Preserving media pluralism in Europe was a media policy priority of Germany’s EU Council Presidency, given its special importance for the democratic opinion-forming process.
Throughout the digital conference series “Pluralism and Responsibility. Media in the Digital Society” participants discussed solutions to meet the current challenges to media pluralism and quality journalism in Europe. The conference series thus also contributed to current regulatory projects at European level. The Digital Services Act Package, the European Democracy Action Plan and the Media and Audiovisual Action Plan are three important initiatives prepared by the European Commission which will have a major impact on the media sector.
Based on the recognised goal of fair competition between traditional audiovisual media (television, radio, video-on-demand) and new media platforms or intermediaries (social media, search engines, video portals), the conference series addressed, among other things, improving transparency of algorithmic selection, preventing or eliminating competitive advantages gained by data monopolies, and taking effective measures to counter the increasing spread of disinformation. Provisions from the State Treaty on Media, which has recently entered into force, were used as possible starting points. Participants in the debate also called for improved enforcement procedures, especially in cross-border scenarios. New, formal and informal cooperation procedures between the independent national regulatory authorities could ensure effective enforcement and protection of all users.
By involving the Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research, the current developments were placed in a scientific context. According to the Hans Bredow Institute, media regulation’s traditional understanding of pluralism is reaching its limits: The internet has produced an oversupply of content with predominance of individual content providers who also control access to their content out of economic interests. We must therefore start to understand pluralism less in terms of the representation of content and providers and more in terms of the technical selection of information, the access to information and the plurality of reception on the users’ side.
Overall, the presentations and discussions during the digital conference series have also made it clear that the media can no longer be viewed in isolation from other European policy areas such as platform regulation, the European Single Market, telecommunications and consumer protection. This means that the objective of ensuring an independent and pluralistic media landscape needs to be taken into account also in policy areas other than the media.
The conference series accompanied the work of the Council working parties responsible for media policy at EU level during Germany’s Council Presidency. For example, the Audiovisual Working Party prepared the Council conclusions on safeguarding a free and pluralistic media system, adopted by the Council of the European Union in November.
In their conclusions, the EU member states agree that medium- and long-term measures are needed to systematically and more effectively incorporate information and media freedoms, journalistic working methods and media pluralism into legislation. Even though the EU has limited regulatory competence to safeguard pluralism, this issue should be further discussed at EU level across various domains and embedded in EU policies, while respecting the competences of EU member states.