The final report of the EU Commissions’s High Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism was recently released, and it includes a number of dangerous recommendations. But this one is the most outrageous, and it’s worth reading in full:
All EU countries should have independent media councils with a politically and culturally balanced and socially diverse membership. Nominations to them should be transparent, with built-in checks and balances. Such bodies would have competences to investigate complaints, much like a media ombudsman, but would also check that media organisations have published a code of conduct and have revealed ownership details, declarations of conflicts of interest, etc. Media councils should have real enforcement powers, such as the imposition of fines, orders for printed or broadcast apologies, or removal of journalistic status. The national media councils should follow a set of European-wide standards and be monitored by the Commission to ensure that they comply with European values.
National press regulators are a profoundly bad idea. And some of the language used in the report (see: “removal of journalistic status”) is chilling. But the idea that media standards at the national level should be monitored by the EU Commission to “ensure that they comply with European values” is truly extraordinary. In practice, such a proposal would give the EU Commission the power to decide whether particular media outlets were promoting the right kind of values – and muzzle them if they weren’t. You can guess what “European values” the EU Commission would see promoted through the media.
And there is yet another creepy dimension to this: regulators being overseen by a supranational body completely undermines national sovereignty. The EU Commission would literally be able to guide the media through the domestic political issues of the day using its monopoly role as arbiter and enforcer of European values.
The Telegraph‘s Toby Young noted that this is a very real possibility in the UK, given the recent Leveson Inquiry recommendations:
If an independent press regulator is set up along the lines Leveson suggests (see an earlier blog post of mine describing the chilling impact this would have on press freedom) the EU apparat would use it to enforce “European-wide standards” and make sure everything published in the British press complied “with European values”.
Despite what the authors of the report have written, no one believes that the media are “sacred cows that are beyond criticism and accountable to no one.” At the most basic level, media are always accountable to consumers. The argument against press regulation has always been based on the idea that media should never be accountable to government. These latest recommendations from an official panel of EU bureaucrats demonstrates why.