Press freedom threatened by financial considerations

The participants in a hearing on media independence, investigative journalism and editorial integrity today issued a warning concerning a form of "code of conduct" based on financial considerations that is gradually gaining ground in many editorial offices as a result of either the influence of advertisers, including institutional advertisers, or political pressure from governments or media owners regarding editorial content. They affirmed that greater protection must be given to independent investigative journalism, while reinforcing editorial integrity.

"Legal protection, particularly of journalistic sources, financial independence and freedom of the press are vital for our work" stated Eloïse Lebourg, an investigative journalist and manager of Mediacoop (France), taking the floor at the hearing held by the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media in Paris on 1 June 2016.

Denouncing various new methods of bringing political pressure to bear on the media, particularly through the influence of advertisers, including institutional advertisers, on editorial content, Ricardo Gutierrez, Secretary General of the European Federation of Journalists, primarily spoke out in favour of financial support for the media. He pointed out that they serve a public interest role and also called for the promotion of media self-regulation through the establishment of press councils, which should also receive public financial support.

Jérôme Bouvier, advisor in charge of the press and information professions at the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, listed a number of measures being taken to safeguard media pluralism, in particular assistance with the transition to digital journalism and the creation of a support fund for neighbourhood media outlets, underlining that it was not just a question of "nursing" existing media but also of "midwifing" the birth of new media through an "incubator programme".

Regarding legislative guarantees of freedom of expression and media independence, he referred to the need to reinforce confidentiality of sources, an issue currently being debated by the French National Assembly, and to the current proposals that all media outlets should be required to introduce surveillance mechanisms. "We live in a world where values have completely changed. Nowadays, videos of kittens create more of a buzz than burning political issues" he said, deploring "the dictatorship of subjects that obstruct democratic discussion". Lastly, he called on politicians and journalists, which he regards as the "two most undervalued professions world-wide" to improve their ways of working so as to re-establish the founding social principle of respect for their specific roles as democratic players.

Jane Whyatt, Executive Director of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, Leipzig, stressed how important it was to spread the message that public service media must not become state media and also reaffirmed the vital role of self-regulation. "The BBC has always been the guardian of its own standards, known to be among the highest, and it must remain so" she warned.

The committee will draw on this hearing in order to prepare a series of reports aimed at promoting press freedom:

• Parliamentary scrutiny over corruption: parliamentary co-operation with investigative media (Rapporteur : Gülsün Bilgehan, Turkey, SOC)
• New methods of political influence over independent journalism (Rapporteur: Vesna Marjanovic, Serbia, SOC)
• Attacks against journalists and media freedom in Europe (Rapporteur: Volodymyr Ariev, Ukraine, EPP/CD)
• The protection of editorial integrity (Rapporteur: John Howell, United Kingdom, EC)
• The status of journalists in Europe (Rapporteur: Elvira Dobrinski-Weiß, Germany, SOC).