement Euros have been replaced with digital cents for publishers and journalists, and in which the overwhelmingly biggest share of revenues previously available for the financing of a plurality of journalistic formats now flows to very few tech companies, namely Google and Facebook. In this situation, combining innovation in technology and business models for journalism with

While in some Member States the scene of media start-ups organised themselves to represent their interests, in others they have not yet taken that step, so essential in a democracy. We live today in a media world in which analogue advertisement Euros have been replaced with digital cents for publishers and journalists, and in which the overwhelmingly biggest share of revenues previously available for the financing of a plurality of journalistic formats now flows to very few tech companies, namely Google and Facebook. In this situation, combining innovation in technology and business models for journalism with

 

We live today in a media world in which analogue advertisement Euros have been replaced with digital cents for publishers and journalists, and in which the overwhelmingly biggest share of revenues previously available for the financing of a plurality of journalistic formats now flows to very few tech companies, namely Google and Facebook. In this situation, combining innovation in technology and business models for journalism with organised representation of interests may also help to return earnings to journalists and publishers, whether or not they are working with the Lumascape, and thus towards those pursuits of journalism, which democracy in Europe needs. We need lively, informed and enlightened debate, not channels for viral hate, fake news and returns of echoes of our own interests, tuned by hidden algorithms based on deeply intrusive collection of personal data and profiling techniques. We need a media mix, which could be partly financed by states through public service broadcaster, but also through revenues from the market and private funding and which is not dominated by a few. And we need to give renewal and innovation in journalism the support it deserves and requires, to the benefit of maintaining journalism as the strong 4th estate in democracy, as distinguished from the tech and stock market driven clickbait platform cacophony, which is concerned neither by the journalist’s ethos nor sees people as citizens constituting the demos but only as “users”, the number of which is first statistical stock market relevant information and second, a source to extract personal information for profit through profiling and manipulative targeting. When we thus bring together start-ups for journalism from all over Europe, we do it in the hope that they will inspire each other and get organised together. We do it to provide them with a forum for gaining attention, attention from politics

 

When we thus bring together start-ups for journalism from all over Europe, we do it in the hope that they will inspire each other and get organised together. We do it to provide them with a forum for gaining attention, attention from politics for their needs in terms of legislative change and support, attention from potential partners for marketing, production and exchange of content and attention from investors and philanthropy. We salute the engagement of the journalists and tech people who have brought their start-up projects forward, often in economically precarious circumstances, but in the resolve to contribute to democracy and this, with journalistic ethos. And we salute those who have supported these projects financially and continue to do so, even if profitability is not on the horizon. We are inspired by all of you to recall the great history of the fight for freedom and democracy in Europe: You are part of this fight, and we trust you will inspire and bring along others – to your projects, to reading, getting informed and getting engaged in democracy, our democracy, which we cannot take for granted, and which needs engaged and creative people like you and which needs encouragement of creativity and engagement to thrive, rather than a takeover by or a handover to those who brought us slacktivism, viral hate and fake news.

 

1 https://www.wsj.com/articles/plummeting-newspaper-ad-revenue-sparksnew-wave-of-changes-1476955801.2 See Proposal for a Council Directive amending Directive 2006/112EC, as regards rates of value added tax applied to books, newspapers and periodicals, available
2 See Proposal for a Council Directive amending Directive 2006/112EC, as regards rates of value added tax applied to books, newspapers and periodicals, available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52016P C0758&qid=1492505715125&from=EN, see also Council Directive 2006/112/EC of 28 November 2006 on the common system of value added tax, available at: http://eur-lex. europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32006L0112&qid=1492505833366 &from=EN and Commission staff working document impact assessment accompanying the document Proposal for a Council Directive amending Directive 2016/112/EC, as regards rates of value added tax applied to books, available at: http://eur-lex.europa. eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52016SC0392&rid=1. 3 See for
3 See for example: http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/home/creative-europe/funding_en. 4 See the media Pluralism Monitor: http://monitor.cmpf.eui.eu/mpm2009/ and the Platform for mapping media freedom: https://mappingmediafreedom.org/#/. 5 Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on copyright in the Digital Single Market, available at:
4 See the media Pluralism Monitor: http://monitor.cmpf.eui.eu/mpm2009/ and the Platform for mapping media freedom: https://mappingmediafreedom.org/#/. 5 Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on copyright in the Digital Single Market, available at:
5 Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on copyright in the Digital Single Market, available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legalcontent/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52016PC0593&from=EN. 6 2016/0151 (COD) Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2010/13/EU on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the provision of audiovisual media services in view of changing market realities, available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52016PC0287&fro m=EN. 7 See Commission Decision of 30.8.2016 on state aid sa.38373 (2014/C) (ex 2014/NN) (ex 2014/CP) implemented by Ireland to Apple, available at:
6 2016/0151 (COD) Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2010/13/EU on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the provision of audiovisual media services in view of changing market realities, available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52016PC0287&fro m=EN. 7 See Commission Decision of 30.8.2016 on state aid sa.38373 (2014/C) (ex 2014/NN) (ex 2014/CP) implemented by Ireland to Apple, available at:
7 See Commission Decision of 30.8.2016 on state aid sa.38373 (2014/C) (ex 2014/NN) (ex 2014/CP) implemented by Ireland to Apple, available at: http:// ec.europa.eu/competition/state_aid/cases/253200/253200_1851004_674_2.pdf and press release 30.08.2016: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-2923_en.htm.
8 More information available at: http://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/just/ item-detail.cfm?item_id=31198; and: https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/ news/2016-annual-colloquium-fundamental-rights-media-pluralism-democratic-societymedia4democracy.
9 See 2016 Special Eurobarometer on media pluralism, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/newsroom/image/document/2016-47/sp452- summary_en_19666.pdf. Three quarters of respondents have experienced abuse, hate speech or threats directed at journalists, bloggers or people active on social media.
10 Code of conduct on countering illegal hate speech online, 31 May 2016, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/fundamental-rights/files/hate_speech_code_of_ conduct_en.pdf.
11 See Report on Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights “Media Pluralism and Democracy”, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/newsroom/ image/document/2016-50/2016-fundamental-colloquium-conclusions_40602.pdf.
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