EC: Newspapers crucial for democracy, says Vassiliou

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The role of European newspapers in helping to shape democratic and tolerant societies is as important today as in the era of Napoleon Bonaparte, who famously declared that “four hostile newspapers were to be feared more than a thousand bayonets”. This was the message from Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, in an address today at the general assembly of the European Newspapers Publishers’ Association (ENPA) in Nicosia, Cyprus.

“Democracy needs well-informed citizens, capable of analysing events, forming their own opinion and engaging actively in an open debate. And for the debate to be meaningful and constructive, citizens have to be drawn together, and made to look beyond their immediate interests and to the problems of the whole community,” said the Commissioner.

Napoleon’s comment was a “wonderfully grudging compliment paid to the power of the press to act as the guarantor of freedom” and “a feeling shared by all authoritarian rulers,” she added.

In her speech, the Commissioner focused on three themes which – directly or indirectly – form part of her responsibilities at EU level: media literacy, the VAT regime for online cultural goods and copyright.

She said that media literacy – the ability to evaluate information and content in whatever form it appears – should be taught in schools, as well as beyond the formal education system because it is an issue which concerns all age groups. “Media literacy in the digital era is about the empowerment and emancipation of citizens, much like being able to read and write was a century ago,” she stated.

The European Commission has set up an expert group on media literacy, to which ENPA has contributed with a position paper on the subject. The expert group will publish its conclusions in 2013.

Commissioner Vassiliou said she was in favour of a level playing-field regarding VAT for online cultural goods. At present, printed newspapers benefit from a reduced or zero rate of VAT, while digital editions are subject to standard rates of up to 25%. “The Commission has recognised the need to address this disparity in its Communication on the future of VAT adopted last December. We will soon launch a review of the current regulations. My personal view is that reduced or zero VAT rates should continue to be applied to printed newspapers, and that digital press formats should be granted a similar treatment,” she said.

The Commissioner stressed that digitisation has increased the need for stronger copyright protection. “All too often news content developed and financed by newspaper publishers ends up being used by third parties … I am firmly of the opinion that news aggregators and technology platforms need to respect newspaper copyright,” she stated. Here to read more.

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