Europe is home to some of the most impressive and innovative news media in the world, from digital media such as Dennik N in Slovakia and MediaPart in France to legacy media such as the BBC in the UK and Dagens Nyheter in Sweden.
But the continent is also plagued with increasingly serious threats to media freedom and tremendous pressure on the business of news, problems that are compounded by a policy and regulatory environment still stuck in the offline past.
To develop media policies fit for our online future, policymakers in Brussels and in member states urgently need to act to ensure the freedom, funding, and future of independent professional journalism in Europe.
Every day we delay, free speech and media freedom is further undermined in some parts of the European Union. Almost 90 million people across the European Union live in member states with significant media freedom problems.
Every day that passes, the legacy business models that fund most professional journalism decay further, as the European newspaper industry that provides the majority of investment in news currently see revenues decline about €2.5 million per day as print readers die off and publishers find digital media a less lucrative business.
So what can policymakers do to help create a more enabling environment for independent professional journalism going forward? That’s the question we have addressed in a new report published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in which we reviewed a wide range of policy options.
Without freedom, no amount of funding or investment in the future will ensure independent professional journalism. Given the threats to free expression and media freedom in some European Union member states – ranging from the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta and Jan Kuciak in Slovakia to worrying trends towards media capture, where news media lose their independence and become beholden to governments and oligarchs – it is clear these issues have to be addressed first in these countries before any other measures can find long-term success.
A good first step would be to close the gap between what elected officials say they are going to do and what governments actually implement. This would simply be about insisting governments honour their commitments to Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union and to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
A second step could be to ensure they face consequences if they do not by linking access to EU funds to performance in an annual rule of law review that includes a focus on free expression and media freedom. If threats as primal as the murder of journalists and problems as basic as the erosion of fundamental rights and media freedom are not addressed, there is little hope for European democracy in the long term.