photo flickr historiepostale
“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. The freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected”Article 11, EU Charter of Fundamental Rights
Over 2011, European Alternatives is organising a deliberative consultation with citizens and stakeholders in a sample of six EU countries on transeuropean issues relating to the area of Justice, Security and Freedom contained in the Stockholm Programme (2010-2014). The consultations will be taking place in the UK, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Spain and Romania, but citizens from throughout Europe will be involved.
Guaranteeing freedom of expression and information across all member states of the EU is one of the six topics around which citizens’ panels will be organised.
These consultations are imagined to decline a specific set of shared demands at a European level in the areas of citizens’ rights, leading to specific actions, including the possibility of a Citizens’ Initiative.
Political and institutional framework
Freedom of speech and of information are among the funding values of European democracies. While they are granted as inalienable rights by all member states’ constitutions, as well as by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the reality is that media pluralism is under threat in a number of countries, in Easter as well as Western Europe. The situation of Italy, Hungary and Romania is particularly worrying, but democratic “strongholds” like France and Britain are also experiencing threats to freedom of information in the forms of increasing pressure from politicians onto broadcasters, or moves to create media conglomerates too big to guarantee plurality.
Since May 2010 European Alternatives and Alliance International de Journalists have been actively working to establish a coalition for a European Initiative for Media Freedom and Pluralism. This has involved seminars in the European Parliament and in several member states, as well as the circulation of surveys amongst a wide number of media organisations throughout Europe.
The European Initiative for Media Pluralism promotes the idea that European institutions should
safeguard the right to independent and pluralistic information as sanctioned by the European Charter on Human Rights. The Initiative includes the creation of a civil society European Media Council, and a campaign directed at the European institutions. There are three major objectives to the Initiative:
- Establishing a pan-European coalition of media organisations and a steering group of experts in media pluralism and freedom issues (working name: European Media Council). Nothing of this kind currently exists, and the creation of such a Council would be a significant advance in promoting media freedom at a pan-European level and providing ongoing support to advances in the protection of media pluralism at the level of European institutions.
- Bringing about a substantial improvement in legislation regarding media pluralism and freedom at a pan-European level, through a campaign inside European Parliament and the possible launch of a European Citizens’ Initiative to directly target the European Commission. Legislation within current EU competences to be improved includes:
- The implementation of the European Commission’s own Media Pluralism Monitor, employing clear indicators for threats to media pluralism in the Member States; and/or
- The definition of clearer and more effective antitrust legislation at EU level governing concentration in media and publicity.
- Campaigning for media pluralism and freedom at European level, raising awareness of the European dimension of the defense of media freedom, and developing a common transnational platform going beyond already-existing EU competences.
The Stockholm Programme
While freedom of information is mostly intended as increased protection of personal data and privacy in the Stockholm Programme, European Alternatives wishes to explore another angle. As the Stockholm Programme envisage the respect and implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, we would like to focus on Article 11, which states.
Freedom of expression and information
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.
2. The freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected.
As the situation in a number of member states is far from what expressed in Article 11, European Alternatives considers the discussion on these issues of paramount importance.
The Lisbon Treaty introduces the possibility of the European Citizens’ Initiative. The treaty provides that “not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties”. Online signatures will be considered valid. The current proposals are that signatures will have to come from a minimum of 9 EU countries for the initiative to be valid.
The way forward
European Alternatives is looking to collaborate with partner organisations and individual activists around Europe to organise a series of transnational deliberative consultations aimed at producing a join European demand and setting up the necessary coalition to carry through that demand.
This may include submitting a Citizens’ Initiative to the European Commission, requesting officially legislate over a Media Pluralism Monitor. While aware of the challenge that the 1 million figure represents, a well-organised coordination across all 27 member states and an alliance with political parties, individual MEPs, local, national, transnational NGOs as well as a strategy based on social media and viral communication, could make this challenge achievable.