After what will likely be “difficult” EU elections, what should 2019 be about? We believe it should focus on big ideas, notably democracy, as well as the revival of the media sector. Moving on from fighting fake news, cybersecurity and – rightly – from challenging dominant social platforms.
In relation to these priorities and another “EU renaissance”, three building blocks are under construction:
First, there’s the implementation of the agreed Digital Single Market, notably accompanying negotiations on content. This requires using competition law, which most people do not see as an opportunity yet.
Second, one should set more pro-active policies for the ecosystem of the media industry, platforms, and advertising. Preparing for faster media innovation, and a real sector strategy, or industrial policy.
Finally, this agenda mandates improving management skills in the media sector. Change is needed chiefly within the media sector and outlets. Most media professionals today still work in national or functional silos. Policies without a changed mindset would not work.
These three points belong together and form the common thread in this month’s newsletter of Fondation EURACTIV. They are also at the heart of the upcoming Europe’s Media Lab. The abundant news of activities listed below shows that the health and skills of the media sector is a priority for many. Among the EU’s top priorities for 2019-2024, there should be something like ‘Democracy in the digital world: sound platforms and independent media‘. And a Democracy Commissioner to lead it? Enjoy the read!
Questions welcome. Merci! Danke!
Christophe Leclercq, firstname.lastname@example.org
Upskilling media professionals
Fondation EURACTIV and its media partner have trained around 1000 people over the years, mostly young media professionals. The foundation’s former Secretary General tries to draw some lessons from this experience, before the think-do tank embarks on new programmes. Read the full article byJulian Oliver here and stay updated on ouractivities..
The new Media Economics programme launched by VUB and SMIT “aims to equip media professionals with the tools to overcome the challenges of the digitalization, in the various sectors of the media industry in Europe”. This programme includes specific training courses (audio-visual, advertising, press, new technologies, etc.) to update skills in their respective media sector. Go to the website to see all available courses and download the programme’s brochure.
The Department of Political Science of the ULB compiled a list of think tanks and NGOsbased in Brussels and engaged in research programmes to promote innovation, EU participation, media policy, etc. They include training and activities for politicians, academics, corporate managers and students, all committed to one idea: “the active participation of civil society in the construction of Europe”.
Digital & Media News
Will Europe lead the way towards digital taxation?
On 8 April, the EU competition commissioner Vestager saidEurope must lead the way with a digital tax if there is no consensus globally (see article). Already in December 2018, MEPs backed two tax proposals on digital services but a unanimous decision in the Council was not possible given the opposition of Ireland, Sweden and Denmark (see article).
For this reason, the EU solution of a “GAFA tax” was set aside and replaced by the OECD attempts to levy an international digital tax (see article). Since then some EU States (e.g. France, Spain, Austria) have introduced a digital tax on the basis of the EU proposal, as a temporary solution pending an OECD agreement.
Time for unbundling big tech companies?
Elizabeth Warren, US Senator and law professor at Harvard, declared in a recent article: “it’s time to break up Amazon, Google, and Facebook [as these] new tech monopolies hurt small business and innovation“. Read the article on Medium.com.
A tax on digital ad spend could help quality journalism
To counter the growing spread of online disinformation and user data trading, the newspaper Free Press suggests an old approach: “a tax levied against targeted advertising [notably, Facebook, Amazon and Google] to fund the kind of diverse, local, independent and noncommercial journalism, and to support new news-distribution models“. This tax could work in 3 different ways and could yield up to $2 billion for journalism. Read the article on Nieman Journalism Lab.
What’s next after the Copyright Directive?
US FTC expected to fine Facebook 3 to 5 bn $
Extract from Facebook report for the first quarter of 2019: “we reasonably […] recorded an accrual of $3.0 billion in connection with the inquiry of the FTC into our platform and user data practices […] The matter remains unresolved, and there can be no assurance as to the timing or the terms of any final outcome” (FTC – Federal Trade Commission, sharing with Dpt of Justice some of competences held in Europe by the EU’s DG COMP).
On these results AngelList comments: “While $5 billion is a big number, it’s not make-or-break for Facebook. The question of whether the FTC will regulate the way Facebook collects and uses user data, however, is. Advertising was responsible for 99% of Facebook’s Q1 revenue. If the FTC does anything that would make Facebook’s ad platform less powerful—like changing the way Facebook can use user data for targeting, for example—it will be a blow at the core of its businesses. […] most of Silicon Valley is watching for the FTC’s final decision—and the precedent it will set.”
EU Digital & Media Policy
Platforms to boost efforts against disinformation
On March 20 the European Commission said that “online platforms need to step up their attempts to quell the spread of fake accounts but also provide greater independent access to their content for fact checkers, as part of their wider efforts in compliance with the code of practice against disinformation” (read here the article by Samuel Stolton: Commission urges platforms to take action on fake accounts before EU elections, on EURACTIV.com). In addition, a new research by Alto Data Analytics showed that European populists are dominating social media with far-right messages (read Politico’s article).
DG Competition anticipates EU help to media sector evolution
DG COMP’s Report: “Competition Policy for the digital era”, issued by the 3 Special Advisers to Commissioner Vestager on 4 April 2019, discusses the application of competition rules to platforms and data, and examines the role of European merger control in preserving competition and innovation: “A dominant platform that sets up a marketplace must ensure a level playing field on this marketplace and must not use its rule-setting power to determine the outcome of the competition”. More about EU competition policy: call for public contributions; conference “Shaping competition policy in the era of digitisation“.
EU priorities 2019-24: Democracy, platforms and media
Open Letter to Juncker published in 5 languages
The Open Letter to President Juncker coordinated by Fondation EURACTIV and calling for a European strategy for the media sector is now available in 5 different languages. Three adapted versions have been recently published in FR (Le Monde), IT (Italia Oggi), ESP (El Pais). Six MEPs and six independent media experts co-signed it personally. The letter is a reaction to the EU Action Plan on disinformation published on December 5th, 2018. Find here the Open Letter in English: Beyond fake news: Strategic options for media ahead of EU elections (also translated into DE and FR).
Towards European Media Sovereignty, by G. Klossa
Think tank reaches 45 top EU officials on top priorities, preparing post-elections?
The European Political Strategy Centre (the EU Commission’s think tank) organised an internal brain storming on a pro-active media policy to support democracy. Christophe Leclercq interacted at EPSC with 45 officials, mostly Heads of Units, Directors, Deputy Directors Generals and Commissioners’ cabinet members.
His presentation is accessible here. The main recommendation: building on the horizontal ‘Digital Single Market’, a top 10 priority for the next mandate should be ‘Democracy in a digital world: sound platforms and independent media’ (‘independent’ meaning both free and sustainable). Of course subject to EU elections, and talks between upcoming parliamentary groups.
This presentation provides core hypotheses for Europe’s Media Lab, the policy event following the EU elections (find the programme here).
Speaking tour in Bulgaria: interest in a Democracy Commissioner to lead
Thanks to EURACTIV’s Bulgarian Editor Georgi Gotev, Fondation’s founder delivered 4 speeches and interviews in Sofia on April 16, mostly to media and policy circles. This includes a gathering of the Bulgarian Journalist Union, an interview on Bulgarian National Radio, and an interview on bTV (the main independent channel, 19 mn dubbed in Bulgarian). His speech (in English) at the leading think tank Red House was the first public usage on the Democracy presentation mentioned above. Relevant policy quotes may be found under the Q&A session, under these slots: 47’00” to 48’30” on diluting fake news and defining ‘systemic platforms’ in analogy to systemic banks, then 1h00’30” to 1:05’32” on critical media mass, industrial policy and French-German initiatives. Most of these events picked notably on the Democracy Commissioner idea, as a way to embody a new strategy.
This Month’s Insight
An opinion on copyright and artificial intelligence: « Les GAFA vont vouloir développer leurs propres médias »(GAFAs will want to develop their own media), was written by two experts from the Thomas More Institute and published in Le Monde. In their view, the war of AI will take place regardless of the adoption of the EU Copyright Directive for two main reasons: “First, because the GAFAs covered by the directive will hasten to increase the development of their own media and thus seek to do without traditional media and their content. Secondly, because it is quite possible that the notion of ‘copyright’ itself will soon become obsolete with the generalization of automatic content creation by artificial intelligence“.