Neelie Kroes: Safeguarding Media Pluralism in the EU

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As we stand in the Parliament, Europe’s democratic chamber, it’s a good time to remember what it is to be European. And to reflect on what Europe does best.

Many see Europe as an economic union, a single market to boost trade.

But for me it’s more than that: it’s a place where we come together and deliver for our citizens.

And that’s about more than economic growth.

Here in Europe we’re an organised “melting pot”. We have many cultures and histories: and we have for each others’ cultures awareness, curiosity, and respect.

That is how we find unity in diversity: that is something to be proud of.

Delivering for our citizens also means safeguarding freedom.

Including the freedom of speech: the right to express yourself, to dissent, and to hold the powerful to account.

Outside Europe, not far from our doorstep even, we can see what it means to lose that tolerance and respect, or to be deprived of those rights.

We rightly condemn when those freedoms are curtailed or quashed, from bloggers arrested in Syria, to journalists imprisoned in Azerbaijan.

But, on the international stage, we can do more than just make strongly-worded statements.

We should not just say: but show. We should show to the rest of the world what vibrant society prospers under these positive principles: liberty, tolerance, democracy.

Then we can not just offer those gifts to our own people: but we can light a beacon of hope to all oppressed peoples; and be the world’s wellspring of freedom.

That needs a strong media sector. It is a free media, with professional and quality journalists, who often best inform electorates, challenge authority, and broadcast minority voices.

Thus a free media exercises a fundamental right — aids our mutual cultural understanding – and improves how people are governed.

Those principles offer an opportunity for our future.

And they are worth fighting for.

When they are threatened within the EU’s own borders – as they have been in Hungary – we should indeed protect and defend them.

There are two points I’d like to make today.

The first point is that a strong media sector exists within an economy, and must take account of economic realities. As for so many things, pluralism cannot be guaranteed in isolation, but flourishes or withers according to the environment.

As with so many sectors, the Internet is radically changing that environment. Transforming the economics, transforming value chains, transforming the role of everyone from journalist to paperboy.

This digital revolution creates great opportunities for pluralism: but also some risks. On the one hand, it opens up a platform for every blogger , every Internet user, every citizen, to make their voice heard.

On the other, it may make it harder to invest in long-term, investigative journalism — as consumers increasingly expect immediate content and access at low cost, or none at all.

One thing is certain: we need to adapt. Carrying on and hoping digital realities go away is no solution. Such an approach would close down new online opportunities; it would damage the sector’s competitiveness; and, yes, it would ultimately damage media pluralism.

Today I received the first part of the report of the Media Futures Forum chaired by Christian van Thillo. That Forum includes those from across the sector value chain. And their report is thorough and welcome.

In spite of different perspectives, they recognise very clearly that — in a digital age — the media sector needs to change, or lose out. I’ll be studying it very closely: I hope others will too.

But already I can tell you I’m convinced about many of the solutions they propose.

Yes, we need more innovation; yes, we need more fast broadband.

And yes, we need the rules and mentality to try out new business models; models with the scale needed for pan-European success. Here to read more.

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